Congressman: Stay in the Closet

Coming out isn't the problem - it's bosses who fire people for being LGBT who are the problem

Rep. Steve King has a solution for workplace discrimination: Stay in the closet

Recently, a congressman from Iowa made a few controversial statements about workplace discrimination. Specifically, Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, said that if an employee is fired for being gay, the problem isn’t that it’s legal in many states to do so (including Pennsylvania) but that it’s basically the employee’s fault for coming out in the first place.


Sadly, not only did King suggest that private businesses should have the right to hire and fire whomever they want (even over being gay or lesbian), but he suggests that America might best take a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” approach to business. “I would think that unless someone makes their sexuality public,” he told Think Progress, “it’s not anybody’s business, so neither is it our business to tell an employer who to hire.”

If we follow his backwards line of thinking, that would make it impossible for LGBT employees to ever be honest about who they are at work – just to make things easier on homophobes like this guy. It’s a lot like the thinking from the 1960s that wrongly suggested that segregation was somehow a good way to keep people who would prefer to be separate – separate. Of course, no one wins in either case. But as advocates for LGBT rights push for a federal law banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, folks like King who come out in favor of discrimination by blaming the victims really do show their true colors.

No one should be forced to hide who they really are just to spare an anti-gay boss (or congressman) from giving you the pink slip. That boss needs to be held accountable to firing someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Simple.

It’s interesting that as King touts the virtues of DADT at work, Fortune 500 companies are finding that hiring openly LGBT people actually makes good business sense. This past year, LGBT employment studies from Out and Equal Workplace Advocates, Witeck-Combs, Harris Interactive, Lambda Legal and The Gay and Lesbian Census all point to how the recruitment of LGBT candidates is a strategic imperative for many of the biggest businesses in the world.

Almost 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner benefits and more than 85 percent have non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation, according to the HRC. But that doesn’t mean people don’t regularly face discrimination at work for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Almost 40 percent of LGBT employees admit that they have faced discrimination at work for sexual orientation or gender identity. For many, this means barriers toward promotions and other growth. And worse case scenario? One in 10 say they’ve been fired simply for being LGBT. And as we reported last week, in 30 states, there are no laws protecting LGBT people from that – including Pennsylvania.

So no, Rep. King, coming out isn’t to blame for workplace discrimination. Ignorance is. We would expect more from you, as someone who’s been elected by the people to protect them and stand up for their rights – and not just the people you deem more worthy than others.

We like to think that statements like this only reaffirm just how important it is to have protections in place for LGBT people in the same way we do for racial minorities, women and people with disabilities.

Care to remind Rep. King of this? Feel free to let him know that all people deserve equal rights at work by clicking here.