Yesterday, in a historic move, the US Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) held its first briefing on the discrimination faced by LGBT Americans in the workplace.
The USCCR is an independent agency that advises the President and Congress on civil rights matters and issues federal civil rights enforcement reports.
The meeting took place in Washington DC, and subjects discussed included general workplace issues faced by LGBT people, specific transgender issues and religious exemption bills.
The Commission wanted to hear whether further legislation was needed to protect working conditions for LGBT employees.
Speakers included Stacy Long Simmons, Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs with the National LGBTQ Task Force, and Selisse Berry, Founder and CEO of Out and Equal, among a dozen others.
‘Right now, we have a patchwork of laws that affect a patchwork of Americans,’ Martin Castro, chairman of the commission, said between panels. ‘It is extremely important that there be uniformity and a federal response to this.’
Currently, you can still be fired for being gay in 28 US states. According to a recent report from Human Rights Campaign, 53% of LGBT workers nationwide hide who they are at work, of whom 35% reported that they feel ‘compelled to lie’ about their personal lives while at work.
Speaking on behalf of the Department of Labor was Mary Beth Maxwell, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy. She said that the Department was in favor of promoting and protecting a diverse workforce.
‘Our workforce and our entire economy our strongest when we embrace diversity to its fullest and that means opening doors of opportunity to everyone and recognizing that the American dream excludes no-one.’
‘Equality in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it happens to be good for business, which is why most Fortune 500 companies already have non-discrimination policies in place.’
Although 91% of Fortune 500 companies mention sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies, this drops to 78% of non-Fortune 500 companies. When it comes to transgender benefits, the statistics sink considerably further, with only 28% of F500 companies offering such benefits, while none were reported for non-F500 companies.
The briefing heard from those who believe that there should be a federal law introduced, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote an employee because of that person’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
However, not all of those who attended the briefing are in favor of such a move.
Roger Clegg, President of the conservative research organization, Center for Equal Opportunity, said that Government should stop ‘micromanaging a private employer’s personnel practices’ and allow them hire who they want.
He said that a federal ban would, ‘marginalize the views of Americans who believe that gay sex is a sin.’
Counteracting this view, Kate Kendall, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the commission that the nation’s ‘commitment to non-discrimination trumps private prejudice.’
Selisse Berry, of Out & Equal, said that the lack of a federal law protecting LGBT employers was simply ‘appalling’ and that, ‘it not only threatens people’s livelihoods but it can threaten lives’.
Afterwards, Berry told Gay Star Business that she had been ‘honored’ to testify at the briefing.
‘It was the first time the commission focused exclusively on LGBT issues. The historic conversation happened the same week a national poll showed 74 percent of LGBT Americans think workplace equality should be a top priority.
‘With marriage equality hopefully resolved by the Supreme Court in June, it is clear that now is the time to focus on the workplace.’
A full recording of the all-day session can be watched below: