Equal Opportunity for LGBT Americans: One Step Forward, One Step Back

The Obama administration has been both exciting and frustrating for Americans who identify as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual) and everyone who supports fair treatment under the law.

Of course, the President went on the record as endorsing same-sex marriage, “becoming the first president to publicly support marriage equality.” And, as Commander-in-Chief, Obama ended the discriminatory military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

But enormous progress remains to be made. As detailed by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, only 21 states have outlawed sexual-orientation discrimination; just 16 (plus Washington D.C.) have banned gender-identity discrimination. This means that, in most states, it is legal to fire an employee for being gay or transgender. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace nationwide, is still not law; at least one Senator has urged Obama to bypass Congress by signing an executive order enacting the same reform.

On the upside, many large private employers—85% of the Fortune 500—protect sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies (49% protect gender identity). Tolerance is smart business: employment discrimination costs $64 billion annually, according to the Center for American Progress.

It is a mark of progress that corporations now widely support LGBT equality, at least on paper. This week, another old barrier began to fall: the Boy Scouts of America—a stalwart of institutional homophobia—indicated that they are reconsidering their ban on gay members.

The New York Times explained why the announcement is so exciting: it is an “acknowledgment that scouting itself had moved on, with a diversity of thought like the multicultural and sexually diverse buzz of modern America itself, that no longer could be confined or defined by a dictated policy from headquarters. Local chapters would be able to decide whether to admit gay scouts.”

Amid this good news, a sign of the work still to be done: immigration-reform legislation newly introduced to Congress leaves same-sex partners out to dry. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, “Heterosexuals are already permitted to sponsor their foreign-born spouse to become a permanent resident. But gay and lesbian couples, even those who are married, were omitted.” The Chronicle points out that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996 is partially to blame: it “bars all federal benefits to same-sex couples,” even legally married ones. The Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge to DOMA in March.

Sexual orientation discrimination is illegal in New York. Do you have questions about unfair treatment at work, and compensation you may be owed? Contact The Harman Firm today.