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LGBT Workers of Color

Double and triple discrimination…and it’s legal

For years people of color in America have long suffered and fought for the right of equality in society and in the workplace. Over time, laws were put into place thanks to several famous and not so famous fighters that believed that all people were created equal and therefore should be treated as such. Unfortunately, there is a group that has still yet to fully enjoy the freedoms that have been fought and died for: the LGBT person of color.

The recent passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) first introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) in 1994 in the U.S. Senate was an important first step in creating equality for all LGBT persons in the workplace. However without passage of the bill in the House of Representatives, the bill will never become a law. The Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) refuses to bring the bill to a vote because he does not himself support the bill.

This leaves the LGBT worker of color in a fragile and dangerous position. There are roughly 8.2 million self-identified gay and lesbian employees nationwide according to estimates released by the Williams Institute at UCLA. About one-third of the nationwide LGBT community is comprised of people of color. In a 2012 Gallup poll, 1 in 3 LGBT respondents (33%) identified themselves as people of color, compared to 27% of non-LGBT respondents. When compounded with race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity LGBT people of color find themselves particularly vulnerable to a lack of workplace protections, and face double or even triple bias and discrimination in the workplace. As an example being, lesbian, black, and female. This stacks the deck enormously against the LGBT worker of color for any chance of real opportunity in the workplace.

In the southern states this is an even larger hurdle for the LGBT worker of color. The way the laws are positioned now, LGBT workers in Georgia can be fired from their jobs simply because they are gay or transgender, without recourse. Simply put, we need ENDA now to protect all workers. As with Affirmative Action laws, states should not be allowed to discriminate against any minority group.

To further show how far this type of discrimination reaches into the LGBT community, let’s look at the affected people. LGBT people are more racially and ethnically diverse than the United States population as a whole and they are economically insecure despite the large buying power that the LGBT community commands.  LGBT workers of color are at significant risk of being unemployed, reporting higher rates of unemployment compared to non-LGBT people of color reaching as high as four times the national unemployment rate as reported from the FIRE Initiative at The Center for American Progress in Washington D.C.

The passage of ENDA will eliminate or reduce the many routinely used bias mechanisms against LGBT workers of color. For example, the use of unfair hurdles such as hiring bias and on-the-job discrimination and barriers such as unwarranted background checks, inadequate or non-existent non-discrimination protection for LGBT workers, and the lack of on-the-job support. These tactics make it difficult for many LGBT workers of color to find good and stable jobs that provide them with the economic security they need to support themselves and their families.

The passage of ENDA into law would provide much needed potential remedies for violating the law and would be on par with Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action laws that fight against employment discrimination.  Meaning, an employee would get the job or promotion they were denied, get awarded back pay and litigation costs and/or get related compensatory or punitive damages.  Encouraging an employer to ensure that this type of discriminatory behavior does not occur in the first place.

In the U.S. House of Representatives however, it is reported that ENDA is unlikely to come up for a House vote due to Republican opposition lead by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).  In a statement immediately following the U.S. Senate vote, President Obama called on the House to pass the bill:

“One party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do. Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it. I urge the House Republican leadership to bring this bill to the floor for a vote and send it to my desk so I can sign it into law.”

For the millions of LGBT workers of color this cannot happen soon enough. Please support the passage of ENDA. Our country will be better for it. Diversity Forward!

Tonie Snell is Founder/CEO and Chief JobMingler of 925HIRE, LLC. 925HIRE is a full service staffing firm dedicated to a diverse and equitable workplace. Specializing in building culturally diverse expert staffing and training solutions throughout the United States.