Even though the nation has seen great advances in LGBT rights in the past few years and many employers have adopted inclusive antidiscrimination policies, a majority of LGBT workers remain closeted on the job, according to a study released Wednesday.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation study, “The Cost of the Closet,” found that 53 percent of LGBT workers who were polled said they feel the need to hide their identity at work. Thirty-five percent said they felt compelled to lie about their personal lives, one-third reported feeling distracted from their duties by negative workplace environments, and one-fifth said they were exhausted from spending time and energy hiding their identities. One-fifth also reported trying to leave a job because of the negative environment.
The study is based on a poll of 800 LGBT workers in the U.S., and an added survey of non-LGBT workers. Researchers found a double standard in straight employees’ attitudes toward their LGBT colleagues. Eighty percent of the non-LGBT respondents reported that conversations about social relationships and dating come up frequently in the workplace, and even though 81 percent said LGBT employees should not have to hide who they are, fewer than half said they would feel comfortable hearing LGBT coworkers discuss dating.
The study highlights the need to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, who would prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity nationwide. Only 21 states have laws banning sexual orientation-based discrimination, and just 17 cover gender identity. At the same time, 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies, and 61 percent include gender identity.
“While LGBT-inclusive corporate policies are becoming the norm, the fact is that LGBT workers still face a national patchwork of legal protections, leaving many to hide who they are for fear of discrimination in the workplace and in their communities,” said Deena Fidas, director of HRC’s Workplace Equality Program, in a press release. “Even among those private sector employers with laudable, inclusive policies and practices, these are necessary but not wholly sufficient for creating a climate of inclusion. Employees are getting married without telling their coworkers for fear of losing social connections, or they’re not transitioning even though they know they need to for fear of losing their jobs. The inclusive policies coming from the boardroom have not fully made it into the everyday culture of the American workplace.”