The San Francisco–based National Center for Lesbian Rights, which provides legal assistance to all LGBT people, gets a steady stream of calls, emails, and letters from people fired from their jobs for simply being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. NCLR executive director Kate Kendell wants people to know how to immediately take action if they’ve been terminated for such a reason or feel they are about to be.
Gather Info: Find out if your state offers protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Kendell says. While there’s no federal law against firing a person for being LGBT, 21 states and Washington, D.C., prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, while 15 of these, plus D.C., also cover gender identity.
Think Locally: Even if you work in one of the states without protections, there are still options. Many cities and counties offer LGBT employment protections even if the state does not. Check online or call your City Hall to find out. Also, your former company may be on your side without you knowing it. Kendell suggests checking with the Human Rights Campaign to see if your employer has a policy protecting LGBT employees from discrimination; go to HRC.org/issues/workplace/search_employers.htm for the database.
Act Up: If you unfortunately work for a hostile employer and live in a place that leaves you vulnerable to discrimination, there's still some legal recourse. Ken-dell says, “Even though there’s no employment nondiscrimination law based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] has been found through past cases to prohibit discrimination that is grounded in gender stereotypes, for example, a woman who is not sufficiently feminine.”
Put It in Writing: Kendell says that if you’re being discriminated against for your sexual orientation or gender identity, make sure to make a formal complaint with a human resources representative—and do it in writing. “If there’s not a satisfactory response and the harassment or discrimination continues, they can absolutely contact us or one of the other national LGBT organizations,” Kendell says. If you’ve already been terminated, write down everything you can remember about the harassment, especially the who, what, where, and when of the situation.
Where to find help
• NCLR takes workplace discrimination queries at firstname.lastname@example.org. The organization also has a
toll-free legal hotline:
• The Washington, D.C.–based National
Center for Trans-gender Equality works to advance the equality of transgender people through advocacy, collaboration, and empowerment. Go to TransEquality.org to learn more, and contact the group at NCTE@transequality.org or (202) 903-0112.
• The American Civil Liberties Union is a national legal organization that takes on cases of discrimination, many times involving sexual orientation or gender identity bias. To find the office nearest you, go to ACLU.org/affiliates.
• Lambda Legal, a national LGBT civil rights organization based in New York City, recommends reaching out to its nearest office if you need help. For a list of the five offices and their contact information, go to LambdaLegal.org/help.