While I spent my week surrounded by more than 100 colleagues and Fortune 500 executives and agencies charting the future of LGBT workplace inclusion at Out & Equal’s annual Executive Forum, it has been a difficult week politically for LGBT people. As an advocate, I’m incredibly disheartened to see ongoing threats to the progress we’ve made in recent decades. As a lesbian, it’s hard not feel personally hurt and threatened when our community is again attacked or rendered invisible.
Last week we saw three different developments that could be devastating to LGBT people’s ability to go to work and enjoy our daily lives without fear of discrimination or being targeted for who we are.
First, after weeks of speculation and expectation, the Trump administration issued an executive order late on Monday that allows employers to discriminate against LGBT people. Specifically, Donald Trump’s order ends an Obama-era policy that required federal contractors to prove they do not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and age. Obama's order banning such discrimination by contractors remains in force — but the revocation of this companion order takes the teeth from it.
By ending the policy requiring contractors to prove nondiscrimination, Trump removed, as ThinkProgress explained, “the only legal force protecting over a million workers” from being fired for being LGBT.
This executive order is out of step with American values of equality and inclusion, and out of sync with the direction Fortune 500 companies are taking. One of the great untold success stories of the last 20 years is how businesses have led the way for LGBT equality even as federal legislation has lagged. Today, an astounding 92 percent of the Fortune 500 embrace lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees through nondiscrimination policies. and 82 percent include gender identity.
No one should be forced to choose between the career they love and who they love — a lesson I learned the hard way 20 years ago. But for those million-plus workers, this frightening possibility will now become a reality. I wonder how many people, after hearing this news, took a spouse’s photo off their desk, or stayed quiet in the lunchroom, rather than risk saying too much and being targeted.
Being forced to stay in the closet at work, for fear of losing your job, does nothing to improve productivity or career success. On the contrary, it can make LGBT people feel undervalued, vulnerable, and even invisible, and studies show it leads LGBT people to leave their jobs.
That feeling of invisibility also happens when we’re not included in important research and data collection. We learned recently that sexual orientation and gender identity will not be included in the 2020 Census as administered by the Trump administration. The Census is a vital tool for understanding who we are as a nation, the size of various communities, and is used to enforce laws and allocate funding.
If we don’t know where LGBT people are or how many of us there are, how can we possibly ensure that our community’s needs are being met? It’s an incredibly disappointing decision and one that will have ramifications for a full decade if not reversed.
Finally, there is troubling news from state legislatures bubbling up across the country.
In North Carolina, a cruel law continues to target LGBT people for discrimination and prevent trans people from going about their daily lives. Though House Bill 2 was officially repealed last week, it's a sham, as it would leave in place one of the most egregious parts of the law. If will still be legal for an employer to fire someone, a landlord to evict someone, and a business to kick someone out or engage in other kinds of discrimination solely because of the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In other words, the repeal bill isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Like the Trump executive order, the HB 2 replacement law is an invitation for employers to discriminate and a disturbing message to LGBT people who are now at risk.
Our national leaders have the power — and opportunity — to set the tone for how LGBT people are welcomed into communities across the country. And I’m deeply concerned that the tone being set by the Trump administration's recent moves is one that will embolden state lawmakers to marginalize, exclude, and render LGBT people vulnerable to discrimination or worse.
We hope the president will look to the example of our country’s largest corporations and understand that our nation is strongest when we include everyone.
SELISSE BERRY is the founder and chief executive officer of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. Since 1996, Selisse has built the Global LGBT Workplace Equality movement by creating a network of multinational companies and federal agencies to work toward LGBT education, empowerment, and visibility.