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Being LGBT
Shouldn’t Be a Job Hazard

Being LGBT
Shouldn’t Be a Job Hazard

Target

The American Civil Liberties Union weighs in on why LGBT Americans need the same employment protections provided to other groups.

Being LGBT in America shouldn't be a job hazard and yet, today, it's perfectly legal in 30 states to fire someone just for being gay or lesbian--and there's nothing you can do about it. If you're transgender, you have no recourse in 38 states. Yet according to a recent poll, 89% of Americans believe that gay men and lesbians should have equal rights in the workplace, and a majority believes the same for transgender employees.

But that certainly didn't prove true for Diane Schroer. Schroer had a distinguished military career before she transitioned, eventually becoming a colonel in the Special Forces. Schroer logged 450 parachute jumps into some of the world's most dangerous places and received numerous decorations. She was chosen to lead a classified national security operation and even briefed Vice President Cheney on the global war on terror.

After retiring from the military, Schroer decided it was finally time to acknowledge being transgender and make the transition from male to female. As a civilian, Schroer applied for a job with a large federal agency library as a senior terrorism research analyst. She received an offer shortly after the interview and accepted the position.

But before starting, Schroer invited her new boss to lunch to explain that she was transgender and would like to begin the job as a woman. The next day, the director rescinded the offer, saying Schroer wasn't a "good fit." Our own government passed up the person it deemed most qualified for a position to help combat terrorism -- a person who spent 25 years in the trenches fighting terrorists -- just because that person happened to be transgender. (Video of Schroer can be seen here.)

While there are already federal protections against job discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion, age, and disability, no uniform federal law protects LGBT workers. But Congress is considering making a historic change. Important legislation in the House of Representatives, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, would make it illegal for employers to make discriminatory decisions about hiring, terminations, promotions, and compensation based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Unfortunately, some in Congress, fearful that they do not have enough support to pass a bill that includes gender identity, have begun advocating for a different bill, which takes out gender identity protections. As a result, the bill would cut out most transgender people and threaten protections for gay men and lesbians who don't conform to gender stereotypes. There is a risk that courts will say a law banning only sexual orientation discrimination offers no protection to men who are fired because their employers think they are effeminate and women who are fired because employers think them too masculine. The law must be clear; it must protect all LGBT employees. Leading organizations fighting for LGBT protections, including the ACLU, have made clear that they oppose taking away safeguards for an entire group of individuals who regularly experience an extraordinary -- often impoverishing -- level of employment discrimination. It's critical now more than ever that members of Congress understand that the community is standing together for an inclusive law.

Congress has a long history of protecting American workers. During the last 50 years, when people were denied employment for reasons unrelated to their skills in the workplace, Congress responded by passing laws aimed at creating a system truly based on employee merit. Our society has and must continue to embrace the principle that arbitrary considerations do not govern access to employment. This should be no less true for LGBT workers. It's now time for Congress to help bring lesbian, gay -- and transgender -- employees out of the shadows at work and pass real protections so that all workers who stand side by side on the job are treated equally under the law.

For more information on ENDA and for other stories of people who have experienced workplace discrimination for being LGBT, please see the ACLU's report "Working in the Shadows: Ending Employment Discrimination for LGBT Americans," available at www.aclu.org.

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