We the People: Why Congress Must Pass a Comprehensive LGBT Non-Discrimination Act

Guest blog post by Sharita Gruberg, Policy Analyst, Center for American Progress

Photo: JBrazito

Photo: JBrazito

As we celebrate our victories on marriage equality, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people continue to face discrimination in their daily lives that prevent them from being full participants in society.  LGBT people are excluded from exercising basic rights in the majority of states. In 29 states, it is still legal to fire, refuse housing, or deny service to people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  For example, in 11 states, a same-sex couple can legally marry, but they can legally be fired from their jobs for doing so.

This week, the Center for American Progress released a groundbreaking report calling on Congress to pass comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, public accommodations, housing, credit, and federal funding. Since these basic areas of life are so closely interconnected, a comprehensive approach to addressing discrimination against LGBT people is necessary. The report examines how LGBT people are excluded from explicit protections against discrimination in these core areas of life and the impact of this exclusion, such as disproportionate rates of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.  A survey found discrimination in employment resulted in 1 in 4 of all transgender respondents and 30 percent of Latino transgender respondents being fired from a job. Workplace discrimination is not limited to being fired from a job, 43 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers reporting discrimination or harassment on the job. LGBT people face discrimination in other areas of life as well, with 1 in 4 same sex couples experiencing discrimination when trying to buy a home and 1 in 5 transgender people being denied equal treatment in hotels and restaurants.

As the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, NCLR believes all people deserve equal treatment. When it comes to LGBT equality, NCLR sees it as one part of the larger fight for civil rights and has said that “[e]nsuring fairness and equality while protecting people from discrimination is at the heart of NCLR’s mission.” No one should be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love. A report by the Human Rights Campaign and League of United Latin American Citizens found that LGBT Latino youth are twice as likely as non-LGBT Latino youth to say they don’t “fit in.” As CAP’s report found, more than half of k-12 LGBT students feel unsafe at school. While acceptance starts at home, it is imperative that we ensure our young people grow up in a society that treats them equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Executive Order Will Increase Accountability on Companies to Protect Workers’ Rights

By Catherine Singley Harvey, Manager, Economic Policy Project, NCLR

On July 31, President Obama took a firm stance in defense of workers’ rights by issuing an executive order calling for additional scrutiny in the federal contracting process to weed out the worst violators of basic labor laws. Under the new order, companies applying for large federal contracts must disclose any violations of labor laws that occurred during the last three years. Considering a company’s compliance record in the competitive bidding process will ensure that corner-cutting businesses do not gain an advantage over firms that play by the rules. The order also stipulates that contractors receiving awards of more than $1 million should not force employees to sign an agreement when they are hired saying they will settle out of court in cases of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination.

The existing laws covered by the executive order include minimum wage and overtime pay, occupational safety and health, nondiscrimination in employment, family and medical leave, and migrant and seasonal farmworker protections. While Latino-owned businesses are underrepresented in federal procurement, Latino workers employed by federal contractors stand to benefit from this new guidance. Workers in industries where the government footprint is large can also expect spillover benefits; the federal government indirectly supports nearly two million jobs in industries where Latinos are overrepresented compared to their share of the overall workforce, which is 16 percent. These industries include restaurant and food service (24.4 percent Latino), construction (25.5 percent Latino), apparel manufacturing (38.6 percent Latino), and services to buildings and dwellings (39.9 percent Latino).

While the potential reach of the new executive order is broad, we need federal agencies like the Department of Labor to do more to root out bad actors that violate labor laws and help the majority of businesses who want to follow the rules do so fully. Furthermore, many of the laws protecting workers were created decades ago when our economy was very different. It’s time for Congress to bring those laws into the 21st century to meet the needs of our modern, multilayered workplace. From raising the federal minimum wage to expanding protections for temporary and contingent workers, NCLR is committed to working with policymakers to bring about these essential changes.