Yesterday, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Center for American Progress (CAP), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released a comprehensive new report examining the myriad hardships and barriers facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers across the country. That report, called A Broken Bargain, puts together for the first time all available information about LGBT workplace issues. According to the report: “If fairness and equality are part of America’s basic workplace bargain, this bargain is clearly broken for LGBT workers. This broken bargain, in turn, can create an untenable situation for employers.”
One of the initial findings from this report unearths the unique demographic characteristics of LGBT workers in the United States. For example, the report finds that:
- LGBT workers are racially and ethnically diverse. One in three LGBT respondents (33%) in a 2012 Gallup poll identified as people of color, compared to 27% of non-LGBT individuals.
- LGBT workers are geographically dispersed. As many as 4.3 million LGBT people live in states with no state laws providing employment protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
- LGBT workers in the United States are at a higher risk of poverty than other workers. Among the hardest-hit by the broken bargain for LGBT workers are those who are parents, together with their children.
In creating this comprehensive resource, researchers then examined the one-two-three punch that LGBT workers in America face: discrimination in employment, fewer benefits, and higher taxes, simply based on their LGBT status.
Workplace Discrimination: LGBT workers can put their job prospects at risk if they disclose that they are LGBT while looking for work. All too often, when a worker identifies as LGBT at work, they are subjected to a hostile work environment where they could hear anti-gay slurs and verbal — and sometimes physical — harassment. In addition to job and workplace discrimination, LGBT employees face wage disparities that make it harder for them to provide for themselves and their families. In 2012, a meta-analysis of 12 studies examining wage disparities among gay and bisexual men concluded that they earn 10 to 32 percent less than similarly-situated heterosexual men. This means if a gay or bisexual man had a salary of $30,000, his heterosexual counterpart could make approximately $10,000 more, which could be used to provide for himself and his family.
Fewer Benefits: LGBT workers still experience unequal benefits even if they are permanently employed. Under federal and most state laws, health coverage extended to married opposite-sex couples can still be denied to same-sex couples. Because the federal government does not legally recognize same-sex marriages under DOMA, LGBT employees do not have equal access to federally mandated unpaid leave to provide care for same-sex spouses. For example, a lesbian would not receive the same leave to provide for her ailing partner, while her heterosexual counterpart would receive the mandated leave to provide care to his wife. Unfortunately, this is one of many examples of how LGBT workers have fewer federal and state benefits.
More Taxes: When employers elect to offer family coverage to LGBT workers, most of them have to pay thousands of dollars in extra taxes on the value of the family coverage, although heterosexual workers get the same benefits tax-free. State marriage and parenting laws, combined with the federal government’s lack of recognition of same-sex couples, mean that LGBT workers pay more taxes because they cannot use the “married filing jointly” status. Consider an LGBT family with one working parent who has a taxable income of $60,000 a year and a stay-at-home parent who has no income. The inability to file a federal tax return as a married couple costs the LGBT family $2,902 in additional taxes.
Finally, A Broken Bargain includes a series of policy and legal recommendations to business leaders and politicians. If enacted, these recommendations would finally place LGBT workers on equal footing with their non-LGBT counterparts. Going forward, those working on advancing LGBT workplace equality will now have a seminal and comprehensive guide to turn to for research and resources when making the case for laws like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would finally make it illegal in all 50 states to fire someone for being LGBT — it’s still legal in a majority of states.
With momentum building around marriage equality, it’s time that lawmakers start considering other aspects of LGBT equality as well, including workplace equality. Only by instituting the right laws and policies, such as those outlined in the report, can we fix the broken bargain for LGBT workers.
Preston Mitchum is a policy analyst for LGBT Progress.