Past overdue!: Protections for LGBT Americans in the workplace

Donna Braquet

Marriage equality has made great strides in the courts and in public opinion polls in recent years, but even though these momentous changes are happening, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans continue to be fired and harassed for who they are and who they love. Currently, there are still 29 states in which employees can be fired for their sexual orientation and 32 states in which they can be fired for their gender identity, meaning that an estimated 4.3 million LGBT Americans live in states without protections for sexual orientation or gender identity.1

The reality of this lack of protections can be seen in results of a 2013 study which found that 53% of LGBT workers are closeted at work and 35% felt the need to lie about their personal lives in the workplace. One-fifth reported wanting to leave their jobs and stated that they felt mental and emotional fatigue from hiding their orientation or identity.2

Although President Obama signed an executive order in April 2015 that protects federal employees and prohibits discrimination by any federal contractors,3 there are no federal laws protecting LGBT workers from discrimination. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) languished in Congress for decades and has all but been abandoned by most LGBT advocacy organizations due to concerns over the inclusion of overly broad religious exemptions. Most LGBT groups and a growing number of legislators now advocate for a comprehensive civil rights bill like that of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as opposed to a stand alone ENDA bill.4 Such a civil rights bill would be comprehensive, protecting employment and also credit, education, federal funding, housing, jury service, and public accommodations. The resources below shed light on the long, difficult, and winding, and frankly well past overdue, path to LGBT workplace protections in America.


Note: Many of the timelines below have not been updated in recent months due to the abandonment of ENDA. However, they serve as historical snapshots.

Infographics and maps

Advocacy organizations

  • Lambda Legal. Founded in 1973, Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest legal policy advocacy organization in the United States. The workplace page provides updates on current cases and provides workplace rights information and best practices for companies related to LGBT employment. Access:
  • National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). Founded in 1977, NCLR works through litigation, legislation, policy, and education to advance the civil rights of LGBT people. NCLR’s employment page provides updates regarding litigation, policy changes, and legislative votes. Access:
  • National Center for Transgender Equality. The leading social advocacy group for transgender people was founded in 2003. The employment page provides legal information, as well as practical information on how to resolve workplace discrimination. Access:

Resources for LGBT workers

  • Corporate Equality Index. This yearly report rates more than 700 U.S. companies based on their LGBT employee inclusion and support by measuring benefits, policies, diversity training, and public commitment. Access:
  • Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Employer Database. This database of more than 1,000 companies can be searched by company name, but is also browsable by several variables such as 1) inclusivity of gender identity in the nondiscrimination clause, 2) by type of organization (for-profit; college and university; not for-profit; unions), 3) employers that offer domestic partner benefits, and 4) LGBT employee network. Access:

  • HRC Workplace. Possibly the most well known LGBT rights organization, HRC provides a robust workplace site that includes resources for employees, co-worker, employers, as well as a plethora of additional resources. Access:
  • Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. The world’s largest nonprofit organization specifically dedicated to helping companies support their LGBT employees, including online training, on-site training, toolkits, and a virtual summit series. Access:

Resources for employers and coworkers

  • Catalyst. This nonprofit organization focuses on providing opportunities for women in businesses. The running list of reports, trainings, webinars, and other resources geared toward diversity in the workforce, including LGBT. Access:
  • Human Rights Campaign. Possibly the most comprehensive list of resources for employers, HRC provides tools that provide guidance on speaking to inclusion, restroom usage, transitioning employees, international business considerations, recruitment, inclusive policies, philanthropy for LGBT issues, and best practices. Access:
  • Lambda Legal. This advocacy and litigation organization provides a quick to read list of most frequently asked questions by employers in a simple question and answer format. Access:

  • Straight for Equality in the Workplace. This site provides resources on how to be a straight ally to co-workers including a training manual, top ten lists, and a glossary. Access:

Current awareness

Governmental guidance

Major reports


  • Family Research Council (FRC). is a campaign of FRC Action. This arm of the FRC, formed in 1992, was formed to educate society on the “traditional American values.” Though the website has not been updated since 1993, it outlines the reasoning behind their opposition to employment protections for LGBT Americans. Access:
  • The Heritage Foundation. This think tank, created in 1973 promotes conservative public policies. This page outlines the danger of providing workplace protections under ENDA and proposes that increased employment protections would weaken the First Amendment, lead to same-sex marriage, and threaten businesses. Access:

Copyright © 2015 Donna Braquet

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