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Americans believe LGBT workplace discrimination unfair
Survey shows growing acceptance

by Fred Lameck

Eighty-eight percent of heterosexuals say learning a co-worker is gay would make no difference.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nearly two-thirds of all American adults (64 percent) believe it is unfair that federal law currently allows for an employer to fire someone because they are gay or lesbian. A similar majority (60 percent) of heterosexual adults were not even aware that federal law does not provide protections for employees on the basis of sexual orientation. An overwhelming majority (79 percent) of heterosexuals also feel that how an employee does his or her job, and not their sexual orientation, should be the standard for judging an employee. When it comes to the issue of transgender employees in the work place, two thirds of heterosexuals (67 percent) also agree that employee performance should be the standard by which they are judged and not whether they are transgender.These are some of the results from the latest national Out & Equal Workplace survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive in conjunction with Witeck-Combs Communications and Out & Equal, among 2,868 U.S. adults, of whom 350 self-identified as LGBT. The survey is an annual barometer of attitudes surrounding LGBT issues in the workplace and is the longest-running survey of its kind.

Currently the U.S. House of Representatives is debating whether to vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a proposed U.S. federal law that, if enacted, will prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The current version of the bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2007 and for the first time includes gender identity as a protected category in relation to job discrimination.

“This survey continues to demonstrate that clear majorities of American adults agree that discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is wrong,” says Out & Equal Executive Director Selisse Berry. “It is clear that heterosexual co-workers are realizing that sexual orientation is not relevant to job performance.”

In addition, more heterosexuals (88 percent) say they would feel indifferent or feel positively upon learning that a co-worker is gay or lesbian. About one-in-ten (12 percent) say they would feel negatively.

This positive response from co-workers is likely a contributing factor to the increase in the numbers of gays and lesbians who feel comfortable about being open in the workplace about their sexual orientation.

• In 2007, 54 percent of LGBT adults are comfortable having a photo of their spouse, partner or significant other on their desk, compared to only 34 percent in 2002 who felt this way.

• In 2007, 64 percent of LGBT adults are comfortable introducing their spouse, partner or significant other to their co-workers, compared to 50 percent in 2002 who said they would be comfortable doing this.

• In addition, half (51 percent) of gay and lesbian employees say they hear anti-gay comments at work and 15 percent say they were harassed on the job by co-workers.

“Companies have to realize that having policies in place is not where workplace equality ends,” added Berry. “It is critical to ensure that all employees feel safe in their jobs and that the policies are being evenly enforced. This will not only send a strong message to the workforce that discrimination will not be tolerated, but creating a discrimination-free workplace will be an attraction to future employees considering work for the company.”

In fact, when LGBT adults were asked about making decisions about their own career, all other things being equal:

• 76 percent of LGBT adults say it is extremely or very important that a company offer equal health insurance benefits to all employees.

• 67 percent of LGBT adults say it is extremely or very important that a company have a written non-discrimination policy that includes race, ethnicity, sex, religion, age, sexual orientation and disability.

In most categories of workplace benefits, majorities of heterosexuals believe that same-sex couples should receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples:

• 64 percent of heterosexual adults feel that leave rights for family and medical emergencies as outlined in the Family and Medical Leave Act should be applicable to the family circumstances facing both heterosexual and gay and lesbian employees.

• 59 percent of heterosexual adults feel that regardless of sexual orientation, all employees are entitled to equal benefits on the job, such as health insurance for same-sex partners or spouses.

• 58 percent of heterosexual adults feel that health benefits extended by employers to both heterosexual spouses and partners of gay or lesbian employees should not be taxable.

• 56 percent of heterosexuals feel that both heterosexual spouses and partners of gay or lesbian employees should be eligible to receive assistance with transfers to new locations when their spouse/partner has been transferred by their own employer.

The release of this study comes just before the start of the nation’s largest conference dedicated to addressing equality in the workplace for LGBT employees. The 17th annual Out & Equal Workplace Summit will be held September 27-29 at the Hilton Washington in Washington, D.C. More than 2,000 attendees will gather to share best practices on how to achieve workplace equality for LGBT employees. LGBT employees and straight allies, along with human resources and diversity professionals, representing some of the nation’s most prominent companies — a majority from the Fortune 500 — are set to participate in this year’s summit.

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