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LGBT Employment Issues

Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion for the Black Women Lawyers Association addressing the topic of employment and benefits issues for the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community. The title of the program was “Be Careful Where You Work and Love: LGBT Employment and Relationship Rights.”

The issue is very timely because of the recent passage of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (the Civil Union Act”) in Illinois, which provides extends marriage protections under Illinois law to same sex couples in Illinois. While the Civil Union Act is a big step forward, it also emphasizes what same sex couples are being denied: a choice. It is amazing to think that we still have not realized the fallacy in “separate but equal.” This is not to say that Illinois is not being somewhat progressive given the fact that the Defense of Marriage Act passed by the federal government blatantly denies an entire community of people equal marriage rights. At the same time though is fosters an accepted form of discrimination that easily creeps into the workplace.

The discussion yesterday primarily around the idea that we are creating landmines for the LGBT community by not pushing the federal government to change the law. In terms of employment law, Illinois is one of only 21 states that offer protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and one of only 16 states that have laws or regulations that offer protections against employment discrimination against gender identity discrimination.

I would like to think that the 29 states without any LGBT employment discrimination protections are going without solely because their residents don’t know their laws are lacking. It’s hard to maintain that belief though knowing that the federal government does not specially prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity either.

We are living in a time where kids are killing each other in schools because of bullying and hate. What kind of example are we as adults setting for children when don’t push for our laws to protect against bullying and hate in the workplace? That is really what discrimination is, hate in action. Embodying the “golden rule” is possible, but we all have to work to make that happen. One steps forward in that process is supporting marriage equality for all.