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Disposable Income: How Gender and Sexuality Don't Add Up to Equal Pay

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June marks Pride Month, an annual celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community's struggle for full equity. Despite the huge strides made toward this goal over the last few decades, there remains much work to be done. The historical patterns of workplace discrimination and pay inequity among LGBT and women workers still persist. On June 24, Representative Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts introduced the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would protect all workers from discrimination regardless of their sexual or gender identity.

A careful look at the earnings and workplace experiences of LGBT and women workers clearly illustrates the need for this legislation. Gender and sexual identity are intrinsically linked to pay.

According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, in 2008 full-time working women made 80 cents for every dollar their male counterparts made. And though the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was a significant step toward promoting pay equity for women, Ledbetter only amended the statute of limitations established by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to allow claimants more time to file equal pay lawsuits. It did not legislate equal pay for equal work.

Studies also illustrate just how much a person's sexual identity is present in their pocketbook. "Bias in the Workplace," a 2007 Williams Institute report, documents that gay men earn 10% - 32% less than similarly qualified heterosexual men. The report also finds that though "the differential between lesbian and heterosexual women has varied across studies [...] lesbians consistently earn less than men."

Despite multiple attempts, ENDA has yet to survive its way through Congress, leaving LGBT workers vulnerable to workplace discrimination in more than 30 states.

In 2008 the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy also released a very telling new study. Kristen Schilt and Matthew Wiswall's "Before and After: Gender Transitions, Human Capital, and Workplace Experiences" explores the changes in pay and workplace treatment of people who transition genders. By looking at the before-and-after snapshots of people whose gender changes, but whose abilities remain the same, the study makes unique observations about the affects of gender identity in the workplace. Schilt and Wiswall find that people who transition from male-to-female lose about 31% of their earnings, while people who transition from female-to-male experience on average a 10% gain.

So, study respondents who lived as women before transitioning earned less money than men, and study respondents who lived as women after transitioning earned less money than men. In short, regardless of their talents, both biological and transgender women earn less than men for equal work.

Similarly, "State of Transgender California", a March 2009 report produced by the Transgender Law Center, finds that while transgender Californians are twice as likely to hold a bachelor's degree, they're also twice as likely to live below the poverty line. These obvious disconnects between ability and opportunity point directly to the challenging discriminatory employment environment faced by LGBT and women workers.

The conclusion is clear: LGBT and women workers are not earning equal pay for equal work, nor are they fully protected from discrimination based on their gender and sexual identities.

The time to pass ENDA is now.

Twelve days before his inauguration, President Obama delivered a speech at George Mason University in which he said, "We cannot have a solid recovery if our people and our businesses don't have confidence that we're getting our fiscal house in order."

When getting your house in order, it's best to work your way from the foundation up. This means advocating for stimulus packages that benefit women and low-wage workers as a way to jumpstart the economy while protecting our nation's most vulnerable. True fiscal recovery must also include steps to promote equal pay for equal work and ensure that everyone is protected from harassment in the workplace. This Pride Month -- join LGBT and women workers in urging President Obama and Congress to take more steps to promote pay equity and to pass ENDA.

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