07/02/2014 01:41 pm ET Updated Sep 01, 2014

Politics May End at the Border, But Equality Does Not Have To: Global Corporate LGBT Inclusion

Picture it, an all-out grim legal environment for citizens who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender: Criminalization of homosexual acts, bans on open military service recognition of married same-sex couples; no nationwide hate crimes or basic employment protections.

This isn't Russia or Uganda or another country that seems to be constantly in the news for its anti-LGBT posture. It's the United States, circa 2002.

It's also the year that visionary advocates embarked on a unique strategy to proactively work with major private sector employers to transform the American workplace into one offering safety, opportunity and yes, a business incentive for LGBT equality. This strategy catalyzed the launch of the first benchmarking report card of LGBT corporate inclusion, the 2002 Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Corporate Equality Index.

A year before the Supreme Court decriminalized same-sex relations in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision, Texas's own American Airlines (and twelve other major employers) earned top ratings for implementing workplace protections, benefits and practices inclusive of LGBT employees.
Lesson learned: a grim legal environment does not have to be a barrier to private sector inclusion of LGBT workers.

Since that first year of the CEI, the changes across the Fortune 500 and other major employers have been astonishing: gender identity protections among the Fortune 500 have expanded from close to 0 percent in 2002 up to 61 percent today and solidifying sexual orientation protections as the norm, too. Furthermore, the rates of LGBT employee network groups have more than doubled. Visible LGBT inclusion is the market standard, not the exception and this is being felt globally.

Building off of the success stateside, we at the HRC Foundation announced last year that all CEI employers will be evaluated on their global non-discrimination policies in 2015. Since 2004 we have surveyed businesses on their global policies and monitored trends, observing both a sincere drive to cover all employees coupled with efforts to navigate the complex international landscape of workplace norms. It is time for all of us -- advocates, public and private sector stakeholders -- to agree on the basic principle that sexual orientation and gender identity have no business being factored into hiring, firing and other employment decisions. This is the message I brought to last week's White House Forum on Global Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights last week.

Echoing this call for greater corporate consistency just this past Friday, the New York Comptroller's Office in its capacity of overseeing billions of dollars in US-based multinationals, asked twenty major corporations the very same questions all CEI companies have been asked: to show us both the policy and the accountability processes of abiding by global non-discrimination statements.

As we move forward, we do not discount the reality of crisscrossing cultural norms and legal setbacks for global LGBT equality. At the same time, we reject the notion that establishing basic, civil and fair workplace protections is too hard a lift for the titans of the global economy. Successful businesses are already recognizing that equality is not just good for business, it is fast becoming a harbinger of future global market and talent trends.