A Bright Spot In Hard Times: LGBTQ Workplace Equality

12/09/2016 01:31 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2016

Many of us are still reeling from the results of the November election as people across the country are uncertain about what the future holds. Calls from LGBTQ community members -- about hate crimes, increased bullying in schools, fears about the security of our families and marriages, about our loved ones who are immigrants or Muslim -- have been rolling in. What does this new Cabinet Secretary nomination mean? Will my transgender child be safe at school? What about my gay brother who serves in the military? Will all our gains be rolled back?

We are in for some of the most historic fights to defend and expand equality for LGBTQ people that the community has ever faced. But we can draw on our own history to remember we have faced very hard times before and that LGBTQ equality will continue to move forward.

Over the last 15 years the Human Rights Campaign Foundation has worked to transform the institutions of daily lives: fostering schools that welcome our kids, ensuring respectful and affordable healthcare, building inclusive communities whether in sports or places of worship or workplaces across the country.

We made change long before laws or elected leaders were on our side and this work is now more important than ever. Our flagship Corporate Equality Index (CEI) - the premiere survey of LGBT-inclusive policies, practices, and benefits in the workplace - was launched in the darkest of legal days for the LGBTQ community; when Lawrence v. Texas had not yet been decided, when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act were the laws of the land, and when lawmakers refused to even pass basic hate crimes protections. But it was in this environment, in 2002, that advocates chose a new path to begin transforming workplaces and building a business case for equality and it has been hugely successful.

This week’s launch of the 15th Corporate Equality Index provided a powerful counterweight to the last year of painful attacks on LGBTQ rights and the dignity of our community. There were 517 major businesses that invested in comprehensive efforts to ensure LGBTQ inclusion in their policies, benefits and practices, earning a 100 percent score. This is the highest number of top-rated businesses in the history of the CEI. In addition, this year saw the largest single-year jump in employers adopting transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage, from 511 to 647, including a full half of the Fortune 500. And 82 percent of the Fortune 500 include gender identity protections, up from just 3 percent when the CEI started. Let that sink in for a moment: a large majority of the nation’s largest businesses have proactively identified the need for fairness in the workplace for transgender employees.

This is momentum that no election can undo or stymie.

We are far from done – there are still millions of workers that live in states with no legal protections and literally fear being fired or demoted just for who they are or who they love. The recently released U.S. Trans Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 30 percent of transgender people report being fired or denied a promotion because of their gender identity.

That won’t change until we pass the Equality Act and ensure full civil rights protections for LGBTQ people. But in the meantime millions more DO have protections because their employers have made the sound business decision that diversity is good for their employees and the bottom line. They know that inclusion contributes to productivity and innovation. I am heartened to know that this week, millions of workers received proud notifications over email, social media and in-person that their employers earned top ratings in the Corporate Equality Index. That mom who’s unsure if she can open up to her coworkers about her LGBTQ child, that closeted bisexual woman, that fearful transgender person, that apprehensive gay man – all of these folks will see in writing their employers’ support and pride for the community.

These aren’t just words. These are meaningful actions. Major businesses know that investing upfront in LGBT-inclusive policies, benefits and practices helps them attract and retain a diverse, talented workforce. It also helps them be creative and nimble in the marketplace as consumers are looking for brands that reflect their values of fairness and inclusion. Hundreds of companies stood up for LGBTQ equality in the public square in states across the country, most notably North Carolina in the battle over the hateful HB2. This was real leadership from the private sector and it sends a powerful message in cities, states and workplaces across the country and around the world.

Because of the CEI’s global mandate, hundreds of companies have worked to ensure consistency of their LGBT non-discrimination protections throughout their international operations (more than 90 percent of employers in the CEI with global operations). Businesses are growing bolder in their visibility and commitment to equality, as the number of members of HRC’s Global Business Coalition has tripled in one year. And demonstrating the global reach of workplace equality, this week we launched the CEI in Mexico City as part of our HRC Equidad MX program and heard from Mexican and U.S. businesses about the importance of LGBTQ inclusion. We shared the stage with Pemex – one of the largest employers in Mexico -- as they made the business case for full workplace opportunity and inclusion for LGBTQ people.

So whether it’s a young transgender kid whose mom works at a plant in Arkansas and gets an affirming message at work or it’s the gay employee in India who may not be safe at home or on the street but can be his full self at work, the march for basic fairness continues forward. Together, we are making a difference in the lives of millions of people.

We have a lot of hard work ahead of us. We have progress to defend and most importantly we have a lot of people to protect, but the moral arc of the universe is bending toward justice. The majority of people believe in our humanity and our equality and so do a growing number of businesses.

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