What an amazing three months it has been! Now that we have all caught our collective breath from an unprecedented Pride Month, let's step back for a moment and consider what has transpired during this time for the entire LGBTQ community.
These past 90 or so days has brought us a large dose of Caitlyn Jenner -- from her coming out interview (as Bruce at the time) with Diane Sawyer in mid-April, to the "Call Me Caitlyn" spread in Vanity Fair in early June, and most recently with her being honored as the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year's ESPY Awards. Oh, and lest I forget this little ruling made by the Supreme Court on the last Friday in June making it legal for gay couples to marry in every state of our union! It's safe to say that many of us in the LGBTQ community are only just now emerging from the afterglow of that monumental event.
On the surface one could say that it's a wonderful time to be gay -- and/or lesbian, bisexual, trans. We can get married in whatever state we choose and have it recognized wherever we choose to live. Transgender and gender non-conforming people can celebrate the fact that the issues that continue to plague their community are being aired on a much larger platform than ever before. But in the light of a new day, is it?
While I fully acknowledge and embrace the tectonic shift that the Supreme Court decision has brought to the LGBTQ community, and the beacon of light that Caitlyn's journey has shed on the issues facing transgender individuals across the country; the simple fact of the matter is there is still so much that needs to be achieved, to be won, before we as a nation can claim that all Americans -- regardless of who they are -- share equally in the opportunity that embodies our country.
Make no mistake about it, the marriage equality ruling is wonderful, but it is by no means a panacea in our quest for full and equal human rights for the entire LGBTQ community -- and it is our human, not our civil, rights that are at stake.
Simply put, we have come to a critical crossroads in the LGBTQ equality movement, the future of which depends to a very large degree on the collective actions of what we do from this point forward -- and by "we" I mean ALL of US -- whether you identify under one of the letters or are a straight ally.
We must now turn our attention and our energies towards those areas of inequality that continue to plague our progress. Once such area is that of employment. Having been firmly ensconced in Corporate America for 35 years, it is the area that I chose to contribute my voice to when I transitioned in my workplace nearly 10 years ago.
Let's start by reviewing the current LGBTQ workplace equality landscape. Brace yourself, the statistics -- if perhaps you have forgotten them -- are quite sobering:
• Only 19 states and the District of Columbia have employee non-discriminations laws at the state level that protect LGBTQ workers. To put it another way, 28 states do not - for the L, G, and B populations. For trans and gender non-conforming employees, you can up that figure to 31. I was not a math major, but even I can figure out that in 62 percent (nearly two-thirds!) of the United States a trans or gender non-conforming worker can be fired on the spot under state law for simply having the courage to embrace their authentic self -- and it's not all that much better for L, G and B workers at 56 percent.
If that isn't bad enough, it gets markedly worse for the transgender and gender non-conforming population. Consider these:
• One in four trans people have lost a job due to bias
• More than 75 percent of trans people have experienced some form of workplace discrimination
• Of those trans people that are "gainfully employed," approximately 15 percent earn less than $10,000 a year -- and that's four times the national average.
To put that into sharper focus, the 2015 Federal Poverty Level for two-person households is $15,930. For 1-person households it is $11,770.
• And one last, but very important fact, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is, for all intents and purposes, dead, forever ensnared in the politics of our Congress. For the record, it really isn't officially dead, but we are now on our fourth iteration and it is was not introduced in this current Congress.
Rising up from the frustrations and bitterness that marked the ENDA era, is a renewed hope and vigor that has been sparked by the events previously outlined. Momentum has clearly shifted and is building in a positive direction. My sources on Capitol Hill tell me that a full equality bill that fills the gaps of a severely watered down ENDA is going to be introduced soon. In the aftermath of ENDA, it is imperative that as Human Resource and Diversity & Inclusion professionals you make it a point to follow this closely and engage your legislators in Congress on an individual and company-wide level in an effort to bring this to fruition. Why you ask? Because this will finally, once and for all, provide a pathway to full equality -- in terms of providing protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in a much more favorable way than ENDA did. But it will not end there.
To be sure, a solid foundation of inclusive company policies are further fortified by fair federal laws. Eliminating employment discrimination for LGBTQ individuals is the hub of a multi-spoked wheel of full and comprehensive equality that includes, housing, credit and public accommodations. It closes the aforementioned gaps in workplace non-discrimination laws and contributes to a vibrant, inspired and dedicated workforce, no matter the type of work they are involved in.
Whether your company has attained a perfect 100 score on the HRC's Corporate Equality Index or you are close, now is not the time to be resting on one's corporate D&I laurels. It begins and ends with the reaffirmation that seeing full LGBTQ workplace equality through to complete fruition is just plain good for business. This is the new paradigm in order to attract, recruit, onboard and retain the best and the brightest from an ever diversifying pool of talent. If your company isn't quite there yet, one thing is certain: many of your competitors already are, and in some cases have been there for a while and have assumed a leadership role in touting the benefits of a fully inclusive workplace.
A company that takes all of the steps necessary to advocate for, and create, a workplace that celebrates the diversity of its employees with equal protections and equal access isn't just an investment in human capital -- it's also a capital investment.
This piece originally appeared in Diversity Best Practices', Diversity in the News, July 22, 2015 edition