Broken Bargain LGBT Workers of ColorOn August 28, 2013, people crowded to the National Mall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The central purpose of the March on Washington was for economic justice and equality. Though the fight for economic security is hardly over, it is an area of particular concern for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers of color. Due to race- and LGBT-based discrimination coupled with a lack of explicit workplace protections, unequal job benefits, and high rates of unemployment and poverty, LGBT workers of color remain among the most disadvantaged populations in the American workforce.

A new report co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Center for American Progress (CAP) and its FIRE Initiative, Freedom to Work, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) analyzes the broken bargain for LGBT workers of color, offers specific policy recommendations, and unearths unique demographic characteristics of LGBT workers of color throughout the United States.

Being LGBT can have real consequences in the workplace. In many places throughout the country, there are no explicit laws that prohibit employers from hiring, firing, or not promoting a person based solely on LGBT identity. On the state level, only 21 states and Washington, D.C. have laws that protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers based on sexual orientation, and a mere 17 states and Washington, D.C. have transgender-inclusive protections that safeguard workplace rights for transgender and gender nonconforming workers. Because of bias and prejudice based on race, workplace discrimination is exacerbated for LGBT workers of color.

LGBT workers of color face astonishingly high rates of unemployment and suffer from poverty. The report shows that:

  • LGBT people are more likely to identify as people of color compared to non-LGBT people. In a 2012 Gallup poll, for instance, 33 percent of LGBT respondents identified as people of color, compared to 27 percent of non-LGBT respondents.
  • Black Americans were the most likely to identify as LGBT, and research shows that black LGBT people, in particular, are at a much higher risk of poverty than other groups.
  • LGBT people of color are more likely to be raising children than their white LGBT counterparts, with estimates of between 780,000 and 1.1 million children being raised by LGBT people of color.
  • LGBT people of color are at a much higher risk of poverty than non-LGBT people. For example, black same-sex couples have poverty rates at least twice the rates of black different-sex married couples – 18 percent versus 8 percent.

The dual burden of discrimination related to race/ethnicity and sexual orientation and/or gender identity makes it increasingly difficult for LGBT workers of color to reach the American dream. The report also reveals other challenging areas where LGBT workers of color are disparately impacted. For example, the school-to-prison pipeline results in many LGBT youth of color entering into the juvenile justice system instead of classrooms. And barriers such as unwarranted background checks, inadequate workplace protections, and unequal pay continue to make it difficult for LGBT workers of color to financially provide for themselves and their families.

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a critical first step toward securing workplace rights for LGBT workers. Until the law is passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and later signed into law, the bargain for LGBT workers of color will remain broken. Only by instituting the right laws and policies, such as passing ENDA, can society assure the economic security of LGBT workers of color.

Preston Mitchum is a Policy Analyst with the FIRE Initiative at the Center for American Progress, which works to eliminate the social, economic, and health disparities faced by LGBT people of color.

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