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Transgender Rights in the Workplace

FACT: Employment discrimination for non-public employees in regards to gender or sexuality is illegal in 20 states + Washington DC. This means that it is technically legal in 30 states in some way, shape, or form.

While most people are aware that one cannot discriminate against someone in the workplace for their sex, marital status, age, or disability, most people assume this also includes sexuality and gender, which for 30 states in the US it does not. While there are still many examples of discrimination occurring in the workplace for the classes protected in all 50 states, gender and sexuality are only protected in 20 states. This means that a transgender person can be legally fired from their job for being transgender in 30 states, and they have little to no way of getting justice since gender is not covered on a federal level. By leaving it up to the states to decide to protect gender or sexuality, it creates an environment where LGBT+ people often times are forced to remain in the closet about who they are, or in the case of gender, are forced to either take a job after transitioning, or spend their entire time working at the job pretending to be someone they are not.

Even in states where LGBT+ people are protected by a non-discrimination act, harassment and discrimination can still occur, which then requires the person affected to either out themselves to everyone, or to stay silent about their gender or sexuality. Another issue is that while it is illegal to discriminate against LGBT+ people on the basis of gender or sexuality in 20 states in the US, people can still discriminate but then give some other “reason” behind their actions, such as refusing to hire a transgender person who is open or unable to pass as their gender, or firing someone for being open about being homosexual (such as a man talking about his marriage and mentioning they have a husband and not a wife). Due to many states being either at will or a right to work state, some employers don’t even need to give a reason for firing a person, which then makes it much more difficult to fight against and prove the reason behind the firing or discrimination.

Currently there is work being done by groups like the Human Rights Campaign to have the federal government pass a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (HRC, 2013), but without the removal of at will and right to work laws, the discrimination will still continue to occur as employers don’t have to disclose reasons behind their actions. Also, as can be seen with discrimination of cis women within the workplace, without proper enforcement of the laws and acts, the discrimination will continue and in many cases be swept under the proverbial rug until there are so many cases that people can no longer ignore the problem.

“As Senate Hearing Nears, Nations Leading Businesses Support Employment Non-Discrimination Act.” Human Rights Campaign, 9 July 2013, www.hrc.org/press/nations-leading-businesses-support-employment-non-discrimination-act-as-sen.