Employment discrimination pushes LGBT youth into the closet

For the 5.4 million LGBT workers that form a part of the U.S. workforce employment discrimination creates a difficult hurdle. There are no federal laws in place to protect LGBT workers and only 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in addition only 16 states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity/expression. This means that in the majority of the United States employers have no legal obligation to treat LGBT workers equally and are free to discriminate based on their LGBT identity.

A new report by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) shows that LGBT workers face bias and discrimination in the hiring and recruitment process, on-the-job inequality and unfairness, and wage disparities. They also have fewer benefits. Employers are not legally bound to provide the equal benefits to LGBT employees; this can lead to unequal access to health insurance and federally mandated unpaid leave to provide care for same-sex spouses or partners.

These disparities and the fear of discrimination can cause LGBT employees to hide their identity in the workplace. Recent studies show that more than one third of LGB respondents reported that they were not out to anyone at work, and only 25% were out to all of their co-workers. Another study found that 70% of workers who concealed their sexual orientation did so because they feared risk to employment security or harassment in the workplace. In addition 28% of closeted LGB employees who concealed their sexual identity because they felt that it may be an obstacle to career advancement and 17% believed they might be fired.

This fear affects youth disproportionally.  Young people who are LGBT are far less likely than older LGBT workers to be open about their sexual orientation in the workplace. Starting out in the workforce is difficult for any young worker, so the fear of unequal treatment and harassment can create a strong pressure. If a young worker believes that their identity will hinder them from getting ahead in the workplace they could be less likely to disclose it. A report by Human Rights Campaign Foundation showed that only 5% of LGBT employees ages 18 to 24 are completely open at work.

Even if a young LGBT identified person feels comfortable being out in other parts of their life, the lack of legal protections and discrimination may force young workers back into the closet. A young person may be forced to choose between their professional identity and their LGBT identity as a means of getting ahead in the workplace or even being able to get and keep a job.  

It is crucial for federal, state and local governments to pass laws/ordinances that include explicit protections for LGBT workers. Non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity are fundamental to establishing a productive and safe workplace climate. They are aIso a fundamental step in the path towards LGBT equality. In the youth lies our future, so as we make strides towards a more just world LGBT youth along with all LGBT workers must be empowered and be rid of the fear and reality of discrimination.