What do the mid-term election results mean for workplace equality?

What do the mid-term election results mean for workplace equality?

November 5, 2010

The 2010 mid-term elections will require a change in strategy when it comes to legislation important to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees. For the next several weeks, a lame-duck Congress will determine what issues will be addressed before the House of Representatives leadership changes in January.  President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have urged Congress to promote bipartisanship in order to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.  

Other pieces of legislations including the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), the Tax Equity for Health Beneficiaries Act, the Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act, the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act (DPBO), the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act appear to have little realistic chance of becoming law by year end.  The likelihood of moving any of these bills in the newly reconfigured Congress is daunting.

Taking action

The election results make it all the more crucial to take action however we can in the next several weeks. It is vital, for example, that constituents call their Senators now not only to reinforce the importance of repealing DADT before year end but also to ask your Senator to co-sponsor comprehensive immigration reform that includes UAFA.

The good news for moving forward

The good news is that we have never had to rely on legislation to make progress on workplace equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees and their friends and family. Corporate leadership has long provided substantial progress on issues of workplace equality for our community in the absence of federal action. Of course, federal legislation such as ENDA and DPBO would help extend progress to more workplaces faster. Other important legislation would remove obstacles imbedded in federal laws that make it difficult, costly or impossible for employers to treat all of their employees equally. 

But there remains much that needs to be done - and can be accomplished - outside the legislative process while we continue to work to change hearts and minds.

Providing leadership

Out & Equal's constituents - employee resource groups, human resources and diversity & inclusion professionals, and executives who identify as or are allies for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender leaders at large multinational corporations - are a powerful and influential base of support.  It is a base that has achieved significant gains within their own U.S. workplaces in the absence of federal legislation and has begun to look beyond the U.S. in the workplace equality movement.  The leadership role for this group is to:

·    Refine global workplace policies to ensure that all employees are treated equally (e.g., transgender health benefits, imputed tax equalization) and conduct comprehensive reviews of all policies and guidelines for family benefits;

·    Work to have a global workplace culture reflect the equality intended by their policies, using metrics made possible through self identification tools to assess progress;

·    Support the existence of a thriving employee resource group program that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employee networks globally;

·    Sponsor community organizations working to support employee LGBT families (eg. issues affecting education, anti-bullying, and marriage equality);

·    Recruit business partners to encourage fair policies in their workplaces by being an organizational mentor and supporting supplier diversity efforts;

·    Communicate regularly - internally and externally -- about support for all employees, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender;

·    Deploy political capital strategically at the local, state and federal level in support of the LGBT community where opportunities for influence and success are apparent (e.g.,  ensure that processes are in place which factor in the impact on LGBT employees when deciding how to spend corporate funds in support of candidates or proposed legislation; and work clearly to oppose legislation that would erode equality for LGBT employees and their families at federal, state and local levels);

·    Use organizational influence with trade associations and chambers of commerce (including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) to educate them on the business case for workplace equality inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and to take a stand in support of inclusive laws and policies; and,

·    Participate in programs such as the Out & Equal Workplace Summit, Out & Equal Regional Affiliate events, and other forums in the U.S. and internationally convened by Out & Equal and its partners for the purpose of advancing workplace equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

The corporate sector has led the way toward workplace equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees in the U.S historically.  The lack of forward progress on the federal front does not reflect the growing trend of support for LGBT workplace equality. 

Fair minded employers must once again continue to lead during the times ahead.  Out & Equal is committed to continue to work with our partners to achieve workplace equality for all.

Media contact: Deputy Director Kevin Jones, kjones@outandequal.org.