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LGBT Workers Live and Work Under 'A Broken Bargain'

New Report Examines How LGBT Workers Face Discrimination, Get Fewer Benefits and Pay More Taxes

Washington, D.C.—A landmark new report released today examines how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers might have the same job as a coworker, yet be legally fired, denied equal benefits and be required to pay thousands of dollars more in taxes simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits and More Taxes for LGBT Workers illustrates how America’s basic bargain—that those who work hard can get ahead—is broken for LGBT workers. The report vividly shows how antiquated and discriminatory laws make it harder for LGBT workers to provide for themselves and their families, and offers detailed policy recommendations for addressing those inequities.

While the nation focuses on recent advances in securing marriage for same-sex couples, 40 years of advocacy have failed to secure federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBT workers. Driven by the need to respond to these public policy failures, this report brings together a coalition of leading LGBT organizations, policy experts and business advocates that includes the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Center for American Progress (CAP), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in partnership with Freedom to Work, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Partnership for Women & Families, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates and SEIU—with a foreword by Small Business Majority.

LGBT Workers Are Diverse, Often Parents, and More Likely to Be Poor

A Broken Bargain paints the most complete portrait to date of the LGBT workforce in the U.S., revealing that:

  • There are an estimated 5.4 million LGBT workers who live in 93% of all U.S. counties.
  • LGBT workers are often parents. More than one-third (37%) of LGBT adults have had a child, making family benefits important to LGBT and non-LGBT workers alike.
  • LGBT people are at higher risk of poverty than non-LGBT people. Fifteen percent of transgender people have a household income under $10,000, compared to 4% of the population as a whole. Same-sex couples raising children are more than twice as likely to have household incomes near the poverty line compared to opposite-sex parents (21% vs. 9%).
  • LGBT workers are slightly more racially/ethnically diverse than the U.S. population as a whole.

How Is the Basic American Bargain Broken for LGBT Workers?

“For LGBT workers, hard work is often rewarded by bias, fewer workplace benefits, and higher taxes,” said Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of the Movement Advancement Project. “Imagine doing the same job as your coworker, but being told that your child, unlike your coworkers’, is excluded from the company’s health insurance plan. Imagine making the same mandatory contributions to Social Security, only to know that your family, unlike your coworkers’, will be denied benefits should something happen to you. Then, on top of it all, imagine being hit with a much higher tax bill.”

Among the ways that Americans’ basic bargain is broken for LGBT workers:

  • Lack of nondiscrimination protections. No federal law and only a minority of states provide explicit protections for LGBT workers, even though protections exist for other workers based on factors such as race, national origin, religion, ethnicity, and disability. Progress has perhaps been impeded by the fact that 89% of Americans mistakenly believe that it is already illegal under federal law to fire someone simply for being LGBT.
  • Family and medical leave. LGBT workers are denied equal access to unpaid leave to provide care for a same-sex spouse or partner. Transgender workers are often denied medical leave for transition-related medical care.
  • Family health benefits. An employer that extends family health benefits to married opposite-sex couples can legally deny that same coverage to married and unmarried same-sex couples. When LGBT workers do receive these benefits, middle-income families pay an estimated $3,200 in extra taxes on them, although heterosexual workers get the same benefits tax-free.
  • Spousal retirement benefits. LGBT workers are systematically denied Social Security spousal benefits designed to protect workers' families during their retirement years. This costs retired same-sex couples up to $14,484 per year, and a surviving same-sex widow or widower up to $28,968 per year. Same-sex partners also may also be denied pension survivor benefits.
  • Death and disability benefits. If an LGBT worker dies or becomes disabled, the worker's same-sex spouse—and in some cases, his or her children—will be denied Social Security disability and survivor benefits, costing a surviving spouse with two children as much as $29,520 in annual benefits.

“Even if same-sex couples could marry in all 50 states tomorrow, it would still be perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay under federal law and in a majority of states. In other words, workers would be able to marry the person they love, but if they put that wedding picture on their desk, they might lose their job,” said Winnie Stachelberg, Executive Vice President of External Affairs at the Center for American Progress. “While we are seeing recent victories on the marriage equality front, we must do more to address the real and serious problem of employment discrimination against LGBT workers.”

Businesses Agree That the Broken Bargain Needs Fixing

”America’s most successful businesses want a level playing field for workers across the country,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “In addition to treating their own LGBT employees with dignity and respect, over 90 major businesses have also joined the Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness. Treating everyone fairly through federal law is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for companies’ bottom line.”

“Small business owners know that nothing creates success like hard work, and they want policies in place that help them find and retain the most talented, hard working employees this country has to offer,” said Small Business Majority Vice President of External Affairs Rhett Buttle. “But current law often forces them to treat some employees differently than others, and that only hurts them, their workers and the overall success of our economy. It is no surprise that our national April 2013 survey found that 67% of small businesses support extending federal workplace protections to gay and transgender employees.”

Common-Sense Solutions for Fixing the Broken Bargain

To restore the broken bargain, policymakers and business leaders must institute a series of commonsense and popular solutions to treat all workers and their families fairly and equally. Among the broad policy recommendations detailed in the report: the importance of addressing inadequate federal and state nondiscrimination protections, extending legal recognition for the partners and children of LGBT workers, and changing benefit, immigration and tax law to ensure equal treatment for LGBT workers and their families.

The report also contains detailed recommendations such as extending equal access to federal programs like Social Security, equal access to health care and insurance, ending inequitable taxation of domestic partner benefits, expansion of FMLA and other laws that allow same-sex couples take care of each other, and ensuring LGBT families are eligible for family-based tax relief.

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A Broken Bargain: Report Partners

“It's long past time for Congress and President Obama to take action giving LGBT Americans the freedom to build a successful career without fear of harassment or discrimination based on who they are or who they love,” said Tico Almeida, Founder and President of Freedom to Work. “We expect a winning Senate vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act later this year, and we will continue pushing President Obama to keep his campaign promise and sign the federal contractor executive order.”

“The demand for transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination laws is as much a business case as it is a moral case,” said Mara Keisling, Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality. “Employers already struggle to keep great employees, but trans employees are twice as likely as the general public to hold advanced degrees, yet have twice the rate of unemployment. Instituting laws and policies that protect highly qualified transgender workers is good for everyone--employers and employees.”

A Broken Bargain makes clear just how far we have to go as a nation to ensure that all people can work and provide for their families without suffering due to discrimination, unequal treatment or inadequate workplace support,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. “Every employer and member of Congress should take a close look at this groundbreaking report, ask if they are part of the problem or the solution, and commit to advancing nondiscrimination measures and extending access to the full range of benefits and workplace standards – like the Family and Medical Leave Act – to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers.”

“The ethical and business case for Workplace Equality has transformed corporate America,” said Selisse Berry, Founder and CEO, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. “The companies we work with are leading the way and now is the time for our legislators to do the right thing for business, the right thing for social justice, the right thing for equality and follow suit. An inclusive ENDA when passed will be the prelude to our greatest work and greatest challenge – creating cultures of inclusion that permeate all our workplaces.”

“The public increasingly gets that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is flat wrong, and it’s past time for our work place and public policies to catch up with public sentiment," said Mary Kay Henry, President of SEIU. "LGBTQ workers and their families deserve the same workplace protections and benefits as other workers and their families. SEIU members are committed to achieving equality for gay and lesbian families just as we are committed to ensuring all workers are treated with respect."

Business Leaders

“Since 2006, The Clorox Company has earned a 100 percent rating in the Human Rights Corporate Equality Index for our policies and benefits with respect to our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered employees,” said Reza Rahaman, Vice-President Research, Development & Innovation, The Clorox Company. “At Clorox, we believe fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do, and it’s fundamental to our success.”

“Workforce diversity has always been a pillar of Dell's competitive advantage,” said Laura Crumley, Executive Director of Finance, Dell Inc. “It promotes an environment that values individual differences, engages people in decision-making, and helps us embrace larger talent pools to continue building the innovative workforce of today and tomorrow. Our anti-discrimination policies help Dell recruit and retain talented, innovative workers and executives to our company and, once recruited, help keep them here.”

"In a highly competitive world where innovation is critical to securing competitive advantage, it is our employees that are key to Dow's success,” Howard Ungerleider, Executive Vice President, Advanced Materials, The Dow Chemical Company. “We believe that creating a respectful, inclusive working environment that includes our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender co-workers, is not only a matter of fairness and equality, but also one of critical economic and business importance. With a shrinking talent pool in sciences and engineering, it is essential for any company to actively include everyone to ensure attraction, development and retention of the very best talent - and therefore, advancement of the endeavor. At Dow, we strive to have an identifiable employer brand, and we see our proactive stance on diversity and inclusion as a key element of this brand."

“As changing demographics continue to transform the world around us, employees and customers are — and need to be — more diverse than ever before, whether that’s due to sexual orientation, gender, generation, ethnicity, and the list goes on,” said Beth Brooke, Global Vice-Chair – Public Policy, Ernst & Young. “This is why Ernst & Young focuses on the fact that difference matters,” said Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair – Public Policy, Ernst & Young. “To be successful, we need all of our professionals, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, to achieve their potential by bringing their unique differences to the decision-making tables every day. This requires fostering a fair and supportive workplace that’s conducive to unlocking the value that difference brings — both for individuals and for companies.”

Media Contacts:
Calla Rongerude
Movement Advancement Project (MAP)
(415) 205-2420

Crosby Burns
Center for American Progress
(202) 741-6369

Erin Musgrave
Small Business Majority
(891) 477-0453

Paul Guequierre
Human Rights Campaign
(202) 423-2860

Teddy Witherington
Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
(415) 845-1206

Jenice Robinson
SEIU
(202) 730-7759

Vincent Villano
National Center for Transgender Equality
(202) 631-9640

Sadie Kliner
National Partnership for Women & Families
(202) 986-2600

Tico Almeida
Freedom to Work
(917) 566-8871