Very recently the Arizona Senate voted to approve legislation that would expand religious freedom. Well that sounds nice doesn’t it? Religious freedom: that’s what this country was built on! Well this seems to be the crafty way to state the intentions of the bill. The bill would prevent the state from taking legal action against people or businesses that refuse services to people based on their religious beliefs. More specifically, this bill would allow the legal refusal of services to LGBT patrons.
The senate voted 17-13 on Bill 1062, pushing it through to the State’s House. This was surprising because of the recent failure of similar bills in four different states this year. Some are actually expecting this one to pass.
When we talk about diversity in the workforce we tend to discuss race, ethnicity, sex and age; sexual orientation and gender identity can get lost in the shuffle, but it is an integral part of workforce diversity.
The Civil Right Act, prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was passed in 1964. The Equal Pay Act, which protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination, was passed in 1963. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities was passed in 1990. Finally in late 2013, The Senate voted to approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, civil rights legislation that would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT individuals in the workplace.
Only a few months later, legislation like Bill 1062 is pushing back on new rights. Although the act is about employment discrimination and the bill is about refusal of service, LGBT discrimination is at the core of both. A last minute amendment clarified ENDA’s anti-retaliation provisions to reinforce that religious institutions exempt from the bill will not be penalized. Discrimination doesn’t stop and start with the exiting or entering of a certain type of building, it stops when we start making it unacceptable.
Although ENDA will outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of both gender identity and sexual orientation, there are still 29 states that have no state laws protecting LGBT individuals in the workplace. This means that just a matter of months ago, 55 percent of all U.S. workers could have been legally fired due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
So, while advances are being made for this workforce segment, they are happening at a rather slow pace, with added hurdles like refusal of services bills. ENDA seems like a very necessary bill, yet it took several times before congress, dying and failing to pass.
House Speaker John Boehner opposed the law on the grounds that it has the potential to cause “frivolous litigation”. The voice of opposition is clearly indicating that the rights of LGBT workers should be trumped by the convenience and security of business owners. “Frivolous litigation” at the cost of small business owners is a pretty sad reason to deny these workers rights that other minority segments have had for a while.
In reality, LGBT workplace diversity efforts are moving too slowly. The most recent statistic I could find was from 2011 in a Harvard Business Review piece revealing that 48 percent of LGBT respondents in a survey report remaining “closeted” at work. This makes sense since later in the article we read that 48 percent of heterosexual Americans oppose gay marriage, and 52 percent of straight men think LGBT workers should “keep their lifestyle choices to themselves.”
Are LGBT workers a part of your company’s diversity initiatives? They should be. If you need economic reasons, the Williams Institute recently updated their report on Economic Motives for Adopting LGBT-Related Workplace Policies. If you need human reasons, it’s the right thing to do.