Gay Workplace Rights

Gays have had to face tough situations in the workplace for a very long time. Not only would they would be passed over for promotions or even fired because of their sexual orientation, they would also be openly mocked or harassed. In some cases, gays would even be openly ostracized because their coworkers would accept them.

On April 27, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Executive Order 10450. The order states explicitly that “sexual perversion” – which is how homosexuality was seen at the time, as a sick perversion – is a valid reason for firing a federal employee and it even went so far as to list homosexuality as a good reason for denying people government jobs. The order also classified homosexuality as a threat to national security. However, Eisenhower’s order only exposed the depth of the government’s prejudice because gays had been discharged from government jobs since the early 19th century.

Since then, there have been laws put into effect that make it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation in addition to their race, sex, or religious affiliation. In 1979, the Civil Rights Reform Act was passed stating that federal agencies could no longer “discriminate for or against any employee or applicant for employment on the basis of conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant or the performance of others.” Since sexual orientation does not affect the quality of someone’s work, it became illegal to include that factor when it comes to choosing whether to hire, fire, or promote an employee. In 1998, Executive Order 13087 was issued, establishing “a uniform policy for the Federal government to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.” In 1993, the Secretary’s Civil Rights Policy Statement prohibited discrimination because of sexual orientation.

Currently, there is a proposed bill known as EDNA, or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, in the US Congress that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation not only in the federal workplace but in the private sector as well, barring religious organizations for obvious reasons. It has been reintroduced to every congress save one since 1994.

While it’s far from common practice right now, more and more companies are going so far as to adopt official hiring policies that explicitly state that nobody should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Most often, these policies also outline punishments for people who are guilty of discriminating.

As of right now, 83% of Fortune 100 companies, 57% of Fortune 500 companies, 39% of Fortune 1000 companies, and 75% of AMLAW 200 companies provide domestic partner benefits. Domestic partner benefits include spousal benefits although it’s common to find companies where benefits for a domestic partner are not equal to those of a spouse.

The states that have passed anti-discrimination laws include - in addition the District of Columbia - California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. Some states - Delaware, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, and Pennsylvania – have laws in place that prohibit discrimination only in public workplaces (federal as opposed to private).

In 1978, California Senator John Brigg introduced a movement to ban homosexuals from teaching in schools. The law was defeated in part due to Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official. Since then, laws have been passed but cases brought to the Supreme Court have been dismissed or not heard.

Activism Organizations

Other Resources for the Gay Community

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