Federal laws do not prohibit discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation in housing or employment. Without a federal law, a state or local law would therefore provide the only assurance or protection to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community in areas of workplace or housing.

As of 2012, twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have explicit laws that ban discrimination in the workplace because of a person’s sexual orientation. Sixteen of those states and the District of Columbia ban discrimination in the workplace based on a person’s gender identity. These are explicit laws, meaning the LGBTQ community is categorized as a specific group for protection under the law.

Current State Laws

States that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation:
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin

An additional five states prohibit discrimination against public employees based on sexual orientation only:
Alaska, Arizona, Missouri, Montana and Ohio

States that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity:
California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Washington

An additional fifty-seven cities extend protections to include gender identity. In addition, there are fifteen states with concurrent laws that have been interpreted (rather than explicit) to protect based on a person’s gender identity:
Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Illinois, Tennessee, Michigan, Oregon.

Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, on July 26, 2011 released a report summarizing academic studies and other documented evidence of employment discrimination reported by LGBTQ individuals.

The report found that 27 percent of respondents faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation over a five-year period. Rates were higher for those who were open about their sexual orientation, with 38 percent facing either harassment or job loss.

In a recent national survey, 90 percent of transgender people reported some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job.

Impact of Discrimination

Several studies show that anywhere from 15 percent to 43 percent of LGBTQ people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Also, 7 percent to 41 percent of LGBTQ workers claim to have encountered harassment, abuse, or anti-LGBTQ vandalism on the job. With a lack of federal employment data that looks at sexual oreintation and gender identity, one must look at a range of surveys and studies to draw conclusions. In doing so, it causes a wide variance as seen in the percentage numbers above.

Discrimination of any kind can cause job instability, greater unemployment rates, and higher poverty rates. Transgender individuals are twice as likely to be unemployed and four times as likely to live in poverty, and nearly 20 percent have been or are currently homeless.

Terms Defined

As defined by the NLGJA Stylebook Supplement:

gender identity – An individual’s emotional and psychological sense of being male or female. Not necessarily the same as an individual’s biological identity.

sexual orientation – Innate sexual attraction. Use this term instead of “sexual preference.”

transgender – An umbrella term that refers to people whose physical, sexual characteristics may not match their gender identity, usually preoperative, postoperative or nonoperative transsexuals. Some female and male cross-dressers, drag queens or kings, female or male impersonators, and intersex individuals may also identify as transgender.

Use the name and personal pronouns that are consistent with how the individual lives publicly. When possible, ask which term the subject prefers.