A New Frontier

With the legalization of gay-marriage, it’s not surprising that the LGBT movement is focusing on workplace equality. This new frontier is the next logical step considering that you can be fired for your now-legal marriage. But in my mind, the outlook isn’t so dim for equality in the workplace.

A huge majority of the Fortune 500 company have already set policies protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination. I read in USA Today this statistic, “The percentage of these companies with protection policies for sexual identity jumped from 61% in 2002 to 91% in 2014”. (Retrieved from Employment discrimination: The next frontier for LGBT community).It’s nice to know that some companies were a bit ahead of the game when it came to protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identities. While these companies are not the only ones to have implemented such policies, there is still a need to ensure that all workplaces provide equal opportunity to the LGBT community.

That’s where the government comes in–I know super obvious statement, but I’m getting to my first point now. One of the central conflicts to this new frontier is going to be the debate of state vs. federal. When a group of people is trying to pass a law, they go for the federal response. But, there are people out there who believe in less federal control and more state power. I have to admit that while I was looking at the pros and cons of states having more power, my eyes crossed a little at all of the issues this debate presents. But the issue that is central to what we’re talking about here is civil rights: should it be up to each state to decide how it will protect civil rights, or is civil rights a federal issue? With the trends of the past 60 years, I would say that civil rights, whether you like it or not, is a federal issue. Trying to take any civil rights issue back down to the state level doesn’t seem plausible with how much progress the various civil rights movements have made at the federal level. Even so, there are still those hold-outs who advocate for more state control over civil rights legislation.

Just this February, Governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback, issued an executive order to remove an existing law that barred workplace discrimination of LGBT individuals. His reason for this move was that he wanted to ensure civil rights “without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did”.

I guess I can see that creating additional protected classes can be cumbersome in legal work and blah blah blah, but come on. That move was completely political and based on personal beliefs. Our politicians should pull out all the stops when it comes to protecting their constituents’ civil rights whether they agree with the lifestyle or not. Bad move, Brownback. Bad move.

So anyway, I can see some resistance coming from the proponents of state power of civil rights, but ultimately, I think with the win in marriage equality, the federal government will be more likely to pass other legislation protecting LGBT rights.

However, there is the issue of controlling religious institutions policies concerning LGBT employment. Religious organizations and religiously-affiliated schools have the ability to reject or even fire an individual based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. I think we all know that, but we might disagree with it…vehemently. How can we simply tolerate discrimination from a religious institution just because they don’t agree with the lifestyle? They wouldn’t be able to discriminate based on other characteristics like race or income level, so why should we allow discrimination based on religious beliefs? That’s the argument (in a nutshell), right?

Well, you’d be hard-pressed to convince the average American to favor LGBT rights over religious freedom. America and religious freedom is damn-near synonymous.

This is a really murky area to me. These two groups clash in ideas, and it’s pretty difficult to find a fair compromise when it comes to LGBT equality in the religiously-affiliated workplace. In all of these arguments, I just keep thinking, “Why would an LGBT individual even want to work for a religious institution with such (discriminatory) beliefs as their foundation?”

One of the reasons why several LGBT people aren’t religious is because of the systemic discrimination against that lifestyle in several different religions. Facing that kind of persecution or shame in a church is enough to scare people away for life. There are churches that are coming around and amending their beliefs of homosexuality, and there are new churches or religious organizations springing up that embrace the LGBT lifestyle. Why not affiliate with these places instead?

One answer that comes to mind is that people believe these religious institutions should change their beliefs and by forcing these places to allow LGBT workers, their beliefs will then follow to a more tolerant/accepting position. But, is that right? As you can see, I don’t know the answer myself. I am arguing back and forth because as a proud member of the LGBT community, I don’t want to tolerate discrimination in any environment. But, I am also religious. I respect the right of religious organizations to adhere to their morals and teachings.

In the USA Today article, Catherine Conway, a partner who specialized in employment law at Dunn & Crutcher LLP, was cited saying, “Freedom of religion is protected by the Constitution. Therefore there is a necessary caveat. you can’t tell a religious group — even if you disagree with it — to change its beliefs”.

I have to agree with Conway. It’s going to take a friggin’ miracle to pass any kind of law forcing religious institutions to accept LGBT individuals in the workplace.