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Marriage Is Great, But Many LGBT People of Color Need Job Safety

The lack of legal protections for members of the LGBT community means that more people live in poverty simply because their rights aren’t on an equal footing with other Americans.

The following piece first appeared on Colorlines. 

As the Supreme Court weighed arguments on same-sex marriage, Chief Justice John Roberts wondered aloud from the bench whether action on the issue by the court was necessary, because “politicians are falling all over themselves” to bring the legal rights of gay and lesbian Americans in line with those of everyone else. If only this were true. In up to 34 states it’s still legal for employers to deny jobs to citizens simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The lack of legal protections in two-thirds of the states for members of the LGBT community means that more people live in poverty and have a harder time making it simply because their rights aren’t on an equal footing with other Americans. This is even more the case for LGBT women and people of color, where employment discrimination fuels an even broader economic crisis.

But these hardships can be rolled away, and we need not wait for members of Congress to finish “falling all over themselves” to make it happen. As a  report released earlier this week by a coalition of non-discrimination organizations lays out, President Obama can take unilateral action right now to help more LGBT Americans secure jobs, improve living standards and live out their dreams.

As Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said to me recently, “Hopefully 2013 will be the year that President Obama fulfills his written 2008 campaign promise and signs an employment non-discrimination executive order.” A  Freedom to Work online petition already has over a 185,000 signatures pressing the president to do just that.

The case for doing so is persuasive and the numbers are staggering. Contrary to the aspirational images wealthy white men in popular media, such as the gay-millionaire couple on NBC’s hit-comedy “The New Normal” or the upwardly mobile denizens of “Will & Grace,” LGBT Americans are more likely to be poor and less educated than their peers, and come from communities that have been historically, economically marginalized. More than half of LGBT people in the U.S. are women, and black Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos make up a greater proportion of those identifying as LGBT than do whites.

According to a  Gallup Survey last year, LGBT Americans are 30 percent more likely to have low-income jobs than the general population. Correspondingly, LGBT Americans are less likely to have high paying jobs than workers as a whole, and have a greater sense of dissatisfaction with their living standards as a result.

Furthermore, lower levels of education, fed by the open hostility that many LGBT youth grapple with in school, creates yet another economic obstacle for the community. LGBT Americans have lower levels of education than the overall population.

The bottom line is that employment non discrimination measures are required. Too many people neither can get nor keep good jobs without them.

According to a  report by the Center for American Progress, as many as two out of five gay and lesbian workers “have experienced some form of discrimination on the job” with up to one out of five of these having been “fired for their sexual orientation.”

For transgender workers, these astounding numbers become astronomical. Nine out of 10 transgender employees have encountered “some form of harassment or mistreatment” at work with almost half of those who encountered difficulty on the job reporting extreme hardship, such as losing employment “due to gender-identity discrimination.”

Extreme bigotry has dire economic consequences. In certain cities, as  Queers for Economic Justice points out, the unemployment rate of the transgender community can be up to seven times higher than that of the muncipality as a whole.

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