Updated: Feb 20
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals from discrimination of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex within the workplace. Although it is not a cure-all for discrimination, it was the first major step in creating a sense of unity and security in the workplace for everyone. However, not all groups that you might expect to be protected were actually protected – for example, sexual orientation was not protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Therefore, it is not illegal federally to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community. Instead, protections for sexual orientation are often made at the state level or individual level (e.g., individual companies).
In LGBT Workplace Protections as an Extension of the Protected Class Framework, Steiger and Henry (2020) were interested in which companies offer LGBTQ+ protections. They compared Fortune 500 company policies for protected classes, gender, and ethnic diversity in leadership. Companies that had at least one female in corporate leadership were more likely to have LGBTQ+ friendly attitudes than those without female leadership. Companies that viewed men and women equal in the workplace were more supportive of their employees whose sexual orientation differed from traditional sex stereotypes. Thus, it seems like these more equality-driven beliefs in the workplace are linked to one another.
In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act protects sexual orientation and gender identity within matters of employment. Although this is a momentous victory in the fight for equal rights, LGBTQ+ individuals are only protected at a federal level in the employment context. Arguably, it is not the Court’s role to “find” these protections piecemeal. Instead, legislatures should be establishing necessary protections. Congress has attempted to enact the Equality Act, which would extend the anti-discrimination protections of the Civil Rights Act to the LGBTQ+ community. By making sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes, LGBTQ+ community members would not just be protected against discrimination in the employment context, but also in matters of healthcare, housing, federally funded programs, public spaces, and more. However, the Equality Act has not been passed by the Senate. It is possible that it will pass given the shift in congressional composition following the recent election. But, if you want to help ensure nationwide equality regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, you should contact your Senator and encourage them to vote for equal rights.