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LGBT Minorities Face High Unemployment, Job Discrimination, Low Wages, Study Finds

Monday, November 18, 2013
By Ben Penn

Nov. 15 --The nation's estimated 1.8 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers of color are particularly disadvantaged, with higher levels of unemployment and on-the-job discrimination as well as lower wages than other employees, the Movement Advancement Project and other think tanks reported Nov. 14.

“While it can be hard to identify exactly how the forces of bias and prejudice based on race, sexual orientation and gender identity intersect, the fact is that they do so to the detriment of LGBT workers of color, making them some of the most disadvantaged workers in the U.S. workforce,” the Denver-based MAP said in the report, “A Broken Bargain for LGBT Workers of Color.” The group provides research to advance LGBT issues.

The jobless rates for blacks and Latinos outpace the rate of the overall population, but the difference is especially stark among LGBT workers of color, MAP said, citing an analysis from the Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School that showed LGBT adult unemployment exceeded non-LGBT unemployment among Latinos (14 percent versus 11 percent), African Americans (15 percent versus 12 percent) and Asian and Pacific Islanders (11 percent versus 8 percent).

Within the LGBT community, transgender unemployment was even more pronounced, at 28 percent among blacks, 18 percent for Latinos and 18 percent for multiracial individuals, according to a 2011 survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality .

As LGBT individuals are disproportionately people of color--33 percent compared with 27 percent of non-LGBT respondents saying they are of color, according to a 2012 Gallup poll--the obstacles they face in the workplace are troublesome, MAP found, with research assistance from the Center for American Progress, Freedom to Work, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Black Justice Coalition.

Background Checks Hurt Group's Job Prospects
Contributing to the elevated unemployment rates faced by LGBT minorities, researchers said, are such obstacles as “unwarranted background checks” that may “unfairly disqualify candidates”; higher levels of on-the-job discrimination if they do find a job; and a lack of supports in the form of nondiscrimination laws and workplace mentors.

The background checks are more likely to thwart an LGBT person of color's job hunt because of the school-to-prison pipeline that uniquely affects LGBT youth of color. A 2012 Lambda Legal survey mentioned in the report found that 79 percent of LGBT minority youths said they'd had interactions with security or law enforcement during middle school or high school, compared with 63 percent of white LGBT youth.

Surveys of employed LGBT people of color reveal extremely prevalent sexual orientation discrimination, MAP said. Some 75 percent to 82 percent of LGBT Asian and Pacific Islanders say they've been discriminated against at their jobs because of their orientation, and about 50 percent of LGBT blacks face such discrimination, the organization said, again citing the Williams Institute.

Adding to the need for legal protections of LGBT workers were the findings from a Human Rights Campaign Foundation study that 18 percent of LGBT Latinos and 25 percent of LGBT blacks had come out to their co-workers, compared with 29 percent of whites. “This illustrates the critical need for workplace protections based on sexual orientation and gender/identity expression alongside existing race-based protections,” MAP wrote.

At the federal level and in the majority of states, LGBT workers are failed by a legal framework that doesn't specifically prohibit discrimination against and harassment of LGBT individuals, the report noted.

“This means that a worker of color who experiences discrimination because he or she is gay or lesbian can be legally fired under federal law,” the report said.

LGBT workers of color also face challenges advancing in their jobs and finding comfort, often lacking a relatable role model. “These workers often leave an employer because of the simple fact that there is no one in the workplace who can mentor them, act as a sponsor or advocate, or serve as a role model,” MAP reported.

Higher Wage Penalties 'Likely' Among LGBT Minorities
Although researchers have little hard data to separate out the pay of LGBT workers of color, the group said, studies have found minorities earn less than whites and LGBT individuals tend to suffer a wage penalty as well, indicating “the penalties are likely compounded for LGBT workers of color.”

For instance, white and Asian men and women had significantly higher median weekly earnings than their black and Latino counterparts, MAP found. The finding was based on Labor Department data, not seasonally adjusted, from the fourth quarter of 2012. This included white men earning a median of $895 per week and Asian men earning $1,051 per week, while median weekly rates for Latino and black men were $599 and $680, respectively. Female wage gaps by race reflected a similar pattern, albeit slightly less pronounced.

A Williams Institute study of wage differences by sexual orientation showed gay and bisexual men earned 10 percent to 32 percent less than heterosexual men, while lesbian and bisexual women earned more than heterosexual women but less than all men.

With LGBT minority workers already at heightened risk of receiving a salary not sufficient to support a family on, their financial situation is worsened by the fact that “eligibility for benefits is usually designed around traditional family structures, which often do not reflect the reality of LGBT families of color,” MAP said.

Even as states continue to legalize gay marriage, allowing more LGBT families to receive employer benefits, “black and Latino LGBT people are more likely to live in states lacking marriage equality than white LGBT people,” researchers found.

Federal, State and Employer Fixes
To correct the employment barriers faced by LGBT people of color, MAP recommended numerous policy changes at the federal and state levels, including passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (S. 815), which was approved by the Senate Nov. 7 but faces more opposition in the House.

In addition, President Barack Obama should issue a federal mandate to prohibit government contractors from discrimination based on gender identity or expression and sexual orientation, MAP said.

Such employment discrimination must be banned at the state and local levels in the areas that have not already done so, the authors argued.

“Employers should adopt LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies and procedures designed to significantly reduce hiring bias, foster welcoming and inclusive work environments and reduce discrimination,” the report recommended.


To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at

Text of the report is available at

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