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Gay Rights in the Workplace

Updated on September 14, 2012

The rights of gay employees in the workplace - does your state discriminate?

By federal law, it is illegal in the United States for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, gender, age, or color... but not sexual orientation. That decision is still being left up to the states. As of this writing in 2012, 29 states allow private employers to fire an employee for being gay. Only the following states prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The following map from the U.S. Census shows which cities and counties in the United States prohibit discrimination against gay people in the workplace - and which do not.


Dark purple: County or city protects gay and transgender workers with an anti-discriminatory statute.

Lavender: Gay and transgender employees are protected throughout the state

Pink: Gay and transgender employees are protected only iin the public sector.

Gray: No legal protection at all on the state or county level.

ENDA - The Employment Non-Discrimination Act

In 1994, U.S. House Representative Gary Studds and Senator Teddy Kennedy first introduced bills to each house of Congress: They were H.R. 4636 and S2238. Together, they were known as the Employment Non-discrimination Act of 1994, designed to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That act died in committee. Since then, the act has been reintroduced to Congress nine times, in 2009, the version presented by Congressman Barney Frank was rewritten to assure the protection of employees on the basis of gender identity as well as sexual orientation. While the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is not yet the law of the land, recent polls indicate that public opinion is beginning to turn in favor of abolishing discriminatory practices. Follow the link to see the text of ENDA as it appeared as H.R. 2015 IH in 2007. Organizations working actively to support the passage of ENDA include, the Human Rights Campaign, and Out and Equal Workplace. The Gay and Lesbian Task Force offer a toolkit to activists wishing to lobby their Congressional representatives to support passage of ENDA.

Out and Equal Workplace

A Timeline of Gay Rights in the Workplace from NPR

This timeline is adapted from

1943 - Homosexuals prohibited from serving in the military. Recruits could be disqualified for showing "the stigmata of degeneration" in their body language.

1953 - President Eisenhower disqualifies all homosexuals from service in the Federal Government. At the height of the "Red Scare", gays in civil service were considered a national security risk.

1975 - The U.S. Civil Service Commission lifts the ban against gay employees in the Federal Government. New guidelines say that nobody can be disqualified from government for homosexual conduct - but these protections are not extended to workers in the FBI or CIA.

1978 - The State of Oklahoma bans gay teachers. Any teacher "caught in indiscreet homosexual acts", public or private, will be fired. Teachers are also barred from encouraging or promoting homosexual activity.

1978 - The Briggs Initiative is defeated in California. California voters defeat Proposition 6, a proposed law nicknamed The Briggs Initiative which would have made it illegal for gay people to be teachers in California. Famous politicians working to defeat the measure include Harvey Milk and Ronald Reagan.

1982 - Wisconsin becomes the first state to pass legislation that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. To date, 21 states and the District of Columbia prohibit workplace discrimination against gay workers.

1989 - Price Waterhouse vs. Hopkins. The Supreme Court rules that discrimination against gay employees in the workplace violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

1993 - "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays in the military is adopted by Congress. Civil rights advocates hoped to eliminate discrimination against gays in the military, but this measure merely prevented them from being outed against their will.

1994 - The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is introduced to Congress for the first time. It has been reintroduced in various forms repeatedly since then, with new language that provided inclusion for transgender individuals in 2009.

1998 - Discrimination is prohibited against gay Federal employees. President Clinton signs an Executive Order that prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for Federal employees who are not serving in the military.

2004 - A victory for transgender civil rights. A U.S. Appeals court determines that discrimination on the basis of sexual identification violates Title VII.

2011 - "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is repealed.

Do you support legislation that would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?

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Do you support legislation that would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity?

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    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hey Recapper, truly an informative hub and an exellent tribute to civil rights. Well done and necessary to bring awareness to society. Blue laws need to be discarded, civil rights are not a matter of taste, they belong to everyone.