Three Actions Congress Can Take to Advance LGBTQ Worker Justice

By Molly Bashay

Few groups’ historical relationship with work is as fraught as the LGBTQ community’s. LGBTQ workers and their families are often unprotected and face a precarious existence due to high poverty rates; unemployment and underemployment; low wages; and a parade of workplace abuses, coupled with policy gaps. Hostile private sector environments pushed millions who were unwilling or unable to be silent into fringe and sex work—a trend that is still startlingly common among Black and Brown LGBTQ youth today. Not that the public sector offered much reprieve, between the Lavender Scare and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Thankfully, as we move forward, advocates and policymakers can take tangible steps to make Pride Month 2022 a more equitable and prosperous time for LGBTQ workers and their families. Here are just a few critical policies that Congress must advance if we want to mitigate the several serious, entrenched economic issues still plaguing the broader queer community:

  • Pass the Equality Act to provide LGBTQ people protection from discrimination. Generations of being pushed into the margins have only recently started to let up. Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination and termination on the basis of sex, sexual identity, and gender expression. Even after one year of federal protection—at organizations with 15 or more employees—the memories of implicit and explicit workplace discrimination are still fresh.

    Though the Bostock ruling was a major achievement, federal policymakers must still take action to guarantee other vital protections this ruling did not cover. The Equality Act would ensure that LGBTQ people receive those same protections in employment, housing, credit, jury service, federally funded programs, and public spaces and services.
     
  • Pass the Raise the Wage Act to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Nearly 40 million workers, including 1.5 million LGBTQ people, urgently need the economic security that a raised minimum wage would provide. A disproportionate number of LGBTQ people, and in particular transgender people, live in poverty when compared to their straight, cisgender counterparts. While systemic discrimination clearly plays a role in the scarcity they experience, better wages and benefits would do much to reduce economic hardship in the LGBTQ community.
     
  • Pass a generous, inclusive federal paid family and medical leave plan for all working people. Paid leave is an essential benefit for all workers and families, though many policies do not account for chosen family structures. Moreover, Black and Brown LGBTQ workers are less likely to have access to workplace paid leave policies than white LGBTQ workers. When they do have access, they report more barriers to use, greater fear of retaliation, and less access to chosen family-inclusive leave policies when compared to white LGBTQ working people. 

These are just a snapshot of the myriad policies that would build economic power for LGBTQ workers and communities. Too many LGBTQ people, particularly BIPOC, transgender people, and those with disabilities still experience poverty, joblessness, and the threat of employment discrimination. Members of Congress must redouble their efforts to advance LGBTQ worker justice. Securing employment nondiscrimination protections, raising the minimum wage, and ensuring an inclusive paid leave program for all are three key places to start.