By Dennis McMillanPublished: June 28, 2007
The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy is a think tank dedicated to the field of sexual orientation law and public policy.
Over the last ten years, many researchers have conducted studies to find out whether LGBT people face sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. These studies include surveys of LGBT individuals’ workplace experiences; wage comparisons between LGB and heterosexual persons; analyses of discrimination complaints filed with administrative agencies; and testing studies and controlled experiments. The report summarizes findings from these studies.
When surveyed, 16% to 68% of LGBT people report experiencing employment discrimination. Studies conducted from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s revealed that 16% to 68% of LGB respondents reported experiencing employment discrimination at some point in their lives. Since the mid-1990s, an additional fifteen studies found that 15% to 43% of LGB respondents experienced discrimination in the workplace. When asked more specific questions about the type of discrimination experienced, LGB respondents reported the following experiences that were related to their sexual orientation: 8%-17% were fired or denied employment; 10%-28% were denied a promotion or given negative performance evaluations; 7%-41% were verbally/physically abused or had their workplace vandalized; and 10%-19% reported receiving unequal pay or benefits.
Fifteen to 57% of transgender people also report experiencing employment discrimination. When transgender individuals were surveyed separately, they reported similar or higher levels of employment discrimination. In six studies conducted between 1996 and 2006, 20% to 57% of transgender respondents reported having experienced employment discrimination at some point in their life. More specifically, 13%-56% were fired; 13%-47% were denied employment; 22%-31% were harassed; and 19% were denied a promotion based on their gender identity.
When surveyed, many heterosexual co-workers report witnessing sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. A small number of researchers have also asked heterosexuals whether they have witnessed discrimination against their LGB peers. These studies revealed that 12% to 30% of respondents in certain occupations, such as the legal profession, have witnessed antigay discrimination in employment. In states that currently prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, LGB people file complaints of employment discrimination at similar rates to women and racial minorities. Individual complaints of discrimination filed with government agencies provide another measure of perceived discrimination. The General Accounting Office (or “GAO”, now known as the Government Accountability Office) collected the number of complaints filed in states that outlaw sexual orientation discrimination and found that one percent of all discrimination complaints related to sexual orientation. However, comparisons of data from ten states show that the rate of sexual orientation discrimination complaints per GLB person is 3 per 10,000, which is roughly equivalent to gender-based complaints.
Studies found that gay men earn 10% to 32% less than similarly qualified heterosexual men. A wage or income gap between LGB people and heterosexual people with the same job and personal characteristics provides another indicator of sexual orientation discrimination. A growing number of studies show that gay men earn 10% to 32% less than otherwise similar heterosexual men.
The findings for lesbians, however, are less clear. In some studies they earn more than heterosexual women but less than heterosexual or gay men. Transgender people report high rates of unemployment and very low earnings. While no detailed wage and income analyses of the transgender population have been conducted to date, convenience samples of the transgender population find that 6%-60% of respondents report being unemployed, and 22-64% of the employed population earns less than $25,000 per year. Controlled experiments reveal sexual orientation discrimination in workplace settings. In controlled experiments, researchers manufacture scenarios that allow comparisons of the treatment of LGB people with treatment of heterosexuals. Seven out of eight studies using controlled experiments related to employment and public accommodation find evidence of sexual orientation discrimination.
Despite the variations in methodology, context, and time period in the studies reviewed in this report, the Williams team’s review of the evidence demonstrates one disturbing and consistent pattern: sexual orientation-based and gender identity discrimination is a common occurrence in many workplaces across the country.