Local LGBT outreach: More protections needed

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Although a U.S. Supreme Court decision protects the employment rights of homosexual and transgender people under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, more work needs to be done to protect the rights of people who are denied protections in other areas, according to an official at a local outreach facility.

“The true next step should be the passing of the Equality Act through Congress. This act states that it is illegal to discriminate against LGBTQIA+ people in areas such as health care, housing, adoption and more,” said Daniel Tirabassi, director of client care at Full Spectrum Community Outreach, a support center in Struthers serving people in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

LGBTQIA+ means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual. The + means sexual identities including pansexual, asexual and omnisexual.

“Though Youngstown has an ordinance that (encompasses the ideals of the proposed Equal Rights Act), it is the only city in the Mahoning Valley that does. By passing this act on a federal level, it ensures that all residents of the Valley are awarded the same rights as the cisgender, heterosexual counterparts,” Tiribassi said.

While the nation’s highest court ruled you can’t be fired for your sexual orientation or gender identity under the federal law, gaps remain. For example, the federal law doesn’t protect those who work at businesses with fewer than 15 workers. It doesn’t address restrooms for transgender people. And it’s still an open question whether employers can fire an LGBTQ person for religious reasons. Then there are gaps in employee benefits. Some employers may not pay for medical care for transgender people, or could leave out LGBTQ families.

The court considered Bostock v. Clayton County, said Warren attorney Martin J. Boetcher, with Harrington, Hoppe and Mitchell. The court held that an employer that fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he said.

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination against employees based upon race, religion, national origin and sex, but the term ‘sex’ as written in the statute was not defined. The Supreme Court stated in its decision Monday that because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex, homosexuals and transgender people are covered by that anti-discrimination statute,” Boetcher said in a recent blog post.

Boetcher quotes Justice Neil Gorsuch: “Discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second.'”

Ohio and 26 other states had no law protecting people from discimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but the federal ruling applies to all states, Boetcher wrote.

The “decision was a watershed,” said Kasey Suffredini, CEO of Freedom for All Americans, which advocates for LGBTQ rights. “But at the same time it’s so basic and entry level. Now we actually get into the details into how that discrimination plays out in everyday lives.”

Boetcher recommends employers review their company policies and employee handbooks to make sure they are in compliance with the decision.

“We at Full Spectrum are surprised and elated that the Supreme Court ruled that the LGBTQIA+ community is protected in employment under Title VII. This is the first step to truly legal equality for the LGBTQIA+ community in our country. This sets a precedent that could make it illegal for anyone to discriminate against this vulnerable community,” Tiribassi said.

Many employers may not know how many LGBTQ people it employs, which makes it hard to make sure they’re invited or included in particular programs. Some big employers do allow employees to indicate on their human resources forms that they are LGBTQ, like they do for gender and race, said M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor and co-director of the Center for Employment Equity at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“I think employers that are trying to be proactive and are looking at gender gaps or maybe racial wage gaps, they should try to think about ways that they could do the same for LGBT people,” Badgett said.


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