In the very recent past, gay men and lesbians had no protection from being fired or mistreated on the job because of their sexual orientation. These days, however, a growing number of state and local governments have outlawed workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Currently, there is no federal law banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation in the private sector. (An executive order prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in federal employment.)
In each Congressional session, legislation is introduced to add sexual orientation to the list of protected characteristics in Title VII: the traits, such as race, gender, and religion, that employers may not take into account when making job decisions. This legislation -- called ENDA, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act -- hasn't passed yet, but it has more supporters each time it's introduced in Congress.
In the absence of a federal mandate, a number of states have passed their own laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in private employment. The District of Columbia has passed such a law, as well. The states that currently offer this protection are:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- Washington, and
Discrimination Based on Gender Identity
Some of the states that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination also ban discrimination based on gender identity:one's self-identified gender, as opposed to one's anatomical gender at birth. An employee need not have undergone sex reassignment surgery to be protected by these laws.
Municipal and County Laws
Many local cities and counties also ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. To find out if you are protected by this type of law, contact your local government offices or visit its website.