LGBT people in 29 states, including Florida, can legally be fired from their job, denied rental of a house or apartment, or refused service at restaurants, hotels, retail stores and private hospitals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
In Florida, if an LGBT person accidently reveals in front of their homophobic boss that they have a same-sex partner, their boss can fire them.
They have no legal recourse. If a transgender person’s potential landlord thinks having them in the apartment presents a bad image to the public, the landlord can simply refuse to rent to them.
These are not just hypothetical examples of what might happen. These are the experiences of thousands of LGBT people throughout our nation’s history.
For far too many LGBT people, particularly those who are transgender or intersex, this discrimination is the reality of their lives today.
According to a 2011 research review conducted by UCLA’s Williams Institute, as many as 43 percent of LGBT workers report some form of harassment or discrimination on the job, while as many as 17 percent report being fired or passed over for a job because they were LGBT.
The same survey found that as many as 26 percent of transgender workers report having been fired because of their gender identity.
This is not a result of LGBT people being paranoid.
That research found that as many as 30 percent of heterosexual workers reported witnessing workplace discrimination against their LGBT coworkers.
The existence of LGBT employment discrimination was also verified by a study published in 2011 in the American Journal of Sociology. That researcher sent out pairs of fake résumés in response to 1769 job postings across seven states.
The résumé pairs were very similar, except that one gave the fake applicant experience working with an LGBT rights group in college, while the other gave him experience with a more socially-neutral nonprofit.
In southern states like Florida and Texas that lack discrimination bans, the controls were two to three times as likely as the LGBT applicants to get a callback.
Only in New York were the LGBT applicants as likely to get a callback as the controls.
Unfortunately, with the recent Republican takeover of the senate, there is now a smaller chance than there has been for most of the last decade that an LGBT employment discrimination ban will be passed at the national level, particularly one that includes gender identity.
Last year, many prominent LGBT rights groups pulled their support from the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act when lawmakers pressed forward a compromised version that banned employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not on gender identity.
There is currently no federal law protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing or public accommodations, nor are there any current efforts to introduce such legislation.
Some states have been pushing back against recent LGBT rights victories by passing laws intended to reduce legal protections for LGBT people.
Arkansas not only offers no state-level protections for its LGBT residents, but the state legislature recently passed a law preventing counties and cities from protecting their own LGBT residents.
Closer to home, Florida state Representative Frank Artiles recently proposed a bill that would make using a bathroom designated for a gender other than that a person was assigned to at birth a misdemeanor.
If this bill passed, transgender people could be fined up to $1,000 or spend up to a year in jail for using the public bathrooms that match their gender.
We must not become complacent with our recent victories in marriage equality.
Nor should we let the setbacks and challenges I have described dishearten us.
We must continue to strive diligently toward a more just society.
We must enact laws everywhere barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations.
Every qualified employee has a right to keep their job. Every respectful tenant has a right to rent any house or apartment they can afford. Every person deserves respect.