Five Ways The Trump Administration Can Help LGBT Workers

None of them take an act of Congress, or even all that much political will.

Five Ways The Trump Administration Can Help LGBT Workers
[Photo: The White House via Wikimedia Commons]

This story reflects the views of this author, but not necessarily the editorial position of Fast Company.


The first week of June—the month widely celebrated as LGBT Pride Month—has come and gone without President Trump acknowledging either the contributions or the calls for equality of the more than 10 million lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults in the United States.

An official proclamation (or even a tweet of support) probably isn’t forthcoming. Meanwhile, Congress seems unlikely to pass a key piece of legislation: The Equality Act, would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations—something a majority of small-business owners support and that many Fortune 500 companies already implement voluntarily. While most businesses do the right thing by their employees, not all do, and this lack of nationwide protections results in lower incomes, scarcer savings, and higher costs for LGBT people in housing, health care, and education.

But even without Congressional action, there’s still a lot the Trump Administration could do to help LGBT workers. And much of it wouldn’t even prove controversial. Nearly two-thirds of Americans, regardless of political party, already oppose transgender bathroom restrictions, but there are even less-fraught issues that would make a real difference. These are some changes LGBT workers and their employers should press the President Trump to make—and which they actually have a shot at achieving.

Related: We’re About To See If Employers Can Protect LGBT Workers When The Government Won’t

1. Ensure Fairness And Adequate Funding At The EEOC

While no federal law explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was an early advocate for transgender rights under President Obama. In April 2012, the agency recognized that when a transgender woman is discriminated against because she doesn’t conform to the gender printed on her original birth certificate, that’s sex discrimination. Likewise, when a man is discriminated against because he’s married to another man, that’s also discrimination based on sex.

Because of these EEOC rulings, LGBT people can file complaints regardless of whether they live in one of the 28 states without statewide protections. But those complaints will just pile up and go unaddressed if the EEOC isn’t properly staffed or funded, leaving LGBT workers without recourse. Not only did Trump propose cutting the EEOC’s budget while expanding its responsibilities, he also signed an executive order last March to roll back fair pay and safe workplace standards for federal contractors. Both of those things need to change.


2. Collect Data On Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity

There still isn’t much nationwide information about the workplace experiences, earnings, and employment of LGBT people—and there won’t be until the federal government commits to collecting it. Most official surveys that ask about sexual orientation and/or gender identity are limited to public health issues.

The Trump Administration has a chance to give policymakers a deeper understanding of LGBT workers, and the easiest way to do that is by adding questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to federal surveys, like the monthly Current Population Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation. Both provide real-time information about unemployment, earnings, and hours worked, and updating them with these two fields would be an important step. Instead, officials have done the reverse, removing questions about sexual orientation and gender identity from a survey that helps allocate services for the elderly.

3. Don’t Let Health Insurers Discriminate

With the Senate now considering the health care bill passed by the House in May, the fate of the Affordable Care Act hangs in the balance. That law contains crucial nondiscrimination provisions for sexual orientation and gender identity that apply both to employer-provided plans and marketplace plans. Those allow transgender people to access medically necessary care and protect LGBT people from discrimination when getting insurance or accessing care through federally funded hospitals or doctors.

Despite those important measures, a nationally representative survey recently found that nearly one in five LGBT people experienced discrimination at the doctor’s office in the past year. Most workers get their health insurance through an employer, and only 13 states and Washington, DC, have anti-discrimination laws on the books that cover LGBT people when it comes to health insurance. So, as the American Health Care Act marches forward in Congress, LGBT workers and their employers need to push legislators to keep those protections in place.

4. Reverse The Education Department’s Position On Trans Students

Last February, the Departments of Education and Justice rescinded guidance that ensured transgender students could safely access facilities at school. When transgender students can’t go to school safely, we lose the opportunity to educate and grow our future workforce.

School districts across the country know that permitting students to use restrooms in accordance with their gender is critical to keeping them in school. And without clear federal guidance on this issue, districts are left confused. In late May, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a transgender student in Wisconsin, affirming that Title IX protects all students from discrimination—a view that 59 major U.S. employers have already voiced their agreement with.


5. Maintain Student Loan Forgiveness

In his budget proposal, President Trump proposed cutting the federal student loan-forgiveness program—an issue that, like Education Department policy, you might not think of as directly impacting LGBT people in the workforce. But due to family rejection, many LGBT students have less support to help pay for college.

As a result, they may be saddled with more student loans once they enter the workforce, making it harder to save for retirement, own a home, start a family, or plan for the future. And since LGBT people are more likely to work in so-called “helping professions” like teaching, health care, and nonprofit service, curbing student loan forgiveness disproportionately prevents LGBT workers from giving back to their communities.

The fact is that all workers deserve to get solid educations, feel safe at work, and stay healthy. In each of these areas, anti-discrimination policies just make good economic sense for everybody. LGBT workers, who too frequently experience harassment and discrimination on the job, want to provide for themselves and their families just like other workers. The federal government needs to give them a fair opportunity to do just that. If it won’t, droves of LGBT workers and their allies in the business community should come together this month and demand it to think twice.

Naomi Goldberg is the director of policy and research for the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBT think tank focused on speeding equality for LGBT people through thoughtful and rigorous analysis, research, and communications.