Sexual orientation, gender identity discrimination protections gaining legal ground

On Monday, President Obama recognized a 40-year milestone for the gay civil rights movement in the U.S. at a reception for LGBT Pride Month at the White House.

Obama has been criticized by the LGBT community because he has been slow to act on many of the promises he made during his campaign. However, he told the audience at the reception that his administration has taken steps to ensure equal rights for gay Americans and plans to do more.

From CBS News:

"We seek an America in which no one feels the pain of discrimination based on who you are or who you love," he said.

The president noted that he has signed a memorandum extending some federal benefits to LGBT families and is urging Congress to pass the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, which would mean the extension of health care benefits.

He also said his administration is working to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination bill and a hate crimes bill named after Matthew Shepard.

"There are unjust laws to overturn and unfair practices to stop," the president said.

Just 10 days before the White House reception for LGBT Pride Month, Rep. Barney Frank re-introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or “EDNA” (H.R. 2981). The bill makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

EDNA would extend federal employment laws, which already protect individuals on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability, to also include sexual orientation and gender identity.

While lawmakers discuss the fate of the legislation, it may be a good time to take a look at your company’s employee handbook. Until now, most have not been written to include how to address harassment or discrimination based on an employee’s sexual identity or orientation.

Though many are late to get started, some of the biggest U.S. companies are ahead of the game. As of February 2009, 423 (85%) of the Fortune 500 companies had implemented non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, and more than one-third had policies that address gender identity.

Preventing sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace starts with understanding current laws, examining your policies and procedures, and training employees to abide by those policies. But that’s just the beginning.

For more information on creating gender orientation policies and procedures, read our new free whitepaper Creating a Gender Orientation Policy for Your Workplace (pdf).

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