The Pulse

July 26, 2019

Homophobia & Transphobia are Literally Hurting the Economy

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Hate has a cost. 

That’s what John C. Williams, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, shared in remarks at the OPEN Finance Forum on June 25. Discrimination and bias against LGBTQ+ people, Williams said, is holding back the U.S. economy. 

“This Pride Month marks 50 years since the Stonewall uprising,” Williams said, “We’ve come a long way since the 1960s, but we still have far to go.”

LGBTQ+ people face high rates of discrimination at work and on the job hunt. In fact, 9% of the LGBTQ+ population is unemployed — which is nearly twice the national average. And of those who do have jobs, 46% of LGBTQ employees report remaining closeted at work.

Furthermore, there is no federal law preventing anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace.

Such discrimination, and fear of being discriminated against, is keeping people who identify as LGBTQ+ from getting jobs. This not only decreases the national employment rate, but prevents folks from having the cash flow to contribute to the economy as consumers. Considering there are between 9 and 25 million LGBTQ+ Americans, both of those effects have a real impact on our economy as a whole.

“As President of a Federal Reserve Bank, I am focused on two vital economic goals: maximum employment and stable prices for the U.S. economy,” Williams said. “These statistics paint a clear picture of why conferences like this one are so important: We are not where we need to be.”

As is often the case, the discrimination harming lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in the workplace can be even worse for people who are transgender. About 15 percent of trans people are unemployed — three times the national average, according to the U.S. Transgender Survey. For trans people of color, that number is even higher: a staggering 20 percent. Of survey respondents who had ever worked, one in six had lost a job because of their gender identity or expression.  

“Discrimination and violence threaten transgender people’s ability to have even the basics: food, a place to sleep, or a job,” commented Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, the organization that released the survey.  

Williams shared some of the steps the New York Fed has taken to help LGBTQ employees feel safe and included at work, such as adding pronouns to staff email signatures and flying a Pride flag outside the office. Still, Williams said, changes to policies must be accompanied by a more inclusive culture overall. 

“In a culture where people don’t feel that their voices are welcome, few will speak up,” Williams said. “In a culture that fails to embrace differences, we won’t reap the benefits of diversity.”

Williams’ comments come at a critical moment for the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans in the workplace. In May the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a comprehensive bill first introduced in 2015 that would protect LGBTQ+ people nationwide from discrimination at work, in housing, in public accommodations, and in a host of other areas.

Chances are slim the Equality Act will pass the Republican-controlled Senate, but nonetheless it represents a gradual — albeit long overdue — shift toward progress. 

“Creating equality of opportunity at the national level is a challenge the United States continues to struggle with,” Williams said at the forum. “But it’s both the right thing to do and the only way we’ll reach our full economic potential.”

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Camille Beredjick is a writer and nonprofit communications strategist. Her work has appeared in BuzzFeed, the Daily Dot, Mic and elsewhere, and she is the author of Queer Disbelief: Why LGBTQ Equality Is an Atheist Issue. She lives in Brooklyn with her wife.

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