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Going Beyond Gay Marriage

Unity Hands

Written By: Susan Milligan 9/11/15

The nation’s leading LGBT advocacy organization takes the fight to the workplace and beyond.

In 1980, when the Human Rights Campaign began its mission to achieve equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the fight was all about defense. The group battled stereotypes and embarked on a campaign to stop legislation aimed at limiting LGBT rights, be it a denial of the right to marry or the right to be open about one’s sexuality.

Some 35 years later, the group is squarely on offense, advising private companies on LGBT-friendly policies, writing the template for state legislation banning “conversion therapy” treatment for gays and lesbians, preparing a guide for nonprofits assisting LGBT refugees and asylum-seekers and serving as a central source of information on everything from which insurance carriers cover transgender therapy to understanding the difference between “gender identity” and “gender expression.”

While marriage equality remains one of the group’s greatest policy successes, HRC has arguably had its most sweeping influence in the private sector, ranking companies on how amenable their workplaces and employee benefits are for LGBT people. In 2002, “we put a marker down” for private companies, says Deena Fidas, who heads HRC’s Corporate Equality Index program, which launched that year. “Frankly, there was a lot of gridlock in terms of LGBT legislation. We thought, ‘We can still effect change, but we need to find new partners in this work.’ Not everything comes down to the courts or legislation at the state or local level.”

In the first year of the survey, just 13 business got a “100 percent” rating based on a lengthy set of factors, including whether they had anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies; offered health, pension, family leave and other benefits to domestic partners; and whether their plans covered the medical costs of transgender therapy. This year, 366 businesses earned a perfect score, and more companies are scrambling to achieve the high rank, Fidas says, to attract top talent.

“JP Morgan and American Airlines would have it, and then we’d have Citigroup and Credit Suisse saying, ‘What do they have that we don’t have?'” Fidas says.

Meanwhile, HRC is taking its legal battles to a new level, seeking to protect LGBT refugees (the group recently penned a detailed guide for handling those seeking to escape imprisonment and violence in LGBT-hostile nations) and to expand rights to transgender people. Working with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the campaign also recently wrote a template for state legislation banning “conversion therapy.” Four states and the District of Columbia have already passed such laws, and more legislation is expected in 2016, says Sarah Warbelow, HRC’s legal director.

The group is still finding resistance at the legislative level: More than half of states do not make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in employment, for example, and voters recently scrapped theHouston Equal Rights Ordinance – a measure that sought to establish protections for gay and transgender people.

But in the private sector, HRC is finding that companies are competing to be the most LGBT-friendly.

“We believe an inclusive workforce helps us to better understand and connect with our customers,” Alan Colberg, president of the insurance company Assurant, Inc., says in a video message of support. The Corporate Equality Index “helps us measure our progress,” he adds.

Source: US News

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