The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the federal workplace is a new and emerging issue that deserves serious attention, especially as the government as a whole is expanding the rights and protections for LGBT people in other areas, a guest speaker from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission told attendees at a LGBT Pride Month observance June 26 at the McNamara Headquarters Complex.
“The workplace should be accepting, because we want to treat people as humans and make them feel comfortable,” said Oscar Holloway, an appellate review attorney for the EEOC. “People can’t work if they’re not comfortable or accepted.”
To address the issue of LGBT rights in the federal workplace, the EEOC has created a working group that is in the preliminary stages of exploring the issue and developing federal agency policy, Holloway said. Part of that preliminary work is conducting focus groups with LGBT employees to determine the extent of the harassment and discrimination they face, and the results were very telling, he said. Of lesbian, gay and bisexual employees, 38.2 percent of those who were open about their orientation had experienced discrimination and harassment, while 27.1 percent of those who were not open about their orientation had experienced discrimination and harassment. Of transgender employees, 97 percent had experienced discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
“This discrimination and harassment is an attempt to treat someone as less than human,” Holloway said, noting that many of the comments LGBT people hear are very similar to comments used in other forms of discrimination throughout history.
In addressing LGBT rights in the workplace, the EEOC is looking at three major categories: procedures, practice and culture, Holloway said. The EEOC does not currently have a statute to process claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation, he said, but many of these claims can be classified under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on a person’s sex. Cases of transgender discrimination clearly fall under Title VII based on a 2012 EEOC decision that such discrimination is targeting a person’s gender identity, he said. This decision applies to all cases of transgender discrimination and gives a simple answer for any questionable situations, like what bathroom a transgender person should use, he added.
“The bottom line is, if a person presents full time as a member of the opposite sex, they are to be treated as a member of that sex in every respect,” he said.
While the EEOC works on developing federal agency policy for LGBT rights, Holloway said, managers and employees can do a lot to create an accepting, tolerant workplace. Employees should always be inclusive in their conversations and emails and avoid terms that could be offensive, he said. Managers and employees should also not tolerate any discrimination or gossip and should act as allies for their LGBT colleagues. Managers should also be aware of any incidents of discrimination in the workplace and should take appropriate action to end discrimination and ensure victims receive the counseling and support they need.
Keeping the workforce educated about LGBT issues is a good way to create a tolerant environment, said Carlos Nocentelli, deputy director of Equal Employment Opportunity for the Defense Logistics Agency. As the issue is explored, leaders will have to find a balance that protects everyone’s civil rights and maintains a strong organizational culture, he said.
“We have to educate our workforce so that we’re providing the protection to those the law says we must protect,” Nocentelli said.
Sponsored by DLA, the Defense Technical Information Center, the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, the event honored LGBT Pride Month, which is held in June each year to honor the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan.
Oscar Holloway, an appellate review attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, addresses the audience at a LGBT Pride Month observance June 26 at the McNamara Headquarters Complex. Photo by Teodora Mocanu
Carlos Nocentelli (left), deputy director of Equal Employment Opportunity for the Defense Logistics Agency, presents a certificate of appreciation to Oscar Holloway, an appellate review attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for his presentation at a LGBT Pride Month observance June 26 at the McNamara Headquarters Complex. Photo by Teodora Mocanu