HRC Study Shows Majority of LGBT Workers Closeted on the Job

by Hayley Miller

Patchwork of policies, laws and shifting culture still leaves 53 percent of LGBT workers in the closet

WASHINGTON – A newly released study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest LGBT civil right organization, The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion, identifies that most LGBT employees (53 percent) nationwide are closeted on the job.  The report, released today, comes on the heels of a report by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which finds the policy on workplace discrimination for federal employees based on sexual orientation has not been interpreted uniformly, despite being the government’s policy since 1980. 

Despite significant strides among the Fortune 500 and other major businesses implementing inclusive employment policies and practices, consistent legal protections are not afforded to LGBT people state to state. There are no state laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 29 states and gender identity in 33 states. HRC is leading a campaign to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) for federal sexual orientation and gender identity workplace protections.

“While LGBT-inclusive corporate policies are becoming the norm, the fact is that LGBT workers still face a national patchwork of legal protections, leaving many to hide who they are for fear of discrimination in the workplace and in their communities,” said Deena Fidas, director of HRC’s Workplace Equality Program.  “Even among those private sector employers with laudable, inclusive policies and practices, these are necessary but not wholly sufficient for creating a climate of inclusion. Employees are getting married without telling their coworkers for fear of losing social connections, or they’re not transitioning even though they know they need to for fear of losing their jobs. The inclusive policies coming from the boardroom have not fully made it into the everyday culture of the American workplace.”  

The Cost of the Closet surveyed over 800 LGBT workers across the country and included an added survey of non-LGBT workers.  The report at a glance:

  • Invisible workforce: Fifty-three percent of LGBT employees hide who they are at work;
  • Double standards towards LGBT workers: Over 80 percent of non-LGBT workers report that conversations about social lives, relationships and dating come up weekly and often daily and 81 percent feel that LGBT people “should not have to hide who they are at work,” however less than half would feel comfortable hearing an LGBT coworker talk about dating;
  • “That’s so gay:” One in four LGBT employees report hearing negative comments such as “that’s so gay” while at work;
  • Turnover costs of the closet: One-fifth of LGBT workers report looking for a job specifically because the environment wasn’t accepting of LGBT identities, and close to one in ten (9 percent) successfully left a job for the same reasons they were not comfortable;
  • Retention benefits of inclusion: Twenty-six percent have stayed in a job because the environment was accepting.

All of these findings come as more Fortune 500 companies than ever before have implemented inclusive workplace non-discrimination policies — 91 percent provide explicit protections on the basis of sexual orientation and 61 percent on the basis of gender identity, a historic high.  Sixty-seven percent offer same-sex partner benefits, another record. 

“Employers must go beyond policies to a truly inclusive practice,” added Fidas. “By implementing training aimed at improving the day-to-day climate for LGBT employees, workplaces can make significant improvements in the lived experience of their employees, whether in the corner office or on the factory floor.”

Like the private sector, the federal government faces workplace climate challenges.  The MSPB report cited a 2012 Office of Personnel Management survey that “found that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Federal employee perceptions of the workplace were generally less positive than other employees.”

“Both of these reports demonstrate the urgency for a strong federal law to protect all American workers from discrimination,” said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy.  “The House of Representatives should follow the bipartisan lead of the Senate and pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act this year.  It is long overdue.” 

View the HRCF report at

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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