With growing acceptance nationwide toward marriage equality, the state-by-state approach as it regards employment non-discrimination and other forms of inequality for LGBT people has created a "good news, bad news" scenario for many, including those of us in Tennessee.

Good news: Marriage equality has gained traction and momentum in the last few years, a movement on the cusp of positive transition throughout the nation.

Good news: The Federal government has just announced protections for transgender workers, according to LGBTQNation, stating that: “The U.S. government is now interpreting federal law to explicitly prohibit workplace discrimination against transgender individuals. The Department of Justice says transgender individuals are covered under Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Progress is being made.

Nashville mayoral candidate Megan Barry agrees this is a good thing, and also acknowledges the bad news for Tennesseans. "I’m happy to see that the federal government will protect transgender Americans from employment discrimination by state and local agencies," she told me. "However, we still have a long ways to go to eliminate all forms of discrimination in the workplace. No person should ever be denied employment based on their race, religion, national origin, gender, or because of whom they love.”

Good news: Discrimination of LGBT people has decreased over the years and many Americans are happy about that change.

Bad news: Over half of the states in our United States have not passed non-discrimination laws.  How the new Federal ruling affects states will soon be determined.

A new report from the Williams Institute finds that “LGBT Americans in the 29 states without state laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation consistently see greater disparities than in the 21 states with such laws, including less social acceptance, greater economic vulnerability, especially among African-American LGBT workers, and wider household income gaps.” The report maintains that with the legal landscape of rights and protections for LGBT Americans shifting from state to state, LGBT Americans are suffering. We live in one of those places, the South. This may come as no surprise, but what we do about this is what matters.

Many LBGT people do suffer in the South. Think about the studies that illustrate the health disparities between African Americans and white Americans. African Americans have higher health risks than white Americans on average. Friends of mine in the Civil Rights Movement talk about the breaking of the spirit of those who are oppressed, those different from the majority, those who have less power and presence in our government. Breaking people’s spirits leads to serious physical and emotional health problems, to rage, apathy, depression and despair. Productivity decreases in workers, suicides increase, and families are torn apart.

Good news: Because of these disparities, the Human Rights Campaign has endorsed a federal LGBT non-discrimination bill to address discrimination in credit, education, employment, federal funding, housing, jury service and public accommodations for all Americans.

Perhaps if this bill passes there will be fewer differences between states in terms of how LGBT people are treated and respected. We can hope that the nation and our leaders respond affirmatively to this bill. Please speak to your legislators and other leaders about all of these issues.

“Viewing gender identity discrimination as sex discrimination already covered in the law is a huge step forward for the safety and prosperity of transgender and gender nonconforming people," Chris Sanders, from the Tennessee Equality Project, said. "The safest course is to back up the federal interpretation with court precedent and federal, state, and local laws that explicitly protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. So the work continues.”

One day maybe we will be able to say that we are One Nation…. indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.





Barbara Sanders, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Nashville. Photo via stuffqueerpeopleneedtoknow

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