Celebrating LGBTQ Pride and the Modern Workplace
Tomorrow, June 28, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riot where gay men and lesbians fought back during a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Because this blog is about the workplace, however, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about how far American employers, including my own law firm, have come during my lifetime in protecting the rights of LGBTQ workers, and to talk about one of my heroes of the LGBTQ movement.
Frank Kameny – a Harvard-educated astronomer – was fired from the United States Army Map Service in 1957 because he was gay. Kameny was one of thousands of federal employees who lost their jobs during the “Lavender Scare” of the 1950s and 1960s. Unlike most, however, Kameny fought back and filed the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation in a federal court. He also led the first gay civil rights demonstration – a subdued affair where ten fired federal employees in gray suits picketed outside the White House in 1965. While Kameny himself never worked again for the federal government, in 1969 a federal appellate court held that a NASA employee could not be fired for private homosexual activity, thus vindicating Kameny’s early efforts.
In the private sector things moved much slower. Even when I graduated from law school in 1990, there were only two states – Wisconsin and Massachusetts – that had laws prohibiting private employers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Today, however, there are 23 states and hundreds of cities and counties that have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and sometime next year, the Supreme Court will decide whether sexual orientation and/or gender identity are subsumed under the rubric of sex and, therefore covered by Title VII.
I am proud to say that today my firm, Vinson & Elkins, is a leader in recognizing the need for equality for LGBTQ employees. Many major U.S. corporations and other law firms have also demonstrated their commitment to equality for LGBTQ employees, regardless of what the law might require. The most recent Corporate Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign Fund identified 572 major employers and law firms – including Vinson & Elkins – that earned a 100% rating and the designation of being a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality.” V&E and these other employers have ensured that LGBTQ workers and their families receive equitable benefits, and have demonstrated support for an inclusive culture – including providing coverage for transition-related care.
Frank Kameny died at the age of 86 in 2011, four years before the Supreme Court found that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples. He lived long enough, however, to see the fruits of his activism, most notably in the federal workplace. I know he would appreciate the efforts of firms such as Vinson & Elkins. So as I celebrate gay pride this month, I will be grateful that Frank Kameny took the first steps to changing how our workplaces treat LGBTQ employees, and to Vinson & Elkins for being part of continuing his legacy.
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This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.