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: LGBTQ+ people still face discrimination and economic inequality. These policies could help.

Though economic policies that would broadly uplift low-income people and workers in the U.S. — including access to better-paying jobs, a higher minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, child-care support, and quality healthcare — would similarly benefit LGBTQ+ people who might lack such resources, experts and advocates say, LGBTQ+ people face the additional burden of discrimination. 

Half of LGBTQI+ adults in a 2022 survey said they’d experienced workplace discrimination or harassment in the past year, including sexual harassment or being fired from their jobs, according to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. Nearly three in 10 adults in the same survey reported experiencing housing discrimination due to their gender identity, intersex status or sexual orientation.

And before they can even enter the workplace as adults, LGBTQ+ youth are also more likely than their cisgender and straight peers to experience bullying at school and face harms relating to rejection from family members

That kind of treatment diminishes human capital — people’s potential to bring skills and creativity to their workplaces — and creates disparities in physical and mental health, which carry their own economic toll, M. V. Lee Badgett, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told MarketWatch. 

But there are several policy proposals that could work to address those disparities, advocates and experts say. Here’s what some are recommending: 

Passing the Equality Act

Passing the Equality Act, which was first introduced in 2015 and reintroduced by legislators in both the House and Senate last week, would be a huge step toward economic inclusion, experts say. It’s “the clearest tool that we have not yet been able to use” to specifically help LGBTQ+ people, Badgett said.

The proposal to explicitly ban discrimination toward LGBTQ+ people who might otherwise face barriers to jobs, housing, education and more based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, especially in states that lack such protections, had previously passed the House with bipartisan support in 2019 and 2021. It has also garnered the broad support of corporations and was even promoted by pop star Taylor Swift in a 2019 petition that garnered 850,000 signatures

From the archives (August 2019): Watch Taylor Swift throw shade at Trump during her VMA speech

Related: Pride Month: These are the 5 most LGBTQ-friendly states in the U.S. — and the least

Importantly, the law would also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in public accommodations and federally funded programs, while clarifying that sex discrimination includes discrimination relating to pregnancy, childbirth and more, according to one fact sheet on the reintroduced legislation. The kinds of places considered a public accommodations under federal law — hotels and restaurants, for example — would also be amended to include more services and businesses

“As the first openly gay person of color to serve in Congress, I am acutely aware of the impacts lawful discrimination has on our marginalized communities in the United States, and the LGBTQI+ community have been subject to discrimination, violence, and the denial of their full personhood under the law for far too long,” Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat and the co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus said in a June 21 statement upon the reintroduction of the Equality Act, which he sponsored

“I’m proud to reintroduce the Equality Act as a long-overdue guarantee to all members of our community that we, too, benefit from explicit civil rights protections and the full promise of American democracy,” Takano added.

Though the Biden and Obama administrations have interpreted fair-housing laws as protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination, and though a 2020 Supreme Court ruling found provisions against sex discrimination include sexual orientation and gender identity, the Equality Act would make those policies explicit in federal law “so that there would be a huge public-education push” to inform people of their rights, said Naomi Goldberg, the deputy director of the Movement Advancement Project. 

“Particularly in states that don’t have those same state-level protections, we know that housing discrimination continues,” Goldberg added. (Twenty-two states have “explicit employment-discrimination protections” for LGBTQ+ people, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.) 

Opponents of the Equality Act, including many Republican lawmakers, have previously expressed concern that the bill would pose a threat to religious freedom.

Meanwhile, the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement and Research, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, argued in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2021 that the bill makes good economic sense. Harassment in schools and workplaces can affect LGBTQ+ people’s performance and advancement opportunities, for example, while “the economy-wide costs of bias include lost labor time, lost productivity, underinvestment in human capital, inefficient allocation of human resources, and the cost of social and health services that could be spent elsewhere absent discrimination,” the organization said

“One of the biggest things that’s facing a lot of marginalized communities is the inability to sort of get their foot in the door,” said J. Egler, an LGBTQI+ policy analyst at the Center for American Progress. “The Equality Act [would provide] anti-discrimination civil-rights protections, and that is really going to level the playing field for folks to be able to stop experiencing discrimination that they get when looking for a job, when looking for housing. When you have those needs met, you’re able to really excel in the economic sphere as well.” 

Without such protections, “a lot of folks are going to not feel as comfortable being able to be themselves in their workplace or when searching for housing,” Egler said. 

The Equality Act would additionally provide consistent federal civil-rights protections to LGBTQ+ people amid a new wave of hate and harassment, particularly against transgender people. This year’s state legislative session was the worst on record for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, according to data kept by the Human Rights Campaign, with more than 76 such proposals having been signed into law as of June 5. Anecdotally, Egler said they’ve heard LGBTQ+ people are either spending money to leave such states or are losing their ability to be out at work.

Advocating against discriminatory laws 

Legislation restricting access to gender-affirming care lead to poorer health for LGBTQ+ people, Badgett said, which can also carry economic consequences. 

As of March of this year, however, 30 states had already cut access to such care or were considering laws to do so, according to the University of California, Los Angeles’ Williams Institute. As MarketWatch reported last year, some parents of transgender children anticipated they would exhaust their savings to flee states like Texas and Alabama. 

Even so, simply reversing new laws against wider access to gender-affirming care may not be enough to make families feel fully safe, Badgett said.

“I think the hard thing is once people have seen their well-being can be affected out of nowhere by a political trend or people who, frankly, just don’t want to treat LGBT people equally — once you see that, it’s hard to go back, even if the law changes,” Badgett said. “That’s hard on LGBT people, no matter what.” 

Creating more inclusive definitions of ‘family’ 

To better provide for LGBTQ+ people, policymakers and employers could also reconsider rules designed to meet the needs of “nuclear families,” which don’t consider that one’s immediate “family” may include close friends, extended family members, domestic partners and significant others, and anyone else someone cares for, experts say.

For example, the U.S. does not have a federal law guaranteeing paid leave, though about a quarter of private companies and non-federal public employers offer at least some paid parental leave, and 68% of companies provide paid sick leave to full-time workers, according to KFF, a healthcare think tank. Still, LGBTQ+ people caring for a child, family member or partner may not have an established legal tie to that person, potentially making it difficult for them to access paid time off to care for their loved one. 

Though many U.S. households overall don’t reflect a traditional nuclear family structure, “chosen family” may be particularly important as a support system to LGBTQ+ people who have been ostracized from biological family members. The Center for American Progress found in a 2022 survey, for example, that while LGBTQI+ people and non-LGBTQI+ people said they’d rely on family members for caretaking support if they had to take time off work for health reasons at similar rates, LGBTQI+ people were still twice as likely to say they’d rely on “close friends who are like family to me,” and were more likely to say they’d turn to a partner they weren’t married to for help.

Aging LGTBQ+ people may also rely on partners and friends to meet their caregiving needs, despite those caregivers lacking the same workplace protections as a “traditional” family caregiver, Goldberg said. 

An “expanded definition of family can only help everyone,” Egler added. “And obviously [it] will specifically help LGBTQ families in particular.” 

Read next: Which companies are true LGBTQ+ allies? Figuring it out can be tricky for consumers — but here’s how.

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