What Are LGBT Lawyers?
It is helpful to first explain that the acronym LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) has been expanded to include many other sexualities and genders. As an umbrella term, those in the community prefer that is referred to as the LGBTQIA+ community (queer, intersex, asexual, and others). As such, the remainder of this article will use LGBTQIA+ when referring to the community in order to be as respectful and inclusive as possible.
Generally speaking, it is illegal for American employers to discriminate on the basis of certain characteristics. These characteristics are referred to as belonging to a protected class, or, a group of people who qualify for certain special protections under a law or a policy. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the foremost anti-discrimination laws. Other federal anti-discrimination laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), have determined that an individual may not be discriminated against based on certain characteristics.
These characteristics include:
- Religion or lack thereof;
- Sexual identity;
- National origin;
- Gender presentation;
- Veteran status; and
- Other categories.
In recent years, there have been a growing number of laws which increase equal rights for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
At both the federal and state level, there are new laws that provide more legal rights and protections. Many states maintain their own anti-discrimination laws and policies, which can be broader than the federal statute; meaning, some state laws protect more individuals than the federal laws do. An example of this would be how certain state laws also protect individuals on the basis of:
- Gender identity;
- Sexual orientation;
- Political ideology; and
- Service in a state militia.
LGBTQIA+ lawyers specialize in assisting members of the LGBTQIA+ community with various legal issues, which includes workplace discrimination. They may or may not belong to the LGBTQIA+ community themselves.
What Is the History of LGBTQIA+ Rights?
Historically, the law considered same-sex relationships to be unnatural, as well as morally and ethically wrong. Those affected by such beliefs argued that this was a violation of separation of church and state. Members of the LGBTIA+ community suffered discrimination in the workplace, and were victim to many violent acts.
The history of LGBTQIA+ rights is vast, and evolving over time. Some of the first community members to fight for fair treatment and equal rights were those who initiated and participated in the Stonewall Riots. However, in terms of states actually participating in shaping the history of LGBTQIA+ rights, the first state to repeal sodomy laws was Illinois.
Other states later began to provide more civil rights and protections to the community, largely driven by the cases of Bowers v. Hardwick and Lawrence v. Texas, because of which sodomy laws are now considered to be an invasion of one’s privacy. The court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas provided individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community with more freedoms. When discussing the history of LGBTQIA+ rights and legal protections, it is absolutely imperative to keep in mind that the community members themselves fought for these rights. The legal system did not necessarily give them their rights automatically.
What Are LGBTQIA+ Rights Today and in the Future?
Under the Obama administration, discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community was prohibited in 2010. This includes:
- Refusal to hire;
- Unlawful termination;
- Bullying; and
- Limited access to benefits, such as health insurance and paid time off.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the civil rights provided to employees became universally protected by law. This includes their sexual orientation.
Although sexual orientation is not explicitly stated in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC treats sexual orientation discrimination similar to other protected classes. It is important to note that in some states, the laws do not include explicit language which prohibits discrimination against LBGTQIA+ individuals. What this means is that if an individual has been discriminated against on this basis, they would need to file a complaint with the EEOC.
Additionally, same-sex marriages have become legalized. In 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of recognition of same-sex marriage in the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in regards to the decision:
“Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm…[it] allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations…
In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. As some of the petitioners in this case demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage...They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
For 15 years, The National Center for Transgender Equality has been protecting the transgender community who still experience discrimination in both the public and the private sectors.
In terms of LGBTQIA+ rights in the future, the fight continues for the community to be treated with the same dignity and respect as those who are heteronormative. As of 2021, many states such as Texas are still discriminating against transgender children in school sports. Many carceral facilities fail to place transgender inmates correctly, and instead place them according to their assigned sex at birth. This is harmful and dehumanizing. Additionally, the LGBTQIA+ community is continually fighting for the right to adopt children without discrimination, as many states do not allow same sex couples to adopt.
What Can You Do if You Face Discrimination Because You Are LGBTQIA+?
If you are facing discrimination or humiliation due to your sexual orientation, specifically as it relates to employment and housing, you have the right to fight for yourself. Although private employers can get away with more discriminatory behaviors, they cannot deprive you of your civil rights. Regardless of your sexual orientation or gender presentation, you are entitled to your civil rights and all of the legal protections that are provided by anti-discrimination laws.
All public employers are prohibited from making certain types of remarks or committing discriminatory acts against an LGBTIA+ employee. This is because they are a representation of the government.
If you wish to make a claim for discrimination, it advised that you work with an area attorney. Because some states offer more rights and protections than others, a local lawyer will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s specific laws and what your legal options are. Your attorney can help you file a complaint with the appropriate anti-discrimination agencies, and will represent you in court as needed if you are able to obtain a right to sue letter from the agency with which you filed your initial complaint. Additionally, an LGBTQIA+ lawyer can help you recover losses if you have suffered from discrimination in the workplace.
LegalMatch can assist in the fight for your rights by matching your case to the type of lawyer you need. When using LegalMatch, simply present your discrimination case as well as some basic information. LegalMatch will provide you with LGBTQIA+ attorney options who will represent your needs, as well as make your case in the best way possible.
Since 1999, LegalMatch has provided assistance to over 4 million individuals with finding a lawyer for legal advice or for representation in court. This includes the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as others who are fighting for their civil rights.
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