Black and Gay in Corporate America - Black Enterprise

Black and Gay in Corporate America

CNN anchor Don Lemon thought twice about the professional ramifications of coming out.

Michigan is one of the states where workers can be fired for being LGBT with no legal recourse, says Adam Bernard, chairman of GM Plus, the automaker’s LGBT employee resource group. In 2007 GM–which is on both BE’s 40 Best Companies and Human Rights Campaign’s Best Places to Work lists– joined a coalition sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The legislation is being debated in Congress to determine whether to enact a national law that provides basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, Bernard explains.

Since its inception in 1993, the 200-member GM Plus has actively campaigned for equal treatment and safe, acceptable working conditions for all GM employees. Sexual orientation was added to GM’s non-discrimination policy in 1999 and GM, Ford, Chrysler, and the United Auto Workers (UAW) jointly announced the auto industry’s first same-sex domestic partner healthcare benefits a year later. In 2003, GM started targeting the LGBT community as part of its marketing efforts. The automaker added policy protection for employees based on gender identity and gender expression in 2006. Such internal and external efforts of corporations such as GM have provided open, inclusive, and supportive environments that have made it less daunting for LGBT workers and managers to be “out at work,” Bernard says.

Now, hundreds of companies have enacted policies protecting LGBT employees. As of March, 433 (87%) of the nation’s 500 largest corporations had implemented nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation, and 229 (46%) have policies that include gender identity protections. In addition, the majority of the nation’s largest employers now provide benefits to same-sex partners and spouses of employees. About 25 of the top 100 companies have removed discriminatory language from health insurance plans to allow coverage for transgender-related medical treatment.