Employment discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity is an ongoing and pervasive problem in law enforcement and corrections departments. Ninety-five documented cases of discrimination since 2000 show that this discrimination not only impacts LGBT officers, but those who are perceived to be LGBT, associate with LGBT officers or community members, or who have spoken up against such discrimination. In addition, such discrimination not only harms law enforcement and corrections officers but impedes effective community policing, in particular in the protection of and cooperation with the LGBT community. While a patchwork of state, local, and federal laws provides some protection against certain forms of discrimination, there is no nationwide federal law that comprehensively and consistently prohibits employment discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.
This report updates a 2009 Williams Institute report on discrimination in public employment, which found that over 40 percent of the reported cases of discrimination occurred against law enforcement and corrections department personnel. This report reviews evidence of discrimination against police and corrections officers since 2000 as well as the current state of the law.
- Discrimination and harassment against law enforcement and corrections officers based on sexual orientation and gender identity continue to be pervasive throughout the United States.
- Officers continue to report high levels of discrimination in recent surveys.
- For example, a 2009 study found that over two-thirds of LGBT law enforcement officers reported hearing homophobic comments on the job and over half reported being treated like an outsider by their colleagues. Moreover, one in five reported having experienced discrimination in promotions, 8% reported having been discriminated against in hiring, and 2% reported being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- A recent survey of 60 members of TCOPS, an organization for transgender law enforcement officers, found that over 90% reported negative experiences with their departments. Of those who reported negative experiences, 15% reported being terminated, 37% reported being threatened with termination, 68% reported being verbally harassed by their co-workers, 43% reported being threatened with violence, 18% reported being physically attacked by co-workers, and 53% felt that their safety was jeopardized due to isolation by peers.
- Surveys on non-LGBT officers also document high rates of discriminatory attitudes. For example, a 2008 study found that of police chiefs in Texas surveyed, over one in four “indicated that they would have difficulty working with a gay man,” and approximately 50% would have difficulty working with a lesbian officer. In addition, 62% of chiefs expressed the belief that “homosexuality constitutes ‘moral turpitude,’” and 56% said they viewed “homosexuality as a ‘perversion.’”
- Williams Institute research identified 57 recent (2000-present) court cases and administrative complaints filed by law enforcement personnel who alleged that they had experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
- In addition to these cases and administrative complaints, we identified 38 recent (2000-present) anecdotal reports of sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination against law enforcement personnel.
- These 95 cases of documented discrimination come from 28 states and the District of Columbia. In reviewing these cases, we found that:
- The discrimination encountered often went beyond firing or demotion and included severe verbal harassment and sexual harassment, including a death threat, discriminatory slurs, indecent exposure, and inappropriate touching.
- Many of the reports revealed physical harassment or violence towards the officers. These included officers’ reports of being slammed into a concrete wall, beaten with a chair, and repeated reports of officers being refused back-up, placing their personal safety in danger while protecting the public.
- Since most law enforcement and corrections officers are public employees, much of the conduct alleged in these complaints have been found to be, or is likely to be, unconstitutional – -in violation of the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and/or the First Amendment. For example, courts have unanimously found, in all published decisions to address the issue, that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation violates the Equal Protection Clause.
- In addition, courts are increasingly finding that such discrimination is sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. In addition, some state and local governments prohibit such discrimination. These existing laws, while providing some protections, leave many workers without recourse when they face discrimination and create confusing and inconsistent laws for employers to follow across different states and localities.
- For example, state non-discrimination laws do not provide protection for the 56 percent of Americans who live in states that do not prohibit sexual-orientation discrimination in the workplace and the 77 percent who live in states that do not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity.
- The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would be the most comprehensive and consistent way to prohibit discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity against all American workers.
- While ENDA would be the clearest and most inclusive way to protect all Americans against employment discrimination, state and local governments can also protect workers through training and local nondiscrimination laws and policies.
- In addition, local law enforcement and corrections departments can decrease discrimination and enhance community policy by adopting departmental policies prohibiting sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and zero-tolerance harassment policies and conducting periodic training for all officers and personnel on these policies. In addition, designating specific officers as liaisons to the LGBT community is a way to send a clear message of support and inclusion to LGBT officers as well as improving community policing.