West Virginia is home to an estimated 57,800 LGBT adults
and approximately 10,300 LGBT youth. LGBT people in West Virginia lack important state-level legal protections that have been extended in other states. For example, statewide statutes in West Virginia do not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. State laws in West Virginia also fail to adequately protect LGBT students from bullying and harassment. In terms of social climate, West Virginia is tied for last in the nation on public support for LGBT rights and acceptance of LGBT people.
The legal landscape for LGBT people in West Virginia likely contributes to an environment in which LGBT people experience stigma and discrimination. Stigma and discrimination can take many forms, including discrimination and harassment in employment and other settings; bullying and harassment at school and family rejection of LGBT youth; overrepresentation in the criminal legal system; and violence. Research has linked stigma and discrimination against LGBT people to negative effects on individuals, businesses, and the economy.
In this study, we provide data and research documenting the prevalence of several forms of stigma and discrimination against LGBT adults and youth in the U.S. and in West Virginia specifically, including discrimination and harassment in employment, housing, and public accommodations; bullying and harassment in schools; and family rejection of LGBT youth. We discuss the implications of such stigma and discrimination on LGBT individuals, in terms of health and economic security; on employers, in terms of employee productivity, recruitment, and retention; and on the economy, in terms of health care costs and reduced productivity.
To the extent that West Virginia can create a more supportive environment for LGBT people, it will reduce the economic instability and health disparities experienced by LGBT individuals, which, in turn, would benefit the state, employers, and the economy.
Prevalence of stigma and discrimination against LGBT people
LGBT people in West Virginia experience discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
- In response to a 2016 poll, 52% of West Virginia residents, both LGBT and non-LGBT, said that they thought that gay and lesbian people experience a lot of discrimination in the U.S.,and 58% of West Virginia residents said that they thought that transgender people experience a lot of discrimination in the U.S.
- Incidents of discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing, and public accommodations have been documented in a number of court cases and media reports.
LGBT youth in West Virginia experience bullying and harassment at school.
- The 2017 GLSEN National School Climate survey of LGBTQ middle- and high-school students found that, in the year prior to the survey, 82% of respondents from West Virginia said they had experienced verbal harassment at school based on their sexual orientation, and 76% said they had experienced verbal harassment at school based on their gender expression. Many students also reported experiencing physical harassment at school based on their sexual orientation (42%) or gender expression (34%) in the year prior to the survey.
- A 2016 Campus Quality of Life survey of students at West Virginia University found that 27% of students thought that people on campus were generally unfriendly towards transgender people, and that 19% similarly thought that people on campus were generally unfriendly toward gay and lesbian people.
- Instances of bullying and harassment in education in West Virginia have also been documented in a number of court cases and media reports.
Impact of stigma and discrimination on LGBT individuals
LGBT people in West Virginia experience economic instability.
- Stigma and discrimination against LGBT workers can lead to economic instability, including lower wages and higher rates of poverty.
- Gallup polling data from 2015–2017 show that 33% of LGBT adults in West Virginia reported that they did not have enough money for food, compared to 20% of non-LGBT adults in the state. In addition, 39% of LGBT adults in West Virginia reported having a household income below $24,000, compared to 26% of non-LGBT adults. Finally, 14% of LGBT adults in West Virginia reported being unemployed, compared to 7% of non-LGBT adults.
LGBT adults and youth in West Virginia experience health disparities.
- Research indicates that stigma and discrimination contribute to adverse health outcomes for LGBT adults such as major depressive disorder, binge drinking, substance use, and suicidality. Similarly, bullying and family rejection, as well as social stigma more broadly, have been linked to increased likelihoods of dropping out of school, suicide, and substance use among LGBT youth.
- LGBT adult respondents to the 2015 West Virginia Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey were significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder by a health care professional than non-LGBT respondents (40 % vs. 23%).
- In addition, LGBT adults in West Virginia were significantly more likely to report current smoking (43% vs. 25%) and binge drinking (18% vs. 10%) than non-LGBT adults.
Economic impacts of stigma and discrimination
Discrimination against LGBT people in employment and other settings has economic consequences for employers and the state government.
- Productivity. Unsupportive work environments can mean that LGBT employees are less likely to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity at work, and more likely to be distracted, disengaged, or absent, and to be less productive. These outcomes could lead to economic losses for state and local governments, as employers, as well as for private sector employers in the state. Given that an estimated 40,000 workers in West Virginia identify as LGBT,the loss in productivity from a discriminatory environment could be significant.
- Retention. LGBT employees in less supportive work environments feel less loyal to their employers and are more likely to plan to leave their jobs. Given the average replacement costs of an employee, public and private employers risk losing $8,474, on average, for each employee who leaves the state or changes jobs because of an unsupportive environment in West Virginia.
- Recruitment. Many LGBT and non-LGBT workers, in particular those who are younger and more highly educated, prefer to work for companies with more LGBT-supportive policies, and in states with more supportive laws. To the extent that workers from other states perceive West Virginia to be unsupportive of LGBT people, it may be difficult for public and private employers in the state to recruit talented employees from other places.
Bullying, harassment, and family rejection of LGBT youth negatively impact the economy.
- Bullying, harassment, and family rejection of LGBT youth can cause them to miss or drop out of school, become homeless, or become unemployed or underemployed.
- Underattendance at school and instances of homelessness that arise due to bullying, harassment, and family rejection are harmful not only to individual LGBT youth, but also have societal consequences in that they reduce the capacity of these youth to contribute to the economy as adults.
- In addition, school-based harassment and family rejection can increase costs to the state via Medicaid expenditures, incarceration, and lost wages. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has estimated that homelessness, juvenile justice involvement, and poor educational and employment outcomes cost nearly $8 billion per cohort that ages out of foster care each year in the U.S. The best available data suggest that LGBT youth make up one-fifth, if not more, of each annual aging-out cohort.
Health disparities for LGBT people negatively impact the economy.
- A more supportive legal landscape and social climate for LGBT people in West Virginia is likely to reduce health disparities between LGBT and non-LGBT people, which would increase worker productivity and reduce health care costs.
- We estimate that reducing the disparity in major depressive disorder between LGBT and non-LGBT people in West Virginia by 25% to 33.3% could benefit the state’s economy by $22.7 million to $30.8 million. Reducing the disparity in current smoking by the same proportion could benefit the state’s economy by $18.0 million to $24.5 million, and similarly reducing the disparity in binge drinking could benefit the state’s economy by $10.2 million to $13.3 million, in increased productivity and reduced health care costs each year. To the extent that a more supportive legal landscape would reduce other health disparities, the state’s economy would benefit even more.