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Workplace Discrimination Is a Major Mental Health Issue for LGBTQ People

A trio of cases concerning LGBTQ employment rights are heading to the Supreme Court this week. Workers' livelihoods—and actual lives—are on the line.

by Harron Walker
Oct 8 2019, 6:27pm

Photo by The Gender Spectrum Collection

In case you weren’t aware, the Supreme Court of the United States will begin hearing three cases on Tuesday that will decide whether it is legal to fire someone on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Together, the cases could prove to be a “landmark civil rights ruling” as there are currently no federal laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ people from workplace discrimination, and nearly half of all queer and trans people in the country live in a state where they lack such protections, per the Movement Advancement Project.

The significance of this potential ruling cannot be overstated, especially for trans Americans, whom the mainstream LGBTQ movement tended to ignore while campaigning for things like same-sex marriage and military inclusion. “[A]fter 20 years of working to fulfill the dream of transgender equality, I can tell you that we have never had a better chance to make our dream a reality,” said Mara Keisling, the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in a statement to VICE. But the ruling will do more than just secure this marginalized community’s right to work. It will also grant them peace of mind, easing the myriad mental health issues that stem from being LGBTQ in a hostile environment.

About 46 percent of LGBTQ workers say that they’re closeted at work, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2019 Corporate Equality Index, and 13 percent say they worry that being out at work will get them fired. The toll of the nonconsensual closet is real, as it leaves queer and trans workers feeling distracted (25 percent), exhausted (17 percent), and depressed (31 percent) at their place of employment. Knowing all this, it’s not too surprising to learn that LGBTQ employees are more likely to experience mental health symptoms in the workplace than their straight, cisgender peers, according to a 2019 study by Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics.

Queer workers experience so much compounded stress, depression, and anxiety without workplace protections. Knowing they could lose their job at any moment takes an incalculable toll. An affirmative Supreme Court ruling would grant LGBTQ people more than just their rights as workers—it would grant them peace of mind, making the prospect of living their lives just a little bit less daunting on a day-to-day basis.

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