Federal employees know that legal protections against unlawful discrimination apply equally in all federal workplaces across the country. But what may differ when a worker transfers from one federal workplace to another is the prevalence of attitudes critical of LGBTQ colleagues. Presumably reflective of public opinion, several state legislatures and governors have taken aggressive legal action against transgender people.
Negative public treatment of LGBTQ people seems wider spread
Some legislative goals involve depriving trans children of gender-confirming health care (by targeting parents who provide it with potential criminal prosecution or by ending Medicaid coverage) or restricting what people can say or read about them at school. Impacting transgender minors and adults are policies about the use of gender-specific bathrooms or locker rooms, and participation on gender-specific athletic teams or in individual sports competitions.
Some state governments are targeting the LGBTQ community more broadly such as by proposing restrictions on drag performances. “Religious exemption” laws allow people to refuse to provide goods or services (including health care) to LGBTQ people based on the merchant’s or professional’s religious views.
Its not a stretch to assume that these state actions reflect the views of a majority of voters there. For context, on Jan. 14, 2023, NBC News reported that so far in the new year legislators in 22 states had filed “[m]ore than 100 bills targeting LGBTQ rights and queer life …” States with the most bills were Texas, Missouri, North Dakota and Oklahoma.
Of course, not all people in any state are hostile toward LGBTQ persons, but the climate likely feels different in a California or New York workplace than it does in Texas or Idaho.
Federal job mobility
As a condition of continued employment, a federal employer may require an employee to relocate to a federal workplace somewhere else in the country. Or the transfer may be voluntary for personal reasons or professional opportunity.
Unfortunately, some LGBTQ federal employees have experienced culture shock in a new community where attitudes are less accepting or more hostile toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning people. But when these views show up in a new federal workplace in the form of inappropriate reactions to and treatment of an LGBTQ employee, the targeted individual should be proactive.
An employee should report discrimination or harassment according to their agency’s procedures and seek legal advice from an attorney who regularly represents federal employees. No one should feel unsafe or uncomfortable at work – in fact, a hostile work environment targeting an LGBTQ employee is illegal and the worker has legal remedies that a lawyer can explain.
Societal attitudes may vary by state, but not federal worker protections
An LGBTQ federal worker (or employee of a federal contractor) who finds themselves in this scenario should know that federal law protects them from discrimination and harassment based on their LGBTQ status. For example, Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination includes targeting an individual because of they are gay or for their gender identity, lack of adherence to gender stereotypes or identification as transgender.
Any federal worker who is an LGBTQ individual should seek legal advice as early as possible if these problems surface to understand their options and preserve their rights. Be aware that the climate at work toward LGBTQ employees may be less friendly in some states.
The federal workplace has unique procedures for addressing problems of discrimination or harassment that may include their agency’s internal equal employment opportunity (EEO) processes, filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) or other legal remedies.