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No One Faces Higher Barriers to Paid Leave Than LGBTQ Workers of Color

Erin Heger

Forty percent of LGBTQ respondents of color reported their employer has LGBTQ-inclusive leave policies, while 27 percent say they are afraid to request time off to care for a loved one because it might disclose their LGBTQ identity.

As a queer Black man, Dominique Morgan knows all too well the workplace barriers LGBTQ people of color face. He’s the national director of Black and Pink, an organization supporting incarcerated LGBTQ people and the founder of Queer People of Color Nebraska.

He says he works hard to establish a workplace culture that honors workers’ needs.

Queer Black people in particular who experience hardship in ways other people don’t, who experience micro and macro aggressions at the workplace, really need to engage in what self care looks like,” Morgan said. “I think being open to that gives you the best employee when they do come to work.”

Given the lack of paid family and medical leave for workers in the United States, millions of workers face wrenching financial decisions when it comes to caring for themselves and loved ones. The challenges are especially acute for the 1.8 million LGBTQ workers of color who face disproportionately high barriers in accessing workplace leave policies, according to a new report released this week from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) and the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA).

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The report reveals the findings of an HRC Foundation survey of 5,433 LGBTQ people about their access to paid leave. A mere 40 percent of LGBTQ respondents of color reported their employer has LGBTQ-inclusive leave policies, compared to 49 percent of white respondents. Twenty-seven percent say they are afraid to request time off to care for a loved one because it might disclose their LGBTQ identity, compared to 16 percent of white respondents, and 44 percent of respondents of color say they are concerned about losing their job if they were to take leave, while 37 percent of white respondents said the same. 

“These results aren’t really surprising when you you consider the systems and barriers LGBTQ people of color face and especially people living in states that don’t have protections from employer discrimination,” said Ashland Johnson, HRC director of public education and research.

Twenty-eight states do not offer legal discrimination protections covering sexual orientation or gender identity, intensifying the fear LGBTQ workers encounter in workplaces, especially when it comes to requesting time off, Johnson said. LGBTQ people of color are more than twice as likely as white LGBTQ people to experience hiring bias based on their LGBTQ identities.

“We live in a heteronormative binary society. We have to assimilate to how queerness looks in the workplace and to what professionalism looks like in the workplace and you have to do that from the white, straight perspective,” Morgan said. “So you are doubly trying to fit in. Doubly trying to be seen as a viable candidate for a raise or promotion, and in addition you want to be the person they see as the absolute best so you never want to take time off.”

Even without the fear of retaliation, the issue of having access to paid leave is a substantial barrier for LGBTQ people of color, with only 36 percent reporting having access to paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child. For those without access to paid leave, 71 percent of respondents of color said taking time off work without pay would be impossible given their financial situation, including 78 percent of Latinx respondents.

Johnson said financial concerns about taking unpaid leave are magnified for LGBTQ workers of color considering unemployment and poverty rates are higher among LGBTQ people of color than both their non-LGBTQ and white LGBTQ counterparts.

While ensuring workplace leave policies include LGBTQ workers and their families is a necessary step, Johnson said policymakers should examine the workplace disparities that exist at intersections of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation in pursing nationwide paid leave benefits.

“We need to ensure that policies don’t exclude LGBTQ people, but we also need a more holistic approach that looks at the inner workings of these policies and how we alleviate barriers and provide protections across the board,” Johnson said.

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