May 31, 2009

Don’t Rush Into A New Prop. 8 Campaign

Posted at 12:38 pm (Pacific Time)

Now that the California Supreme Court has upheld Proposition 8’s constitutionality, some marriage equality supporters are ready to begin collecting signatures for a new ballot measure to overturn it in next year’s election.

Instead, I hope Californians who support marriage rights for same-sex couples will take a deep collective breath and engage in level-headed strategizing about how best to achieve the long-range goal of marriage equality.

There are at least two good reasons not to put an anti-Prop. 8 measure on the 2010 ballot.

First, such an initiative stands a strong chance of losing. Highly respected statewide polls, such as those conducted by Field and the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), indicate that support for marriage rights for California same-sex couples hasn’t increased noticeably since November. In a February Field Poll, for example, fewer than half of registered voters said they would support a new ballot measure to legalize same-sex marriage, and about the same percentage would oppose it. Only a 49% plurality said they generally support “California allowing homosexuals to marry members of their own sex and have regular marriage laws apply to them.”  And a March PPIC survey found that the state’s likely voters oppose marriage equality by a 49-45% margin.

These numbers don’t bode well for a 2010 ballot campaign to overturn Prop. 8. Just over a year ago, the Field Poll found that more than half of likely voters opposed changing the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. PPIC surveys similarly revealed a widespread reluctance to enact Prop. 8. Yet that solid majority evaporated during the final months of last fall’s campaign. Launching a new initiative with support from less than half of the electorate is ill advised. And if the next campaign fails, it’s highly unlikely that the necessary resources will be available anytime soon to mount yet another ballot fight.

Second, win or lose, another initiative campaign will exact a substantial psychological toll. Research shows that marriage amendment campaigns have negative mental health effects on the people whose lives they target. A recently published nationwide study, for example, found that during the months leading up to the 2006 November election, psychological distress increased among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults living in states where an antigay marriage measure was on the ballot, but not among their counterparts living elsewhere. By Election Day, sexual minority residents of the states with antigay ballot measures had, on average, significantly higher levels of stress and more symptoms of depression than their neighbors in other states.

Comparable research on the 2008 election isn’t yet available but the limited data I’ve seen, supplemented by my own observations, lead me to believe that the Proposition 8 campaign had a similar, negative effect on many Californians. Perhaps the psychological fallout of another statewide campaign will be tolerable if Prop. 8 is repealed. But without a strong likelihood of succeeding, it is irresponsible to subject lesbian, gay, and bisexual Californians to another prolonged period of daily attacks on the legitimacy of their relationships and families.

It has become almost a cliché to assert that time is on the side of the marriage equality movement. Younger voters support marriage rights for same-sex couples more strongly than their elders (although the strength of support among young voters shouldn’t be overstated). That view will eventually achieve majority status in California, perhaps even by 2012. But almost certainly not by next year.

I’m not suggesting that marriage equality supporters should sit on their hands. There’s much work to be done to create a solid majority of California voters who feel they have a personal stake in overturning Prop. 8.

For example, heterosexuals who support marriage rights for same-sex couples can become agents of change by making their opinions known to their spouse, family, neighbors, and coworkers.

And it’s critically important for lesbian, gay, and bisexual Californians to speak directly with their straight relatives and friends about their own experiences, to explain how measures like Prop. 8 personally affect them. In the wake of the November election, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups launched the Tell 3 Campaign to encourage and assist sexual minority adults in telling their stories to the people who love and respect them. Having such conversations is one of the most potent strategies for changing attitudes. Yet, according to my own research, they occur all too infrequently.

Last week’s Supreme Court decision has rightly evoked strong feelings among gay, lesbian, and bisexual Californians and their heterosexual supporters. That emotion can be harnessed to build a successful movement for marriage equality in California. But it shouldn’t push us prematurely into a ballot campaign that poses a significant risk not only of losing, but also of ultimately harming many lesbian, gay, and bisexual Californians.

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A briefer version of this essay appeared in the Sacramento Bee on Sunday, May 31, 2009.

Copyright © 2009 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

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July 4, 2008

Jesse Helms: “If You Want To Call Me A Bigot, Fine.”

Posted at 12:49 pm (Pacific Time)

I’m not going to put a lesbian in a position like that….
If you want to call me a bigot, fine.”

Jesse Helms, in response to President Clinton’s 1993 nomination of Roberta Achtenberg as an assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

AP Photo

Future students of 20th-century US history may puzzle over a section of the 1990 Hate Crimes Statistics Act. After mandating the federal government’s annual collection of data about “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity,” the Act includes the following passage:

“SEC. 2.

(a) Congress finds that:

  1. the American family life is the foundation of American Society,
  2. Federal policy should encourage the well-being, financial security, and health of the American family,
  3. schools should not de-emphasize the critical value of American family life.

(b) Nothing in this Act shall be construed, nor shall any funds appropriated to carry out the purpose of the Act be used, to promote or encourage homosexuality”

This section of the Act is the legacy of Jesse Helms, who died today at the age of 86.

When the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was being considered by the Senate, Helms played a leading role in efforts to block it because it included antigay violence among the crimes to be monitored by law enforcement personnel. Aware of the bill’s popularity and having failed to remove sexual orientation from it, Helms attempted to thwart its passage by introducing an amendment that its supporters would find unacceptable but politically difficult to vote down.

The Helms amendment would have added the following language to the bill:

“It is the sense of the Senate that:

  1. the homosexual movement threatens the strength and survival of the American family as the basic unit of society;
  2. State sodomy laws should be enforced because they are in the best interest of public health;
  3. the Federal Government should not provide discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation; and
  4. school curriculums should not condone homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle in American society.”

Such tactics were typical of Helms, who regularly used his parliamentary skills to get his own way in the Senate. On this occasion, however, he was outmaneuvered by Senators Paul Simon (D-IL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who proposed alternative language that was less antigay.

The Simon-Hatch amendment was approved before Helms’ amendment was considered, thus providing political cover for senators. By supporting the Simon-Hatch language, they could safely vote against Helms’ amendment without being labeled pro-gay and anti-family.

And that’s why the Hate Crimes Statistics Act includes statements about “the American family” and denials that it was intended to “promote or encourage homosexuality.”

Helms’ failure at preventing passage of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was unusual. His mastery of Senate procedure, coupled with lawmakers’ fear of appearing pro-gay, frequently allowed him to succeed in enacting his anti-gay agenda.

When the US was first confronting the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, for example, Helms was instrumental in preventing the government from funding effective prevention programs among gay and bisexual men. The Senate twice endorsed his amendments prohibiting federal funds for AIDS education materials that “promote or encourage, directly or indirectly, homosexual activities.” By constricting the scope of risk-reduction education, Helms’ actions were widely believed to have contributed to the epidemic’s rapid spread.

Throughout his 30-year tenure in the US Senate, Helms was consistently associated with antigay stands. Given this fact, as well as his longstanding opposition to racial equality and the race-baiting tactics he used in election campaigns throughout his career, it is a fairly easy matter to accept his invitation to label him a bigot.

Personal bigotry aside, however, Helms’ legacy includes the many institutional manifestations of heterosexism that he was able to implement during his years in the Senate. Through the laws he sponsored and those he helped to defeat, he created real hardships for sexual minorities while also fostering sexual prejudice in American society. And his efforts probably contributed to the spread of HIV in the United States and the infection and deaths of many gay and bisexual men.

On this Independence Day and the occasion of Jesse Helms’ death, it is fitting to note how personal bigotry combined with political power can enable one politician to do so much harm to so many people.

And, recalling the general unwillingness of elected leaders to stand up to Jesse Helms’ antigay campaigns over the years, it is appropriate to reflect upon the words attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

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June 12, 2008

Norway, Marriage & Military Service: NATO vs. the USA

Posted at 4:33 pm (Pacific Time)

On Wednesday, Norway’s Parliament voted 84-41 to make that country’s marriage law gender-neutral, thereby granting same-sex couples the right to marry and to adopt children on an equal basis with heterosexual couples. The new law will also allow the Church of Norway to bless same-sex marriages, although each congregation may be permitted to decide for itself whether to conduct weddings for gay and lesbian couples.

Norway thus becomes the world’s sixth nation to grant marriage equality to same-sex couples, joining the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa.

With the exception of South Africa, all of those countries are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Norwegian Parliament’s vote is the most recent sign of the widening gap between the United States and its NATO allies on national policies concerning human rights for sexual minorities, exemplified by laws concerning committed relationships and military service.

In addition to the 5 countries with marriage equality, 9 other NATO member countries allow same-sex couples to register their partnerships and thereby enjoy many of the same rights and obligations as married couples — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, and Luxembourg. And Portugal recognizes unregistered cohabitation, which gives same-sex couples some of the limited rights (excluding joint adoption) enjoyed by different-sex couples living in a de facto union for more than two years.

Most of the NATO members that recognize marriage or same-sex registered partnerships also permit military service by gay people. In addition, some NATO countries that don’t recognize same-sex relationships nevertheless permit gay personnel to serve in their military. Estonia, Italy, and Lithuania are in this group.

[Note: Greece bans gay officers but permits gay enlisted conscripts, and Portugal has no formal ban on gay personnel but may screen out homosexuals during the induction process. As Profs. Aaron Belkin and Melissa Sheridan Embser-Herbert point out in a recent review of international military policies, “Because of the range of policies, it is, indeed, a complex task to track the status of regulations and customs concerning gays and lesbians in the armed forces around the world.” Thus, “it is incredibly labor intensive to determine with great accuracy what a country permits or prohibits by law and what really happens on a day-to-day basis. Not only do laws change, but the application of the law may vary from one location to another.”]

Some NATO countries neither recognize same-sex relationships nor permit military service by sexual minorities. They include Bulgaria, Latvia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey.

And, of course, the United States.

Our federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) expressly prohibits the federal government from recognizing legal marriages or civil unions between same-sex couples. And our military policy (known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or DADT), while ostensibly allowing gay and lesbian personnel to serve in secrecy, has resulted in widespread antigay harassment and discharge of sexual minorities. This has continued even as the military has lowered its standards in order to meet enlistment goals — for example, by granting “moral waivers” to convicted felons and recruiting individuals lacking a high school diploma.

Social science research has failed to support the premises on which DADT is based, and opinion polls generally indicate that the US public favors allowing sexual minority military personnel to serve openly. Even onetime supporters of DADT have recognized that it hasn’t worked. Former Senator Sam Nunn and the late Charles Moskos both expressed second thoughts about the policy’s implementation. Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when DADT was adopted, now argues for its repeal.

And, while a majority of the US public still opposes marriage equality, most American adults favor some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples.

Yet, Congress has shown little willingness to change current laws. In an Associated Press story today, Anne Flaherty reported that congressional Democrats have been reluctant to push a legislative repeal of the DADT law, citing resistance from their more conservative members and the inevitability of a veto by President Bush. There are no immediate prospects for Congress to repeal DOMA.

All of this might change if Barack Obama is elected and the Democrats gain a significant number of new congressional seats in November. Whereas presumptive Republican nominee John McCain has endorsed DADT, Sen. Obama has called for its repeal. Nevertheless, Sen. Obama hasn’t made DADT a major talking point in his campaign, probably because he wants to avoid repeating President Bill Clinton’s missteps in 1993 when DADT was enacted into law. (Prior to that time, the military’s ban on service by gay personnel was a matter of Executive Branch policy, not federal law.) Sen. Obama has also expressed support for limited recognition of same-sex couples and the repeal of DOMA, although he opposes marriage equality. Sen. McCain opposes marriage equality and, apparently, civil unions and similar legal recognition for same-sex couples.

For now, the gay citizens of Norway — including those in the military — can look forward to marrying. Meanwhile, in the US, marriage equality exists in only two states, with its status in California threatened by a major ballot initiative. And the Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network (SLDN) has had to warn active-duty military personnel that marrying someone of the same sex in California or Massachusetts means risking their military careers, noting that the federal statute enacting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell clearly states “A member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces” if “the member has married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex.”

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

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September 10, 2007

The Benefits of ENDA: Social Science Data

Posted at 9:34 am (Pacific Time)

In a July 4 posting, I discussed empirical research on employment discrimination against sexual minorities. Last week, in testimony before a House subcommittee, UCLA economist Lee Badgett explained the findings of that body of research to members of Congress.

Dr. Badgett’s testimony supported the need for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007 (ENDA), which would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and explained how ENDA would be good for both employees and employers.

Dr. Badgett made three main points in her oral testimony. First, social science studies using a variety of methodologies have demonstrated that employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans occurs in workplaces across the country. She provided several examples:

“Two fairly recent national surveys of random samples of the LGB population give the clearest overall picture of sexual orientation-related discrimination. In 2000, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 18% of LGB people living in urban areas reported employment discrimination…. More recently, a 2005 survey by Dr. Gregory Herek found that 16% of lesbians and gay men and 5% of bisexual people reported having experienced employment discrimination. A quarter of LGB people disagreed with a statement asserting that most employers in their areas would hire openly LGB people if they are qualified for the job. Numerous local community surveys of nonrandom samples of LGBT people find that sexual orientation discrimination is also commonly reported in those areas.”

Second, this discrimination results in economic harm to sexual minorities, reducing their earnings by thousands of dollars.

“We now have more than a decade of research and twelve studies that compare earnings by sexual orientation in the United States. All twelve studies show a significant pay gap for gay men when compared to heterosexual men who have the same productive characteristics. Depending on the study, gay and bisexual men earn from 10% to 32% less than similarly qualified heterosexual men. Lesbians generally earn the same as or more than heterosexual women, but lesbians earn less than either heterosexual or gay men.”

Third, such discrimination hurts American businesses, and eliminating it will benefit employers in a variety of ways. For example, protection from discrimination is likely to result in healthier and more productive workers.

“Many studies have demonstrated that discrimination keeps LGBT workers from revealing their sexual orientation in the workplace. Although having experienced discrimination directly is a powerful reason for some to ’stay in the closet,’ many studies show that LGBT people who fear discrimination are also less likely to reveal their sexual orientation to co-workers and supervisors. Employers have a stake in these individual decisions, since disclosure has potentially positive benefits to LGBT workers’ well-being and job performance. Studies find that people who have come out report lower levels of anxiety, less conflict between work and personal life, greater job satisfaction, more sharing of employers’ goals, higher levels of satisfaction with their co-workers, more self-esteem, and better physical health. On the flipside, when fear of discrimination causes LGBT employees to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity, employers experience negative costs along with LGBT people themselves. The time as well as social and psychological energy that is required to maintain a hidden identity would, from an employer’s perspective, be better used on the job.”

Dr. Badgett is Research Director at the Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law and Director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her congressional testimony is available at the Williams Institute web site, as is the Institute’s recent report, Bias in the Workplace: Consistent Evidence of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination.

Copyright © 2007 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

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July 4, 2007

Nice Work (If You Can Get It)

Posted at 12:21 pm (Pacific Time)

“The only work that really brings enjoyment
Is the kind that is for girl and boy meant.”

–George & Ira Gershwin (Nice Work If You Can Get It)

Opinion surveys consistently show that the American public opposes workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. In a 2007 Gallup poll, for example, 89% of US adults agreed that “Homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities.” This percentage represents an increase of more than 30 points since the question was first asked by Gallup in 1977, when 56% supported equal employment opportunity.

Despite this near-consensus that sexual minority individuals shouldn’t face job discrimination because of their orientation, federal law still doesn’t protect workers in this regard (although 20 states and the District of Columbia do, according to the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.)

Is job-related bias a problem? A new study by economist Dr. Lee Badgett and her colleagues at UCLA indicates that it is. Their report, Bias in the Workplace: Consistent Evidence of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination, was released last week and is available from the Williams Institute’s web site.

Dr. Badgett and her coauthors reviewed findings from more than 50 studies that addressed employment discrimination among sexual and gender minorities. As would be expected in any such review, the methodologies and results varied considerably across the studies. The data clearly show, however, that workplace discrimination is disturbingly widespread.

Some of Dr. Badgett’s main findings:

  • Depending on the study, between 15% and 68% of the sexual minority respondents said they had experienced employment discrimination at some point in their lives because of their sexual orientation.
  • In studies that asked respondents more specific questions about the type of discrimination they experienced, 8%-17% said they were fired or denied employment, 10%-28% were denied a promotion or given negative performance evaluations, and 10%-19% reported receiving unequal pay or benefits.
  • Many heterosexuals reported witnessing sexual orientation discrimination against their coworkers.
  • In states that currently prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, sexual minorities file complaints of employment discrimination at roughly the same rates as women and racial minorities.
  • Gay men earn 10%-32% less than similarly qualified heterosexual men. Data for lesbians don’t reveal a consistent pattern of pay differences from heterosexual women but, like heterosexual women, lesbians earn less than men.
  • Six studies that surveyed transgender individuals separately found that 20% to 57% of transgender respondents reported having experienced employment discrimination at some point in their life. More specifically, 13%-56% said they were fired, 13%-47% were denied employment, 22%-31% were harassed, and 19% were denied a promotion based on their gender identity.

Three of the studies reviewed by Dr. Badgett were based on nationally representative samples of self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults. Because of the nature of their samples, they probably provide the best estimates of the extent of workplace discrimination experiences in the sexual minority population.

  • A 2000 Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 405 lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in 15 large metropolitan areas found that 18% of the respondents reported experiencing discrimination when applying for a job or keeping a job.
  • In a 2001 paper published in the American Journal of Public Health (vol. 91, pp. 1869-1876), Drs. Vicki Mays and Susan Cochran analyzed self-reports of discrimination in a large nationally representative sample of adults aged 25-74 years. They found that 8% of sexual minority respondents reported being fired, 13% were denied employment, and 11% were denied a promotion. (However, the survey did not ask whether these specific incidents were based on the respondent’s sexual orientation or another factor, such as race or gender.)
  • In my own study with a nationally representative sample of 662 lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults, 10% of the total sample reported having been fired from a job or denied a job or promotion since age 18 because of their sexual orientation. Broken down by sexual orientation groups, 16% of lesbians and gay men said they had experienced job discrimination, compared to 6% of bisexual women and 3% of bisexual men. (More information about this study is available in a previous blog post. The paper can be downloaded from my website.)

Dr. Badgett’s report highlights the need for workplace protections for sexual minorities. Congress is currently considering one potential source of such protection, The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007 (HR 2015). ENDA would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The experiences of women and racial minorities teach us that ENDA and similar laws won’t eliminate workplace discrimination. By making such discrimination illegal and providing remedies for individuals who experience it, however, they are an important step toward addressing the problems documented by Dr. Badgett’s study.

Copyright © 2007 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

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