How do LGBT employees fare in federal workplaces?

The White House said Monday that President Obama will soon sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation, responding to years of pressure from gay-rights groups.

The move would continue progress for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community within the federally connected workforce, which includes federal employees and the contractors who work indirectly for the government through private firms.


Marchers carry a rainbow flag in the LA Pride Parade on June 8 in West Hollywood, California. (David McNew/Getty Images).

A report this year from the Merit Systems Protection Board, which protects federal employees from prohibited personnel practices, said relatively few government workers believe sexual-orientation discrimination has occurred in their workplaces. The analysis did not cover contractors, but it helps gauge the government’s posture toward the LGBT community.

The report said that about 1 percent of federal employees believed they had been discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. Another 3 percent said they perceived such discrimination, but that it had not happened to them.

In a second report this year, the MSPB said the results represent “encouraging signs that the history of sexual-orientation discrimination in federal employment is being overcome.” The numbers come from a 2010 MSPB survey.

A bit of history in this issue: The federal government considered sexual orientation when making hiring decisions up until 1975, when the now-defunct Civil Service Commission removed certain exclusionary language from its employment-suitability regulations. The MSPB said the policy had “effectively precluded hiring openly gay or lesbian individuals into the civil service.”

Another advancement occurred in 1980, when the Office of Personnel Management interpreted  one of the federal government’s 13 prohibited personnel practices — the one barring discrimination based on conduct that does not negatively impact job performance — to mean that agencies could not discriminate based on sexual orientation.

In a temporary setback for the LGBT community, the Office of Special Counsel determined in 2004 that the prohibited personnel practice in question did not extend to sexual-orientation. The agency, which protects federal workers from reprisals, reversed its position during the Obama administration, deciding that discrimination based on sexual orientation is indeed prohibited.

OPM’s 2012 employee-satisfaction survey showed that workplace perceptions from LGBT federal workers were less positive than those of other personnel. But an MSPB analysis of the results found that perceptions were roughly the same “in some agencies for at least some workplace issues,” providing a roadmap for how  government employers can create a more inclusive culture.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to federalworker@washpost.com.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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