Workplace Improves for Gay, Transgender Employees, Rights Group Says

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 6, 2005

The workplace is becoming friendlier for gay and transgender employees, according to a report released today by the Human Rights Campaign, a national advocacy group.

According to the report, "The State of the Workplace for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Americans 2004," at least 8,250 employers provided domestic partner benefits at the end of 2004, a 13 percent increase over the previous year. Among the Fortune 500, 216 companies provided domestic partner benefits, 10 times the number in 1995, when 21 of the companies offered the benefits.

"As we suspected, corporate America is well ahead of America generally in terms of extending basic rights to all people," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. One of the most notable increases among the Fortune 500 was that 51 companies' non-discrimination policies included gender identity and expression, up 89 percent from 2003, when 27 Fortune 500 companies had the policy. The policy specifically covers not only gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) employees, and those who are transitioning from one sex to another, but also workers who might be chided for not acting male or female enough.

"I think there are business reasons that companies are doing this -- to give themselves as much of an advantage as possible when it comes to retention and recruitment, to keep their best talent," said Keith Greene, vice president for member relations at the Society for Human Resource Management, who said his organization is seeing similar growth among its members. "There's also a fairness piece in here. The employer wants to be perceived as fair and even, balanced and responsible to all employees."

At the end of 2004, 410 companies on the Fortune 500 included sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies. Another four companies had added the policy by March 1. Among the Fortune 50, 49 companies included it in their non-discrimination policies. Exxon Mobil Corp. is the only that does not. At a recent shareholders meeting, the Irving, Tex., company's directors opposed a proposal to include it, saying its "written policies prohibit discrimination or harassment for any reason, including sexual orientation."

Hewlett-Packard Co. first wrote sexual orientation into its anti-discrimination rules more than a decade ago. "We have a long and strong record in terms of supporting GLBT and non-discrimination legislation and policies," said Sid Reel, Hewlett-Packard's vice president of global inclusion and diversity. "Even in terms of the types of benefits we provide, we know it really is smart business and gives us a competitive advantage to have the GLBT community included in our non-discrimination policies."

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