BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | Just under one percent of federal government employees who responded to a 2005 survey reported having been “denied a job, promotion, pay, or other job benefit because of unlawful discrimination based upon” their sexual orientation.
The survey, which was conducted by the federal Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), asked a representative sample of 36,926 employees if they had encountered discrimination based on one of eight factors and 0.9 percent of the total said they had experienced discrimination due to their sexual orientation.
Just under one percent of federal government report workplace discrimination based upon their sexual orientation.
Discrimination based on age led with 7.8 percent of respondents reporting that, followed by “race/national origin” at 6.5 percent, sex at 6.4 percent, disability at 2.1 percent, marital status and political affiliation, both at 1.3 percent, and religion at 1.1 percent.
Gay City News found the survey while reporting a story on the ten-year anniversary of a 1998 executive order signed by President Bill Clinton that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation in federal civilian employment. The MSPB asked the same question in the 2007 version of the survey, but those results have not been tabulated.
In a different 2007 survey, the agency, which hears appeals from civilian federal employees who believe they have experienced negative effects from personnel practices that are prohibited, asked three questions that included sexual orientation and two of those three concerned discrimination. The data has not been tabulated.
While sexual orientation discrimination was the lowest among all categories in the 2005 survey, it could be significant. If, for example, five percent of the federal workforce is gay or lesbian, this could mean that almost twenty percent of such employees have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation. Other data suggests that gay and lesbian federal employees rarely complain when they encounter discrimination.
The 2005 survey asked respondents if they experienced discrimination “in the past two years.” If all those who reported sexual orientation discrimination in the survey filed a complaint that would total 332 complaints for just those two years – and that's only from this sample of the total workforce, so the number affected by discrimination would be far higher among all federal employees.
But when Gay City News asked the 15 cabinet-level agencies how many complaints alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation they have received since 1999, 11 agencies responded by press time reporting 186 complaints altogether for the nine-year period.
The five-year-old Department of Homeland Security reported 79 complaints “that alleged sexual orientation either as the sole basis of discrimination or in combination with other bases.”
The Department of Justice first reported 52 complaints, but then changed that to “approximately 50” and added, “Only three of those listed sexual orientation as the only basis for a complaint.”
The Labor Department reported 16 complaints; the Commerce Department reported 14 complaints; the Interior Department reported 15 complaints; the Transportation Department reported 11 complaints from the 2006, 2007, and 2008 fiscal years with no data on the years prior to 2006; and the Education Department reported one complaint. The Energy Department reported no complaints.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development said it had no complaints in the past five years.
The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs said they did not keep track of complaints that allege discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The vast majority of federal employees work for the executive branch and the 15 cabinet-level agencies have 91 percent of the executive branch workers.
Gay groups were unaware of the MSPB surveys until Gay City News contacted them for comment. They were generally cautious in reacting to the survey and complaint data.
“The federal government EEO system when it comes to sexual orientation is a little bit confusing for people,” said Brian Moulton, associate counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay lobbying group, referring to the responsibilities of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “That may have discouraged people from filing claims.”
Gay and lesbian federal employees effectively have two ways of making discrimination complaints. They can file internally within their department, citing the 1998 presidential executive order, or they can go to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) which enforces protections under a 1978 law that bars discrimination based on non-job related criteria. In 2004, however, Scott J. Bloch, the OSC head, announced he would no longer handle cases that allege discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“I think it suggests the extent to which Bloch and the Bush administration have been successful in muddying the waters,” said Hans Johnson, president of Progressive Victory, a consulting firm, and an officer of Pride at Work, a gay labor group affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
Leonard P. Hirsch, board president of the federal GLOBE, the organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered federal employees, saw the low survey number as good news.
“How wonderful that it's that low,” he said. “That so few believe they have been discriminated against is a testament to how far we have come.”