PRIDE month means a lot to EPA’s Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgendered (LGBT) employees and their families. It’s a time to reflect on where we’ve been, and what’s ahead of us in terms of realizing full and equal protection under the law. It’s a time to thank our many friends and allies, without whom we wouldn’t have been able to make the progress we’ve seen so far. I’m very proud of my eight colleagues who are featured on EPA’s LGBT web page. Each of them has a different story and background, yet each shares the same truth – they’re dedicated EPA employees who are proud to protect public health and safeguard the environment – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
To put this truth into historical perspective – we’re commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Signed into law on July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Act was a landmark piece of legislation that prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. However, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity was not explicitly provided in Title VII of the Act. Recent case law now provides an interpretation that affords some protections based upon sex gender expression.
This is one of the reasons LGBT federal employees have been working with their leadership, Human Resources Councils, unions, special emphasis program managers, and colleagues to include this prohibition in their Equal Employment Opportunity policies.
That’s where Equality EPA, EPA’s LGBT non-labor employee group, fits in. We work with our allies to “level the playing field” and educate all employees about the inequities we face.
Up until the late 1970s, federal employees could be fired if they came out at work. Eventually, the Justice Department redefined discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as a “prohibited personnel practice.” This was adopted in EPA’s EEO Policy (circa 1996), yet LGBT employees still didn’t have anyone to turn to if they felt that they had experienced discrimination on the job. EPA and USDA were the first agencies to put an administrative order in place that gave LGBT employees administrative relief to air their complaints. EPA was the first federal agency to charter an LGBT Advisory Council and designate Special Emphasis Program Managers in each program and regional office. Equality EPA continues to be the voice of EPA’s LGBT employees and their allies.
Equality EPA members are very proud of our many accomplishments in bringing equality to our workplace. Yet, there’s still more to do. Last year’s Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act has changed many federal employee benefit regulations, providing more to LGBT employees and their families. Neither Equality EPA nor EPA can address the remaining challenges alone. It will take all of us working together to reach our goal of all EPA employees realizing full and equal protection under the law.
About the author: Brendan G. Doyle is a senior advisor in EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center. He’s also a founder of “Equality EPA,” the agency non-labor, LGBT employee organization.