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“Equal Rights Are Not Special”: Advocates Call for an End to Anti-Gay Employment Discrimination

Although Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, and sex, as of 2002, no Federal law prevents an employer from discrimination based on sexual orientation. With the advent of the gay liberation movement in 1969, grassroots and national groups fought for legal protection for gay men and lesbians in the workplace, educational institutions, and housing. In 1972, East Lansing, Michigan, became the first city to forbid discrimination in local government hiring based on sexual orientation. While more than 175 localities and 13 states have passed similar antidiscrimination legislation, opponents have successfully campaigned to stop or repeal such laws by arguing that they conferred “special rights” on gay men and lesbians. Colorado voters in a 1992 referendum adopted an amendment to their State Constitution to prohibit protection of persons based on their “homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships.” Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that the Colorado amendment violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and President Bill Clinton issued an Executive Order in 1998 that explicitly prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation for Executive Branch civilian employment, gay and lesbian employees remain unprotected from discriminatory practices in many areas of the country. In the following testimony to a House subcommittee in 1994, five advocates for federal legislation presented arguments and personal accounts to demonstrate the need to establish, in the words of one of the witnesses, “the equal right to work in the U.S.”


Mr. DILLON. I would like to thank the panel for inviting me to this hearing. I would like to thank you for inviting me to this affair. I am just here to tell a story. I wish I didn’t have a story to tell, and I wish panels like this were not necessary. But they are necessary because people in the workplace are being discriminated against because of sexual orientation.

My story started in 1980. I began working for the Post Office in 1980, and I was a pretty good postal employee. I was a teamworker and I worked hard. And I worked with other individuals when my work was done. I worked in that kind of environment for about four years. Then an individual, a coworker of mine, began to verbally shout sexual epithets about my sexual orientation towards me and to verbally harass me.

I apprised my supervisors of this situation, and I also apprised my union of the situation. My supervisors told me that nothing could be done to this individual until he did something to me. The union, on the other hand, told me that I should keep notes about the things that had been written about me and the things that they were saying about me. People heard those things, and so I did that.

Then in 1985, in May of 1985, I walked into the restroom during the washup period to get washed up to go to lunch and this individual was in the restroom. And he—as I washed my hands and turned to dry them at the paper towel rack, he assaulted me. He knocked me out, knocked me unconscious. When I came to, there was blood all over the floor. I sustained several injuries, a bruised sternum and two black eyes and I required several stitches in my forehead.

I was off from work for a period of three weeks because of those injuries. And when I returned to work, I learned that that individual had been fired but there were two other individuals in the same work area who kind of picked up the ball and started rolling with it again. And I again began to apprise my supervisors and other management personnel of what was going on and that I was afraid that another assault was going to ensue. They told me the same thing. There was nothing they could do about it.

That was in 1985. I dealt with that for three years, until 1988, and finally an individual came over into my work area and made another violent, threatening remark to me. I asked to be sent to the nurse’s office and I asked to be sent home. She saw that I was pretty upset and so she sent me home.

That was on a Friday and on that following Monday, I made an appointment to see a mental health consultant. I saw a therapist and explained my situation. He took down what was going on with me on the job. He immediately took me off the job and advised me to file an equal opportunity claim and a worker’s compensation claim. So I did both of those things. Eventually, the worker’s compensation claim was accepted and EEOC began to investigate and we went through the channels and the procedures necessary.

I won the case at the initial level but when we got out of the internal system and into the court system, I lost on every level. I lost because there was no law that protected people from such a harassment because of sexual orientation.

I am now back with the Post Office after being off of work for four years. I returned to the Post Office in 1992, but at a different postal installation. So far everything there is okay.

I just think that a law needs to be passed so that people will not have to go through the kind of thing that I had to go through.

Thank you very much. . . .


Mr. MILLER. My name is Dan Miller. I am a Certified Public Accountant living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I operate my own CPA firm. I am an employer, homeowner, landlord, and church member. I derive much enjoyment from close family relationships with my parents, siblings, and my personal partner, Carl, and his two young children.

In most respects I am a typical middle-class American. Unlike most Americans, I am a victim of blatant discrimination and the experience has radically changed my life.

Prior to owning my own CPA firm, I was employed by Donald L. DeMuth Professional Management Consultants. It was Mr. Donald DeMuth’s firm that irrationally discriminated against me on the basis of my sexual orientation. . . .

My story begins late in the summer of 1990. Several incidents of anti-gay violence occurred in Harrisburg and I was one of several community leaders informing city council and requesting action. Eventually, I appeared on several local TV news programs asking for increased police protection for gay and lesbian residents.

On Wednesday, October 17, 1990, at 10 a.m., my boss, Donald L. DeMuth, called me into his office. I was fired effective immediately. I sat in his office in stunned silence. “You are fired” kept ringing over and over in my mind. I was devastated. DeMuth continued: I would receive no severance pay or vacation pay, no benefits. Nothing.

And then he went for the final and most severe blow, asking, “What do you want me to tell our clients?” He assumed that I was humiliated and embarrassed at being gay. Apparently DeMuth expected me to leave his firm and hang my head in shame.

I was enraged. I told him, “Tell them the truth: Tell them you fired me because I’m gay.” In front of the entire office staff, I cleaned out my desk and left the office of DeMuth Professional Management Consultants for the last time.

At home I didn’t know what to do next. I didn’t know how being fired would affect future job prospects. My life was in turmoil. How was I going to pay my bills, my mortgage, my taxes? I signed up for unemployment compensation, but DeMuth contested benefit payment. He claimed firing me for homosexuality was just cause. I was forced to return to the unemployment office for several additional interviews before benefits were approved. It was humiliating.

At home, I became depressed. I couldn’t eat and I just barely slept. My life was collapsing and it had all happened because I am gay and not willing to deny it.

In fact, I had never publicly acknowledged that I was gay. I had only exercised my freedom of speech and spoke in support of increased protection from anti-gay violence. Speaking on this issue cost me my job. My boss automatically assumed I was gay and fired me without even knowing the facts.

The following trial testimony displays the pure bigotry espoused by Donald DeMuth when questions by my attorney Daniel Sullivan.

“Now, as of October 17, 1990, Mr. Miller was properly discharging his duties?”

DeMuth responds: “I consider homosexuality as cause that incapacitated him from properly discharging his duties.”

“Was he properly discharging his duties with respect to his services as a professional financial consultant as of October 17, 1990?”

DeMuth: “Not if he is a homosexual.” . . .

I then went to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. I was even more disappointed. The law didn’t include the term “sexual orientation” and there was nothing they could do. They even refused to record my case for use as a statistical reference. I was forced to accept the fact that with no legal protection, I had to move on as best I could.

Six weeks passed and on December 1, 1990, I opened my own CPA office in downtown Harrisburg. Approximately one-third of DeMuth’s former clients engaged me as their accountant. Although the future looked promising, my troubles with DeMuth were not over. In some ways they were just beginning.

At the end of my first tax season, I began receiving letters from DeMuth and his attorney demanding compensation for his former clients that had hired me. It wasn’t enough that he fired me solely for being gay. Now he wanted to be compensated for his costly business decision.

DeMuth based this claim on a contract I was required to sign six months after I began working with him. The contract in effect punished me for being gay. It stated that if I was fired for just cause and I opened a competing CPA firm, I was required to pay DeMuth for former clients that retained my services. It further defined homosexuality as just cause.

Appalled at this clause, I sought legal advice. Believing that the contract was illegal and unenforceable, I signed the contract.

One year after opening my firm, in November 1991, DeMuth filed suit against me for $124,000. He claimed that I had breached our contract and sought to have the courts enforce his personal prejudice. In June 1993, our case was heard before a jury in Cumberland County presided by Judge Kevin Hess.

Lacking a specific law prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Judge Hess refused to let us argue that the firing was unconstitutional or against public policy, and subsequently the jury awarded DeMuth a total judgment plus interest of $130,000. The entire experience has cost me a considerable amount of emotional turmoil and just under $200,000 in judgment, interest, appeal costs and attorney’s fees.

Later, juror Mary Warner wrote in the Harrisburg Patriot News, “DeMuth took the witness stand, thrust out his jaw and said unapologetically that he had fired a good employee for being gay.” She goes on to say, “It was outrageous to hear intolerance like that in a court of law where people come to seek protection from intolerance. But the law was silent.”

In a separate editorial, the paper wrote, “Until the civil rights of all Americans, homosexual and heterosexual, are given equal authority under the law, discrimination shall infect the Land of the Free.” . . .

I ask you, as leaders of this country, to stop this injustice. You have the power to help stop anti-gay discrimination by passing civil rights legislation. Unless such legislation is passed, anti-gay employment discrimination will continue to occur in America and the law will be silent. . . .


Ms. MCDONALD. I am Nancy McDonald and I am a retired educator, school administrator, and educational consultant from Tulsa, Oklahoma. My husband and I have four children. Our youngest daughter is a lesbian.

We are copresidents of the Tulsa Chapter of Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays, and I also serve as a regional director and a member of the national board of directors.

I am here today to speak to you about workplace discrimination against our gay, lesbian and bisexual children.

Our lesbian daughter is a teacher and she specializes in bilingual education, and as any parent, we would love to have her return to Oklahoma to teach. But in Oklahoma, if a teacher is perceived to be gay, by a parent, a coworker or an administrator, the charge can be used to initiate an investigation or dismissal.

I do not want to subject her to that. This is included in the State of Oklahoma’s school reform passed by the State legislature in 1990. Gay, lesbian or bisexual educators must remain in the closet. And yet I know from my experience that they are the most creative, talented and dedicated educators any school system could employ, and it is unfortunate that they must hide their sexual orientation.

On the other hand, there are no role models, gay or lesbian role models, in our schools for our gay, lesbian and bisexual children. They have no one to turn to for factual information.

This produces very low self-esteem and puts our children at risk for suicide. Consequently 30 percent—30 percent—of all suicides committed by youth are by our gay and lesbian children. This was reported in the study on youth suicide conducted by the Federal Government.

Gay educators are employed in our public schools, in our colleges, in our universities, and they are victims of discrimination. As in most cases, grounds for dismissal are contrived. Many of them are minor infractions of the rules, subjective opinions, not adequately validated. Gay, lesbian, or bisexual teachers find it extremely difficult to combat these allegations because they will have to identify themselves, and when they do, they can be dismissed. It is a Catch-22 situation.

I would like to share with you some additional examples that I know of personally in Tulsa, Okalahoma. . . .

I know a lesbian who was employed as a caregiver in a community home for the retarded. She was dismissed because there was concern that she would molest the persons residing in the home. She has an excellent work record and was never, ever, given any negative evaluations. She is very fearful of being identified and not being able to get another job. . . .

A young woman, a lesbian, was dismissed from a fast food restaurant. Here coworkers had told the owners that she was a lesbian, and he was concerned that she would keep customers away from the store. She had worked at this fast food restaurant for 18 months. . . .

A minister of a mainline Christian denominational church is dismissed because he performed a commitment ceremony for two gay men. The ceremony took place away from the church. The denomination declares that it is accepting of gays and lesbians. This minister has served this church for over 20 years, and only now accusations of his inability to serve that congregation have come forth. The church board of directors does not want to be perceived as a congregation encouraging gays and lesbians to attend this particular church. He is terribly concerned about losing his retirement benefits.

A social worker with outstanding credentials in working with families and child abuse was dismissed because the board of directors of the agency, after learning that she is a lesbian, was concerned about her working with children. The reason that they gave in her dismissal: She had poor work habits. . . .

I want you to know that our children live with fear, fear that if they are honest about their sexual orientation they will be dismissed. For the most part, sexual orientation will not be identified as the main reason for dismissal. They will be dismissed because of trumped-up, minor infractions of the rules.

They are trapped. If they are honest, as we have taught them to be as parents, they are dismissed. If they remain in the closet, they live with the fear, the stress, that every day someone will snitch on them.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited by statute in only eight States and the District of Columbia. While a growing number of cities are enacting local nondiscrimination codes, there is also a growing movement to repeal or prohibit State or municipal nondiscrimination provisions.

We have just gone through this in Tulsa. It is not a pleasant experience. Only a Federal law will ensure that all individuals are protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. . . .


Mr. WILSON. Thank you, and good afternoon. My name is Phill Wilson. I am Director of Public Policy for AIDS Project Los Angeles, one of the largest AIDS service organizations in the country. I am also the founder of The Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum.

A national climate of fear and discrimination has thrust APLA into the role of having to preserve and protect the dignity and self-respect of persons affected by HIV and AIDS. We provide critically needed education to the public, health care providers, educators, business and religious leaders, the media, public officials and other opinion leaders.

It is within this framework that I address this panel today. I thank you for this invitation. I am honored to speak to you on an issue of paramount importance to me personally as a black gay man who is living with AIDS. That issue is the elimination of discrimination against gay and lesbians in general, and particularly the eradication of prejudice faced by people of color in this country.

Too often I am faced with young black men who carry with them the promise and the dreams of their family. Often they are the first ones in their families to go to college. I meet them when they have their first bout of pneumocystis or they find a Kaposi’s sarcoma lesion. I always ask them, “Why didn’t you come forward sooner? Why didn’t you find out your HIV status? Why didn’t you exercise the possibility of accessing treatment?” All too often the response is, “I didn’t want anyone to know that I way gay. I was afraid to lose my job.” All too often this fear around losing their job has cost them their lives.

We have a crisis in America that affects all our communities, not just African-Americans and other people of color, not just lesbians and gay men, but every person who has ever come to the table in search of justice, but was met with discrimination. . . .

A recent court ruling in the State of Arizona attests to this fact. In the case of Blaine vs. Golden State Container Company, the Arizona Court of Appeals held that gays and lesbians are not protected from discrimination by private employers.

In addition to this ruling, a proposed amendment to the Nevada State constitution says that objection to homosexuality based upon one’s convictions is a liberty and right of conscience and shall not be considered discrimination related to civil rights.

Both of these examples highlight a troubling situation in this country. States categorically deny basic civil rights to a group of their own law-abiding, tax-paying residents. Basic civil rights such as protection from harassment in the workplace and wrongful termination, granted as a matter of course to the majority of citizens, are legally denied to lesbians and gay men in most States.

A widespread misconception is that lesbians and gay men have legal recourse when discrimination occurs in the workplace. We do not. There is no Federal law against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

We need a Federal bill enacted that explicitly protects gays and lesbians from discrimination in all aspects of life, especially in the workplace. . . .

This country is a special place. It is special because at our core is the ideal of equality. At our core is the understanding that equality, equal rights, are not special.

Special rights is the banner under which opponents to a Federal bill will rally. There is nothing special about the right to a job for which you are qualified. There is nothing special about the right to perform your job free of harassment and fear. There is nothing special about the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In 1968, an act of violence took the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was 11 years old, but I remember the day clearly. More importantly, I remember Dr. King’s words as he told of his dream.

“I have a dream today,” he said, and when he spoke about the songs [sic] of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners, he made no distinction between the gay ones and the straight ones. When Dr. King sang, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last,” he included all of us.

I am the great-grandson of a slave. I was a part of that dream, as all of us are. From the floor of the Democratic national convention, I quote Mel Boozer: “I have been called a nigger and I have been called a faggot and I can describe for you the difference in the marrow of my soul. I can describe difference in one word: None.”

Many people compare the discrimination based on sexual orientation to the discrimination based on race. I do not believe they are the same. I do not think it is important that they be the same. The tragedies that happen in Mogadishu are not the tragedies that are happening in Sarajevo, and yet we understand that the tragedies in Mogadishu and the tragedies in Sarajevo are both wrong.

When you deny someone a job because they are gay or you deny someone a job because they are a woman or you deny someone a job because they are black, when you deny someone a home because they are gay or lesbian, or you deny someone a home because they are black or you deny someone a home because they are a woman, in the end, you have people who are jobless, you have people who are homeless. . . .

Ms. GOMEZ. Good afternoon. I want to start by thanking you, Congressman Owens, and the other members of the committee for attending. My name is Letitia Gomez and I am Executive Director of the National Latino Lesbian and Gay Organization, LLEGO. LLEGO is committed to educating the public, in general, as well as the gay and lesbian Latino community, in particular, about the contributions of gay and lesbian Latinos in the U.S.

Our mission is to work toward providing resources to the gay and lesbian Latino community that will facilitate self-empowerment and enable gay and lesbian Latinos to deal effectively with the issues of civil rights, health and culture. . . .

I am glad to testify before you today about employment discrimination against gay men, lesbians and bisexual people who are Latinos. Unlike gays, lesbians and bisexual people who are white or African-American, lesbians and gay Latinos are viewed as foreigners, although a majority of Latinos in the United States are U.S. born. The gay and lesbian Latino community is a mirror of the larger Latino community in that we are young and growing in population and in the work force.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual Latinos work in the government and private sector as professionals, technicians, and administrative staff in many service jobs. We are unlike the larger Latino community in that many times it is difficult for us to separate discrimination against us based on sexual orientation from racial discrimination, because when you are a person of multiple oppressions you have to wonder if the discrimination is about your race, gender, if you are a woman, or sexual orientation.

Discrimination forces some gay, lesbian and bisexual Latinos to live in a climate of fear that their livelihood could be jeopardized and therefore perpetuates self-hatred that has an adverse impact on their psychological, economic and social well-being. I would like to provide you with a specific example of what I am talking about.

In 1986 Angela Romero, a veteran of the Denver police department and a member of the Denver police department’s School Resource Program was called out of a lecture at one of her assigned schools and told to report to her supervisor’s office immediately. When she arrived at his office, her supervisor told her that her division chief and sergeant had information that would damage her work integrity. While they did not say so in the meeting, the implication was that her lesbianism made her a threat to children. She would later learn that the session was raised because she had stopped one day to buy a book at a lesbian book store. Her supervisor asked Angela if she had anything to say to him about this.

Angela didn’t know quite what to make of her supervisor’s inquiry. Up to this point in her career, she received outstanding reviews from all the schools; however, she and her sergeant had had a difficult relationship during the previous year. Angela thought his behavior towards her was because she was a Mexican. Her supervisor’s inquires started her to think about the damaging information that her sergeant purported to have.

Alcohol and drugs were not a part of her life and she had never discussed her sexual orientation with any of her fellow police officers. When she confronted her supervisor with the nature of the information, he refused to say what it was.

The next thing Angela knew, she was asked to transfer out of the School Resource Program to the ID unit. She refused, even though she was guaranteed that she could keep her recent promotion. After she protested her transfer, Angela was relieved of her duties with the schools and was assigned to street patrol. Sometime later, she learned that the underlying reason for the personnel action was because she was suspected of being a lesbian.

Angela decided to come out to protect her job so that she could do the work she most wanted to do. Angela spent more than four years fighting the system, virtually alone. She had nowhere to turn inside of the police department that would offer her protection or support. She consulted outside agencies.

One equal employment opportunity specialist told her that it was too bad her case was not based on the fact that she was Hispanic, because it would be a lot tougher to get support for discrimination against her based on sexual orientation. The local American Civil Liberties Union would not take her case. The Denver gay and lesbian community was not in a position to support or help her.

When she finally found a private practice lawyer who specialized in employment discrimination, this lawyer told her that the statute of limitations for a case based on sexism or racism had expired. She was determined not to quit her job, but make the State change its sexual harassment policy.

During this process, Angela continued to work. And as I stated earlier, she was assigned to work street patrol. There were several occasions when her fellow officers would not respond to her calls for backup. She began to fear for her life.

During roll call, disparaging remarks were made about homosexuals and lesbians in her presence and about her. She found herself calling her superiors on their homophobia and sexism and she documented all the retaliation. One aspect of her superior’s response was to place unmarked cars in front of her house and the houses of the friends she visited in off-duty hours.

Just when the system seems to be shutting down on her, the City of Denver passed its civil rights ordinance. Shortly afterwards, the Denver Police Department amended its sexual harassment policies to include sexual orientation. Today, Angela is still an officer for the Denver Police Department, but the memory of this series of events is still difficult for her to talk about. However, she is proud of the fact that she decided not to compromise who she is as a Latino lesbian for the job she loves, being a police officer.

I have to emphasize, however, that this discrimination did exact a price on Angela that she could almost not pay. She paid a high personal price for the emotional and mental torment that she endured as a result of the unprofessional behavior of her fellow police officers. She also came close to losing her life or risking severe injury several times because of the failure to get backup on high risk calls. This failure also resulted in dangerous criminals staying on the street longer than they should have because her only recourse at times was to retreat. . . .

Therefore, I ask this committee to serious consider the merit of legislation that will protect the rights of gay men, lesbians and bisexual people and our friends to work regardless of their sexual orientation. And please do not be led into the discussion that we, lesbians, gay men and bisexual people, want special rights. This is about the equal right to work in the U.S. As we are all painfully aware in this day and time, we need to be about keeping people employed and providing safe workplace environments so that they can carry out their jobs. . . .

Source: Congress, House, Committee on Education and Labor, Employment Discrimation Against Gay Men and Lesbians, 103d Congress, 2d Session, June 20, 1994 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1994).