Precinct News

Sexual orientation and gender identity now protected characteristics for Harris County employees

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Harris County Commissioners Court, at the request of Commissioner Rodney Ellis, approved revisions to its non-discrimination and harassment personnel policy to explicitly protect sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s fitting that we do this during Pride month. We have come a long way from the Stonewall Uprising of 50 years ago, but we still have work to do to ensure full equality for LGBTQ+ people,” said Commissioner Ellis. “This is a major step toward equal protection for members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Despite decades of progress toward full equality for members of the LGBTQ+, a 2017 joint study by Harvard University, NPR and  the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation titled Discrimination in America: Experiences and Views of LGBTQ Americans found that the majority of members of the LGBTQ+ community still face discrimination and harassment in their daily lives, with over 50 percent of LGBTQ+ respondents reporting that they’ve been harassed, threatened or been the target of slurs or offensive comments.

Institutional discrimination is also a problem, with one in five members of the LGBTQ community reporting employment and workplace discrimination according to the same study.

“These revisions are the right thing to do and will help Harris County build an environment and culture that is welcoming and fully inclusive,” explains Judge Lina Hidalgo whose vision for her office has been guided by the principles of equality and inclusion. “I’m proud to be part of such a historic moment for Harris County. We are making progress every day and taking the lead on issues where federal and state governments have lagged behind.”

For too long, federal and state laws have failed to fully protect members of the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination and harassment. Texas is one of 30 states that lacks workplace protections for the LGBTQ employees in the public and private sector.  With these changes, Harris County will go beyond what federal and state laws require and protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and gender non-binary and nonconforming people.

“Inaction at the state and federal level only underscores why, at the local level, we must make it explicitly clear that Harris County’s non-discrimination policy will protect LGBTQ+ workers,” explained Commissioner Ellis. “This new policy will send a message to every member of the LGBTQ+ community working as a public servant for Harris County that they are protected from being harassed or discriminated against because of who they are or who they love.”

Previously, the Harris County Career Development Program has included sexual orientation and gender identity in its training. However, truly protecting the LBGTQ+ from being harassed or discriminated against because of who they are or who they love can only be accomplished with a policy change that explicitly provides that protection.

“Harris County has an obligation to ensure that its LGBTQ+ employees who come to work everyday ready to serve are protected in the workplace. Fortune 500 companies do this. Localities everywhere do this. We need to be able to attract the best people,” explained Judge Hidalgo.

Photos: Advocates spoke passionately about the need for a non-discrimination policy that explicitly includes sexual orientation and gender identity.