By Melissa J. Anderson

According to the latest Out & Equal Workplace survey, a significant majority of individuals in the US believe that LGBT workers are protected from being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In most places in the US, that is not the case. There are no federal employment protections for LGBT workers, and the majority of states do not have any law barring employers for firing individuals for being gay or transgender either.

Yet 76 percent of heterosexual people surveyed by Out & Equal believe that it is “illegal for an employer to fire someone because they are gay, lesbian, or transgender.”

On the other hand, only 44 percent of gay and lesbian survey respondents were mistaken.

The report, which surveyed 2,610 adults in the US, was released this week at the kickoff of Out & Equal’s 2011 Workplace Summit in Dallas. It shows that many Americans are in the dark about the challenges LGBT workers face, and this could be one reason the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has yet to pass. ENDA, introduced to congress over fifteen years ago would prohibit employers from firing individuals because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

While many Americans are mistaken about the employment rights of LGBT individuals, not all of the survey results were bad news.

Support from Majority of Americans

According to the survey, 74% of heterosexual respondents – almost three quarters – agreed or strongly agreed that an employee should be judged on performance rather than sexual orientation.

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates Executive Director Selisse Berry said, “In today’s challenging economic times, it is clear that Americans support workplace anti-discrimination protections that cover all workers, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, so that they are evaluated fairly for the work they do.”

She continued, “We are very encouraged by the rise in support for the rights of transgender employees and the fact that a significant majority of Americans believe that it is wrong to fire someone simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.”

Additionally, Berry noted, that the majority of Americans widely understood the business value of LGBT employees. She said:

“Protecting the rights of LGBT employees is not only the right thing to do but it is good for business; the results of this survey reinforce that Americans clearly understand that. The fact that people are unaware of the lack of federal employment protections highlights just how important educational events like the Out & Equal Workplace Summit are.”

Percentages Out at Work

The survey also polled LGBT individuals on whether they were out at work, and keeping pace with HRC and Center for Work Life Policy numbers, only 48 percent said they were out to their coworkers.

Even fewer (40 percent) said they were out to their bosses.

Only 26 percent said they were out to human resources staff. This could be an indicator of how few LGBT workers are taking advantage of the benefits many companies are providing to LGBT staff – like same-sex partner health care benefits or domestic partner tax repayment.

Breaking down the numbers even more, the survey showed that 62 percent of lesbians said they were out to coworkers, while only 57 percent of gay men said the same. Finally only 34 percent of bisexuals said they were out to their coworkers.

Forty-four percent of lesbians said they were out to their boss, while 56 percent of gay men and 21 percent of bisexuals said the same.

Finally, only 30 percent of lesbians were out to HR staff, while 36 percent of gay men and 19 percent of bisexuals said the same.

Berry commented, “These numbers show us that there is still work to do before people are comfortable being open about their sexual orientation at work.”