Among the report’s findings were statistics indicating lower earnings for gay men, work place discrimination against LGBT people in Oklahoma, with specific statistics drawn from Tulsa, and the benefits of nondiscrimination policies in the public and private sector.
State Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, said he commissioned the study because he was working with different groups concerned about discrimination. He was crafting new hate crimes legislation and wanted to get a lay of the land.
Scott Hamilton, director of the Cimarron Alliance, said the report provided “empirical evidence to confirm what we have long known.”
“We know that gay men earn less than their heterosexual colleagues,” Hamilton said. “And gay men in a committed relationship earn on average a third less than their straight colleagues in committed relationships.”
The report states that the earnings gap is actually 26 percent, and it also estimates the number of lesbian, gay and bisexual people working in Oklahoma at 43,000 to 57,000. Accurate numbers are not available for transgender people.
In one survey, 22 percent of LGBT people in Tulsa reported workplace discrimination. Hamilton said the problem is ongoing and believes nondiscrimination policies specifically protecting LGBT people would be good for economic development in the state.
“Currently, it’s perfectly legal to fire someone in Oklahoma for ‘perceived homosexuality,’” Hamilton said. “There is also no legislation pending that would eliminate discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Every attempt has died in committee.”
Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute and director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the study indicated companies that institute such policies do better.
“Laws that provide protection from discrimination not only benefit employees, but also help businesses recruit and retain highly skilled employees,” Badgett said.
Some of Oklahoma’s largest companies adopted specific verbiage extending protections, including ONEOK, Devon Energy, Williams Companies and OGE.
Brittany Novotny, a transgender civil rights attorney in Oklahoma City, said a content workforce explains why nondiscrimination policies are good for business. “Imagine going to work and having to hide everything about who you are or the person you love,” Novotny said. “You can’t have a picture of your spouse in your cubicle, because it could lead you to be harassed, or worse yet, fired. At the same time, some of Oklahoma’s largest privatesector employers are stepping up.”
Christy Mallory, a legal research fellow who helped compile the report, said the researchers looked at many specific studies on how discrimination affects company bottom lines.
“The evidence clearly indicates that discrimination is bad for the bottom line,” Mallory said. “When people fear their coworkers or fear coming to work, they can’t operate at 100 percent efficiency.”
Mallory said her team was surprised at the “backdrop” they found while researching Oklahoma.
“Two things stood out when we started researching,” Mallory said. “Oklahoma had a statute on the books until 1990 that specifically prohibited ‘openly gay’ teachers from working in Oklahoma public schools. That sort of thing is incredibly rare. Second, Oklahoma has not followed suit in decriminalizing gay sex as most states did following Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. That sort of thing provides an interesting backdrop, especially when the relatively small number of cities and counties that have nondiscrimination laws on the books is factored in.”
Hamilton said he believes economic factors will contribute to eventual change in Oklahoma.
“Good employers want to protect as many of their employees as possible, so it makes sense that if you want to recruit and retain the most qualified workers, you extend protections,” Hamilton said.
Novotny agrees. “If the newly elected legislators and Gov. Fallin are serious about focusing on jobs and economic development for Oklahoma, then they’d be well-advised to consider cleaning up language in Oklahoma’s nondiscrimination statutes to include gay, lesbian and transgender employees to promote a better working environment for all Oklahomans,” Novotny said. “It is my sincere hope that one day our official state policy reflects the words of the Oklahoma flag salute, which says that our flag’s ‘symbols of peace unite all people.’”