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Epidemic of Anti-LGBTQ Workplace Discrimination Under Presidency That Promised to Be ‘Good for Gays’

If you’ve been feeling less safe in the workplace over the past year, you’re not alone.

Forty percent of queer and trans people say they are being bullied at work, according to a new survey conducted by the Harris Poll and CareerBuilder. Of those who report being harassed, 4 in 10 claim that it is due to their gender presentation or other physical attributes. Thirteen percent of those who allege discrimination say that the harassment took place in a group setting.

David Kilmnick, CEO of The LGBTQ Network, tells CBS News that his nonprofit has received three times the usual volume of calls about anti-LGBTQ bias in the workplace. The advocacy group has received 150 reports just this year.

Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, claims the White House has “emboldened” anti-LGBTQ hate in the workplace.

“The president is modeling for the nation bullying and bigoted rhetoric on a daily basis,” Tobin tells INTO. “And we have prominent individuals who seem unwilling to call out bigotry in ways that we would normally expect. That can create a pervasive atmosphere in which people are encouraged to do the same and do worse because someone in such a lofty position of power is doing and saying things that would have previously been thought unimaginable.”

“For all of these reasons, there is certainly greater apprehension among LGBTQ people,” Tobin says. “And there is some possibility that workplace environments are getting worse. We lay all kinds of discrimination at the door of this political administration.”

Despite Donald Trump’s claim that his presidency would be “good” for LGBTQ people, he has chipped away at workplace equality since taking office.

The Justice Department announced in October that it would be rolling back Title VII protections preventing discrimination against trans federal employees. The same week the Attorney General’s office issued a 25-page memo allowing government employees to circumvent federal policy if it conflicts with their faith beliefs.

AG Jeff Sessions would subsequently claim that he wasn’t sure if the “religious freedom” order permitted LGBTQ employees to be fired on the basis of their identity.

Deena Fidas, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Workplace Equality initiative, can’t say with authority whether Trump’s presidency has led to a pandemic of workplace harassment. But she claims that workplace dynamics are extremely vulnerable to the wider social and political context. What happens outside the office doesn’t say there.

“News headlines invariably make their way to the workplace,” Fidas tells INTO in a phone interview.

“Whether people are making supportive remarks about Caitlyn Jenner being on the cover of a magazine or people are ridiculing her in the presence of coworkers,” she continues, “there’s no true separation between what happens outside of work and what gets discussed. That can directly impact the workplace environment.”

Tobin claims, however, that employment discrimination against LGBTQ people has been a “serious issue for a long time.”

Fifteen percent of respondents in the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2016 survey claimed that they had been verbally harassed, physically assaulted, or raped in the workplace in the past year. Half of trans people claim that they have been denied employment or let go from a position because of their gender identity at some point in their lives.

But Tobin says that there’s been an overall trend toward acceptance of LGBTQ employees in recent years, as greater numbers of people come out. Eighty-seven percent of Americans claim to know someone who is gay or lesbian, according to the Pew Research Center.

She is worried, however, that those gains could be “erased” by the current administration.

“Through the Justice Department, the administration is trying to muddy the waters by encouraging workers and employers alike to believe that LGBTQ people are fair game for discrimination,” Tobin says.

Photography: Getty Images / Qilai Shen