This year, June 13 marks LGBTQIA+ Equal Pay Awareness Day—a day to recognize the wage gap between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQIA+) workers and their straight and cisgender counterparts. On average, in 2021, LGBTQIA+ workers earned 90 cents per dollar compared to all full-time workers in the United States. Women in this community earned 87 cents per dollar compared to the average wage for all workers across the labor market, while LGBTQIA+ men made 96 cents per dollar. Black, Native American, and Latina LGBTQIA+ women made even less than White LGBTQIA+ women, at 85, 75, and 72 cents per dollar, respectively. 

Discrimination and harassment in the workplace are two major factors behind the LGBTQIA+ wage gap. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity can inhibit job advancements such as promotions, as well as take a significant toll on the mental health of LGBTQIA+ employees. In recent years, discrimination and harassment in the workplace have led many members of the LGBTQIA+ community to leave their jobs, as hiding their identity had become too unbearable and difficult. According to the Census Pulse data collected in 2024 regarding those who reported a loss of employment income in the last four weeks, 17.94 percent identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, compared to 13.07 percent of participants who identified as non-LGBTQIA+. 

Members of the LGBTQIA+ population are also more likely to live in poverty. In 2022, more than one in three LGBTQIA+ households earned less than $30,000 per year. Though poverty among the LGBTQIA+ community is generally decreasing, poverty continues to perpetuate low pay. People living in poverty are often less likely to have access to higher education and, therefore, higher-paying jobs. Impoverished communities also have reduced access to proper housing. Lacking a permanent address or residence makes it more difficult to obtain a job, perpetuating poverty’s cyclical nature. 

The LGBTQIA+ community has also been climbing an uphill battle against anti-LGBTQIA+ policies that perpetuate workplace discrimination, harming the social and economic well-being of these workers. Referred to as a “wave of repression,” the Lavender Scare began in the 1940s, promoting homophobic rhetoric that portrayed LGBTQIA+ individuals as a threat to national security. Signed in 1953, President Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10450 banned LGBTQIA+ individuals from federal employment. Pushback against these homophobic actions can be most notably traced to the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, where patrons of The Stonewall Inn—a popular gay bar in New York City—fought back against a violent police raid that lasted multiple days. This uprising catalyzed the gay rights movement, sparking more than five decades of activism that continues to this day. 

Policy changes in the years since have led to some progress for LGBTQIA+ people in the workforce. Marriage equality ultimately led to an increase in employment among same-sex couples, which research suggests was due to a decrease in discrimination toward sexual minorities in the workplace following same-sex marriage legalization across the states. And in 2020, the Supreme Court included LGBTQIA+ people under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which protects workers from unlawful employment discrimination. Cultivating a work environment that accepts diverse sexual orientations and gender identities is crucial for the LGBTQIA+ community. This helps dismantle heteronormative barriers, such as unequal parental leave for same-sex couples or expectations to conform to conventional cisgender/heterosexual presentations, creating a more inclusive workplace and paving the way for future generations. 

Publicly supporting LGBTQIA+ equality is shown to be a strategic decision for businesses that can enhance profits and productivity as well as inclusion for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Improved employee satisfaction and retention of existing employees attract diverse top talent for recruiters, whether or not these new recruits are LGBTQIA+, due to the positive reputation around work culture. When looking at business profits, a positive reputation around corporate social responsibility also attracts a strong customer base that resonates with key markets and marginalized communities. LGBTQIA+ inclusivity strengthens the position of the employee, employer, customers, and key stakeholders. This level of inclusivity and support has come a long way, although there is still work to be done.  

Effective and inclusive support systems require education on marginalized demographics, including the LGBTQIA+ community, and the unique challenges they face. To better tailor these programs to community needs, LGBTQIA+ education can be expanded through intersectional DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) training programs and increased data collection on the sexual orientation and gender identities of working individuals. For marginalized groups, inclusion involves acknowledging, accepting, and valuing their differences from majority norms in an equitable, tangible manner. It is also important to collect data on LGBTQIA+ populations, such as the policies proposed in the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act that Congress reintroduced in June 2023. This bill calls for more inclusive data collection within federal demographic surveys by gathering voluntary information on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics. By expanding diversity training and data collection, these tools can highlight the unique advantages of employing LGBTQIA+ workers and how to best support them in a way that will ultimately benefit the employees, the employer, and the business overall. 

Enhancing inclusivity and education on LGBTQIA+ issues are interrelated. Investing in inclusive DEI training and diverse data collection will provide legislators and federal agencies with accurate information to develop supportive policies for the LGBTQIA+ community. As we continue on the path to align political equity with our diverse demographics, we can expand the possibilities for everyone.