Legislative support and protection for LGBTQ rights helped improve Illinois’ ranking on the third annual report assessing states’ performance on LGBTQ inclusion, however, the state needs improvement in areas such as health and safety, the report shows.
Illinois moved up two points to No. 14 from last year on the 2021 LGBTQ Business Climate Index. The report, released by Out Leadership this week, measures the impact government policies and prevalent attitudes have on the LGBTQ community. New York ranked first and South Carolina came in last. Indiana, previously at No. 26, had the largest drop of all states and moved down 11 points to No. 37.
Todd Sears, Out Leadership’s founder and CEO, says the report aims to impact the safety, health and well-being of the LGBTQ community through educating business leaders on the importance of inclusivity.
“We finally have data that’s independently verifiable that states and businesses can use to create the conversation,” Sears said.
Each state is given a score out of 100 points that is calculated on the basis of 20 economic, legislative and cultural indicators of LGBTQ climate and inclusiveness in five categories: legal and nondiscrimination protections, youth and family support, political and religious attitudes, health access and safety, and work environment and employment. The categories assessed, for example, whether states had gender markers on birth certificates, the frequency of hate crimes, unemployment rates, anti-discrimination protections, and public health measures such as food security, wage gaps, mental wellness and access to gender-affirming medical care.
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Along with the state-to-state rankings, each state receives a CEO brief detailing what businesses can do better. A guide for transgender equality in the workplace was also released.
Chicago has long been at the forefront of the LGBTQ rights movement, with 7.5% of its population identifying as LGBTQ, about 3% higher than the national and state average. The report states that Illinois’ economy may have grown 3% because of its inclusive approach.
Illinois ranked higher for indicators like legal nondiscrimination protection, and political and religious attitudes, earning a score of 20/20 and 18/20, respectively. The improvements in Illinois’ ranking, according to the report, include increased legislation — Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been steadily signing bills expanding the rights of LGBTQ people since taking office in 2019 and requiring public schools to implement LGBTQ history in their curriculum.
The state didn’t fare as well when it came to indicators like health and safety (13/20) and work environment and employment (15/20), indicating there is still work to be done to protect LGBTQ individuals in the workplace. For example, 18% of transgender employees in Illinois reported being harassed in the past year, and 24% of LGBTQ individuals reported food insecurity. Statistics like these reflect deep-rooted inequities and disparities faced by the LGBTQ community, as well as the various nuances like class, gender expression and race that play into one’s experience.
A West Town resident who identifies as gay says he’s been comfortably out in the workplace since high school, and believes his upper-middle-class status and education have factored into his treatment at work.
The 24-year-old Hispanic man, who asked that his name not be used for privacy reasons, says he’s “acceptably ethnic” and feels that has helped him be more accepted in the workplace than his peers who have darker skin. Overall, he said, there’s been a massive shift toward greater acceptance of the LGBTQ community, making discrimination and bias less socially acceptable.
Following the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, the country has also seen a large shift in the responsibility of corporations to denounce hate and advocate for human rights.
In the past, “businesses saw it as a social issue and faced a personal risk to speak out,” Sears said. “One of our data points that we found from some of our research was that the No. 1 reason gay/lesbian/bisexual people don’t come out at work is because they don’t want to make their straight colleagues uncomfortable. Well, it’s the same reason that Black colleagues have not shared the stories of discrimination and racism that they have experienced in their workplace. They were told for so many years, ‘Don’t make the white people around you uncomfortable,’” Sears said. Since last summer’s unrest, Black and LGBTQ people have been more vocal about discrimination in the workplace.
Sears says companies should be held more accountable for equity and inclusion. “Companies are the single largest producer of equality globally. We are literally using the economic case for equality and inclusion, and these companies are stepping up and taking the mantle and fighting the fight,” Sears said.
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