By J. Judd Harbin, PhD (Arkansas) and Melissa J. Grey, PhD (Michigan),
APA Division 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues) Public Policy Committee Members
Working matters. In his classic 1974 work titled Working, Studs Terkel observed that, despite the stresses of one’s job duties, working provides a person not only with income to meet basic needs and perhaps afford some luxuries but also with a sense of meaning and purpose. By contrast, unemployment can lead to many concerns in psychological health (e.g., Goldsmith & Diett, 2012; Paul & Moser, 2009).
- low self-esteem
- psychosomatic symptoms
What happens if work is disrupted because of legal discrimination? For lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people in 29 states, and transgender people in 33, that’s the reality, and national surveys show an alarming pattern of discrimination: approximately 10% of LGB people (e.g., Herek, 2008), and nearly half of transgender people (47%; Grant et al., 2011) have been denied employment, passed over for promotion, or fired because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, respectively. In their meta-analysis, Pascoe and Richman (2009) described links between discrimination and psychological health, physical health, stress response, and health behaviors. Their review explored discrimination, including that which relates to employment, and found that discrimination (including that based upon sexual orientation) leads to poorer physical and mental health. Employment discrimination is bad for our health.
As psychologists, we act to benefit the people whom we serve, to safeguard their welfare, and to respect cultural as well as individual differences. The people whom we serve could include our students, members of our research teams, our faculty colleagues, our patients, or fellow members of a collaborative treatment team. In these actions, we base our professional judgments upon scientific and other professional knowledge in psychology (APA 2010 Ethical Standard 2.04). The current state of psychological science affords us an empirical as well as ethical basis to speak against discrimination for the deleterious health effects associated with it.
The federal bill to create the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) seeks to protect American citizens from employment discrimination based upon the individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Unlike the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination based upon characteristics such as race, sex, and religion, this bill (ENDA) exempts religious organizations, so they may continue to employ individuals according to the tenets of their faith.
Will such federal legislation help remedy employment discrimination? In their three-study project, Barron and Hebl (2013) explored whether legislation actually helps to reduce discrimination against gay people. They learned that legislation not only enforces behavioral compliance to non-discrimination but also promotes interpersonal acceptance.
As psychologists, we have a firm empirical basis to advocate for a piece of legislation that may not only reduce discrimination but also promote interpersonal acceptance. Let us act to benefit our students, research team members, fellow faculty, fellow clinicians, and/or our patients. Regardless of our sexual orientations or gender identities, working matters.
Barron, L. G. & Hebl, M. (2012). The force of law: The effects of sexual orientation antidiscrimination legislation on interpersonal discrimination in employment. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 19, 191-205.
Goldsmith, A., & Diette, T. (2012, April). Exploring the link between unemployment and mental health outcomes. The SES Indicator. Washington: Public Interest Directorate of the American Psychological Association. Available at: http://apa.org/pi/ses/resources/indicator/2012/04/unemployment.aspx
Grant, J. M., Mottet, L.A., Tanis, J., Harrison, J., Herman, J.L., & Keisling, M. (2011). Injustice At Every Turn: A Report Of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Washington: National Center For Transgender Equality And National Gay And Lesbian Task Force. Available at: http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf
Herek, G.M. (2008) Hate Crimes and Stigma-Related Experiences Among Sexual Minority Adults in the United States: A National Probability Sample, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 54(64).
Pascoe, E. A., & Richman, L.S. (2009). Perceived discrimination and health: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 531-554.
Paul, K. I. & Moser, K. (2009). Unemployment impairs mental health: Meta-analyses. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 74, 264-282.
Terkel, S. (1974). Working: People Talk About What They Do and How They Feel About What They Do. New York: Pantheon Books.