Trailblazing LGBTQ+ Employment Laws: Minnesota's Path to Equitable and LGBTQ+ Friendly Workplaces

June 14, 2024

Employment Law Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Trailblazing LGBTQ+ Employment Laws: Minnesota’s Path to Equitable and LGBTQ+ Friendly Workplaces

Championing LGBTQ Workplace Rights: Minnesota’s Ongoing Journey

In a significant move towards fostering more inclusive and LGBTQ-friendly workplace policies, Minnesota’s state legislature recently discussed updates to the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), one of the state’s most crucial employment laws. Originally passed in 1955, the MHRA prohibited discrimination across various areas of public life, including employment, based on factors such as race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, and age. While groundbreaking for its time, the act initially lacked explicit protections for the LGBTQ community, leaving a gap in safeguarding their equal employment opportunity and workers’ rights.

The recent amendments to the MHRA reflect a more expansive and inclusive approach to LGBTQ workplace protections and non-discrimination policies within Minnesota. However, the journey towards achieving comprehensive LGBTQ corporate equality and fostering truly diverse and inclusive workplaces remains ongoing, with more work to be done.

As we celebrate Pride this year, it’s essential to reflect on the hard-fought battles that have secured LGBTQ employment rights and protections in our state. The MHRA updates demonstrate progress, but creating equitable environments for all requires continuous effort.

A Legacy of Perseverance: LGBTQ Advocates’ Fight for Workplace Equality

Although the 1955 MHRA laid the groundwork for equal rights, it excluded the LGBTQ community from its protections. However, this oversight only fueled the determination of LGBTQ advocates, who spent the next quarter-century tirelessly pushing for comprehensive legal safeguards against workplace discrimination.

Trailblazers like Senator Allan Spear and Representative Karen Clark, among Minnesota’s first openly gay elected officials, took up the mantle of advocacy in the wake of the MHRA’s passage. While their initial efforts faced setbacks, their unwavering voices drove the conversation forward, planting the seeds for future progress.

Over the decades, a broad coalition of labor unions, businesses, and civic groups united around the shared goal of amending the MHRA to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. Their persistent lobbying efforts culminated in a pivotal moment in 1993 when Minnesota became the first U.S. state to outlaw sexual orientation discrimination through its human rights act.

While this achievement represented a monumental stride forward in LGBTQ workplace rights, the combined definition of sexual orientation and gender identity drew criticism for conflating these distinct concepts. Yet, even in the face of this imperfection, LGBTQ advocates refused to waver, their resilience paving the way for continued advancement in LGBTQ diversity and inclusion efforts.

Forging Ahead: Strengthening LGBTQ Protections in the Workplace

Since 1993, advocacy for expanding LGBTQ employment non-discrimination protections has continued, leading to further expansions of rights for LGBTQ individuals in the workplace. However, the most recent changes to the MHRA may be the most promising.

The Take Pride Act, passed in 2023, removed outdated and prejudicial language from the MHRA, including provisions that previously allowed for discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and certain employment sectors. This act not only dismantled harmful remnants of the past but also paved the way for more LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace policies.

More recently, the Minnesota state House approved a plan to have voters decide on another amendment to the MHRA: the Minnesota Equal Rights Amendment. Unfortunately, the 2024 legislative session ended before the Minnesota Senate voted on the proposal. This amendment would guarantee equal rights under the law regardless of sex and gender. Crucially, the amendment would create a constitutional right to be free from discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.

The Take Pride Act and the continued fight to include the Equal Rights Amendment on the ballot demonstrate important milestones in strengthening the Minnesota Human Rights Act and a willingness by state leaders to address inadequacies in foundational employment laws.

Continuing the Fight for LGBTQ Workplace Inclusion

The past 60 years have shown that complacency is not an option in the fight for LGBTQ rights and protections in the workplace. The path to equality has been long and hard-fought, and more work remains to ensure that LGBTQ Minnesotans never face discrimination, prejudice, or stigma based on their identities and who they love.

By continuing to speak out, change hearts and minds, and enshrine robust protections in employment law, we can create a truly equitable society for all, fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces that respect and celebrate all identities.

Visit the resources on our website to learn how we can protect your rights as an LGBTQ worker in Minnesota. Together, we can continue building a workplace and world that embraces diversity, promotes LGBTQ employee resource groups, and provides equal employment opportunities for everyone. Don’t wait – act by contacting us now to safeguard your LGBTQ employee rights and benefits.