Discrimination against the LGBT community is costing Georgia millions, according to a study released last month by the Williams Institute.
Researchers analyzed employment trends, use of public benefits, youth achievement and health disparities among the LGBT community to quantify the impact of discrimination. The study concluded that Georgia’s current laws and social environment cost the “state government, businesses and the economy hundreds of millions of dollars each year.”
Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at Georgia State Eric R. Wright partnered with the Williams Institute for the research study titled “The Economic Impact of Discrimination and Stigma Against LGBT People in Georgia”.
Wright, a researcher and co-author of the study, said the findings are evidence of a concept that previously was only conjecture.
“The whole point of the study, which is something we have long suspected, is that there is a significant economic toll to discrimination of any kind,” Wright said. “We’ve known this around race, ethnicity and to some extent gender. A lot of people talk about the gender wage gap or the difficulty of African-Americans in terms of working their way up the ladder, but I think we know a lot less about the impact when it comes to LGBT.”
According to the study, nearly 300,000 LGBT adults and 58,200 LGBT youth are negatively impacted by discrimination and stigma in Georgia.
Nearly 200,000 of Georgia’s workers identify as LGBT, and according to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 80 percent of transgender Georgia respondents experienced mistreatment or harassment at work. Another 34 percent reported losing a job, 26 percent said they were denied a promotion and 60 percent said they were not hired because of their gender identity at some point in their life.
According to Williams Institute, discrimination deters LGBT workers from being “out” at work. As a result, these workers are often disengaged, absent and overall less productive. The businesses they work for have a harder time recruiting and retaining employees who prefer a work environment that is more supportive of the LGBT community.
Researchers estimated that employers risk losing $9,100 for each employee who leaves the job.
Discrimination in the workplace and in housing can create financial burdens for LGBT individuals, 36 percent of whom reported having a household income below $24,000 compared to 28 percent of non-LGBT adults.
“There’s a stereotype out there that LGBT people are economically better off,” Wright said. “In terms of individual earnings and household earnings, we now know from census data that LGBT households tend to be less well-off than non-LGBT households.”
The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey also found that 23 percent of transgender Georgians reported being homeless because of their gender identity at some point in their lives.
Williams Institute’s research estimated that workplace and housing discrimination against transgender residents annually costs Georgia $1,048,000 in state Medicaid expenditures and $477,000 in homeless shelter expenditures.
Researchers also found that LGBT Georgian’s higher rates of negative health repercussions, including smoking and major depressive disorder, are linked to stigma and discrimination and have economic effects as well.
The study estimated that if the gap between depressive disorder rates of LGBT people and non-LGBT people decreased by a fraction, Georgia could benefit by $110.6 million to $147.3 million every year.
Wright said the actual amount may be larger.
“My reaction when we got done was that this was an underestimate because there’s so many things that we don’t count,” Wright said. “The people who hold onto these hateful feelings and prejudices have indirect consequences too, and no one’s ever tried to quantify that. If they were more open-minded, more accepting, could work alongside someone who was different from them, they might have more opportunities.”
According to the study’s authors, by creating a legal and social climate that is more supportive of the LGBT community, Georgia would gain economic advantages. Wright said the problem with the state’s political climate is not so much that discriminatory policies are in place, but that anti-discrimination protections are not.
“Pass a law,” Wright said. “That changes the environment, creates a better business impression, it just has this sort of waterfall effect.”
A report released last month by Georgia Unites Against Discrimination shows that Georgia is one of five states without specific legal protections for LGBT residents.
Protecting Our Heritage and Growing Our Competitive Future”, the report showed that Georgia currently has no law preventing businesses from denying service because of their religious beliefs or preventing landowners from refusing to rent or sell to an individual based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to the report, Georgia is one of three states that does not prohibit private employers from discriminating based on race, religion and other factors.
In the report’s conclusion, Georgia Unites recommends state legislators to pass anti-discrimination protections for all residents in housing, employment and public accommodations.
Executive Director of Georgia Equality Jeff Graham said the Williams Institute study “put a price tag” on the ways stigma and fear can play out in a person’s life, something he has heard through conversations with members of the LGBT community.
“I’ve spoken to people who are considering moving out of state to a place that is more accommodating and welcoming of them as a same sex family,” Graham said, “and with a number of large companies, there is a reluctance of people willing to move to Georgia because it doesn’t have the same basic civil rights protections as other places.”
The passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and North Carolina’s bathroom bill stirred backlash from businesses in 2016 based off the perception that the states are intolerant places.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal cited economic reasons for vetoing the state’s version of the ‘religious liberty’ bill last year as well.
“There’s an argument morally, a social justice argument, that we ought to protect people who are more likely to be vulnerable in our society, but this report was looking at the business side of the issue,” Wright said. “The more inclusive you are, the better it is for business.”
Graham said Georgia Equality has issued a series of polls over the last six years which have shown that “strong majorities of people support protecting members of the LGBT community.”
“Legislation would not only be an economic benefit, but also a statement of values,” Graham said. “It’s known that Georgians are a very fair people and we need legislation that agrees with the values that most people live their lives by.”
Senate Bill 119 (SB 119), a non-discrimination measure introduced by state Sen. Lester Jackson on Feb. 9, would amend Georgia’s laws to ensure that LGBT citizens are protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations if it passes into law this legislative session.