Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegRestless progressives eye 2024 GOP becoming a cult of know-nothings The massive messaging miscues of all the president's men (and women) MORE has just taken his place as our new secretary of Transportation. There are many reasons to praise this news: His accomplishments as mayor of South Bend, his groundbreaking campaign for president, and his dedication to improving infrastructure and rebuilding communities. But there is another reason why this news is tremendously important: Pete Buttigieg is the first openly LGBTQ person to have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to hold a Cabinet-level position.
I know that some people may be wondering whether it even matters that Secretary Buttigieg is openly gay. The movement for LGBTQ equality has scored many wins in recent years, from the right to marry, to this summer’s blockbuster Supreme Court ruling barring workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, to President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to provide update Monday on US response to omicron variant Restless progressives eye 2024 Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE’s order last week to lift the Transgender Military Ban.
But this progress doesn’t mean that the LGBTQ community has achieved full legal equality. There are still gaps in federal law when it comes to equal rights in areas like housing, credit, public spaces and services, and federally funded programs. Similarly, while increasing numbers of Americans — especially in younger generations — identify as LGBTQ, the legacy of discrimination and socially conservative views means that too many LGBTQ people are hiding who they truly are, with significant costs for them, their employers, and our society.
I lead an organization that helps large employers — corporate and government — build cultures where all employees know that they belong and LGBTQ workers can thrive. I know that workplaces where employees cannot show up as their full authentic selves pay a real price. Keeping a secret from your colleagues can be emotionally exhausting, can undermine your health and wellbeing, and it can stand in the way of developing the trust and relationships needed to succeed. The ultimate result for businesses is that these employees feel disconnected and often, leave.
This is a more common problem than you might think. A series of studies conducted over the course of a decade found that nearly half of all LGBTQ workers are closeted at work.
Pete Buttigieg’s very public success sends a powerful message that being open about your sexual orientation does not have to be a hindrance. It can be an asset.
The good news is that Buttigieg’s example supports investments that major employers have made to try to improve their cultures. We’ve seen them embrace LGBTQ employee resource groups. We’ve seen them step up for LGBTQ rights in public policy debates. Take, for instance, the two-hundred plus companies that signed onto an amicus brief to the Supreme Court saying that discrimination is bad for business. We’ve also seen hundreds of companies, including most of the Fortune 100, engage with my organization to figure out how they can build cultures of belonging.
It’s important to note that Pete Buttigieg’s confirmation is not an isolated case. Rather, it comes in the context of more and more nominations of individuals from historically marginalized communities. I am also looking forward to the confirmation of Dr. Rachel Levine, a brilliant public health professional, to be assistant secretary of health. She will be the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. America is a very diverse country — in terms of race, gender, gender identity, orientation, and more — but our leaders historically have not looked like us, reinforcing obstacles that stand in the way for members of some communities to fulfill their potential. The Biden-Harris administration deserves praise for showing that diversity, visibility, and representation matter.
Erin Uritus is CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, the premier organization working exclusively on LGBTQ workplace equality.