Because Indiana law does not have explicit LGBT-inclusive civil rights protections, LGBT Hoosiers have long had to worry about being discriminated against by employers. Being fired, denied a promotion, or overlooked for a job just because of who you are or who you love, is an unfortunate fact of life for LGBT people.
Now, thanks to a fearless Hoosier named Kimberly Hively, employment discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual Hoosiers has been recognized as illegal sex discrimination under federal law.
Kimberly was denied a full-time job by her employer, Ivy Tech Community College, because she’s lesbian. But rather than go quietly, Kimberly fought back, alleging that this was illegal sex discrimination. On Tuesday, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, finding 8–3 that the discriminatory treatment of her on the basis of her sexual orientation was unlawful.
This is the first time in U.S. history that a federal court has declared discriminating against gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees unconstitutional. This is a profound development for the movement to pass LGBT non-discrimination protections—and a life-changing decision for the thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual Hoosiers who have experienced or will experience employment discrimination.
Two of those Hoosiers are Molly and Samantha Ellis-Robbins. Molly currently works for Starbucks. She’s considered changing jobs before, but she’s always stayed because she knows Starbucks’ company policy protects her from anti-LGBT discrimination—something that’s not guaranteed at another company, and which is not offered under Indiana law.
“Why would I leave a company that has been open about their inclusive stance from the beginning,” she says, “When there is no guarantee that I will be protected anywhere else?”
“I just don’t think this should be something anyone should have to worry about. No one should live their life afraid to be themselves or afraid to be outed at work.” –Sam (right)
Molly worries about discrimination, but Samantha—who goes by Sam—has experienced it firsthand. After graduating from college, Sam applied for a job at a large, Christian university in the state. Soon, however, she was discouraged from pursuing her application by one of her contacts there, who told her she would either not be hired or eventually fired once administrators knew she was a lesbian.
“I just don’t think this should be something anyone should have to worry about,” she said, relaying how shocked she felt when she heard this information. “No one should live their life afraid to be themselves or afraid to be outed at work.”
Kayla Hensley is another Hoosier who worries about being discriminated against where she works, at a movie theater in a southside suburb of Indianapolis. She’s celebrated three work anniversaries—one as a manager—and is about to celebrate one year with her current partner.
“I wish I could hold my girlfriend’s hand as we go to see a movie there without the fear of it being pointed out. And I wish I didn’t have to hide this part of who I am because of fearing discriminatory repercussions towards myself and my position in the workplace.” –Kayla
But she won’t be celebrating at work. She’s friends with a lot of her coworkers online, where she’s proudly out, but isn’t sure if the other managers at the theater would be as comfortable with the fact that she’s bisexual, so she keeps a strict no-relationship talk rule at work. Of course, she says, this makes her sad—and afraid she might one day lose her job.
“I wish I could walk into work and mention my girlfriend as my coworkers are talking about their significant others,” she says. “I wish I could hold my girlfriend’s hand as we go to see a movie there without the fear of it being pointed out. And I wish I didn’t have to hide this part of who I am because of fearing discriminatory repercussions towards myself and my position in the workplace.”
Tasha, who lives in the western suburbs of Indianapolis with her wife, who’s a police officer on the local force, also keeps a tight lid on her personal life at work—and she’s self-employed. Her community is very conservative, she says, and it could really hurt her ability to bring in new customers if the fact that she’s married to a woman became common knowledge.
When she meets someone new, she knows the first questions will always be “What does your husband do?” and “How many children do you have?” So she has to hedge, and worries that doing otherwise would cause her family being slandered across social media and her business losing customers.
“I have gotten used to referring to my wife as ‘my better half’ when I don’t feel comfortable,” she says. “Equal rights and equal protections would mean I wouldn’t get a lump in my throat and my heart racing each time I met someone new. I could say with confidence, ‘My wife and I are happily married and working on hitting our ten year anniversary this December.’”
“Equal rights and equal protections would mean I wouldn’t get a lump in my throat and my heart racing each time I met someone new. I could say with confidence, ‘My wife and I are happily married and working on hitting our 10-year anniversary this December.'” –Tasha
Tuesday’s decision should give Hoosiers like Tasha, Kayla, Molly and Sam a little more of that confidence.
To celebrate this week’s momentous ruling, we’re inviting all supporters of LGBT non-discrimination to send a note to Kimberly thanking and congratulating her.
And because our fight is far from over, we’re also asking you to email lawmakers urging them to get serious about passing statewide LGBT non-discrimination protections.
These statewide protections are still critically important, since this week’s decision only addresses employment discrimination for gay, lesbian and bisexual workers who fall under the 7th Circuit’s jurisdiction. Discrimination in housing and public accommodations—as well as employment discrimination against transgender Hoosiers—must be addressed legislatively to ensure that every single LGBT Hoosier across the state of Indiana can participate fully in public life, free of the fear of discrimination.SHARE THIS STORY