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Posts from Joshua Newville, a Minnesota employment lawyer, civil rights attorney, and mediator.

Is LGBTQ Discrimination a Problem in Minnesota Workplaces?

Minnesota is frequently referred to as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly states in the Midwestern United States. In 1993, Minnesota became the first U.S. state to outlaw employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. In 2013, the state legalized same-sex marriage. Transgender and non-binary rights in Minnesota are also considerably more progressive than in many other Midwestern states.

A man with "Be You" projected on his back.

Despite all the positives, there’s no disputing the fact that LGBTQ workplace discrimination in Minnesota still exists. It still exists in all U.S. states and in all countries of the world, but it is thankfully becoming less common every year as laws change and workplaces do more to protect their LGBTQ workers.

There is still more work that can be done, however. Let’s examine some data on LGBTQ workers, how often they face discrimination, and what can be done to stop discrimination in its tracks.

Issues LGBTQ People Face at Work

Regardless of the advancements laws and most places of employment have made to lessen and attempt to eliminate discrimination based on a person’s sexual preferences and gender identity, data shows that many LGBTQ people still face workplace double standards and social isolation at work due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identities.

In a 2018 study, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation found that the majority of LGBTQ workers feel pressured to hide their sexual orientation or gender identify on the job.

The study found that:

  1. 46% of LGBTQ workers are closeted at work

  2. 31% of LGBTQ workers say they have felt depressed or unhappy at work

  3. 1 out of every 5 LGBTQ workers report coworkers telling them or implying that they should dress more stereotypically feminine or masculine

  4. 53% of LGBTQ workers report hearing jokes about lesbian or gay people at work

  5. 38% of LGBTQ workers fear they will be negatively stereotyped if they don’t remain closeted

Other common reasons for not being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity at work include the possibility of making coworkers uncomfortable, the possibility of losing connections or friendships with coworkers, and the fear that coworkers will think they are attracted to them just because of their LGBTQ status.

The study also found that there is often a double standard at workplaces with LGBTQ workers. While the majority of both non-LGBTQ workers and LGBTQ workers reported that they wish to hear about the spouses and significant others of coworkers while at work, more non-LGBTQ workers reported that they felt uncomfortable hearing about the spouses and significant others of coworkers who happen to be LGBTQ. Double standards like this, unfortunately, can make it difficult to be open in a work environment, which can lead to feeling alone and isolated.

How Issues Become LGBTQ Discrimination

While issues like those mentioned above do not directly translate into workplace discrimination, they can turn into an issue of discrimination if negative stereotypes or feelings of discomfort from coworkers or management cause one or more of the following situations to happen:

  1. Cause an LGBTQ worker to be overlooked for a position or promotion due to being LGBTQ

  2. Cause an LGBTQ worker to be paid less for a position or job than someone who is not LGBTQ

  3. Cause an LGBTQ worker to be fired or demoted due to being LGBTQ (wrongful termination)

  4. Cause an LGBTQ worker to endure a hostile work environment due to their sexual orientation or gender identity

A hostile work environment in this situation is defined as one that directly results from harassment that the employer had a legal obligation to stop, including behaviors such as:

  1. Hurtful comments or name calling from coworkers regarding sexual orientation or gender identity

  2. Touching, grabbing, shoving, or any type of physical assault due to being LGBTQ

  3. Other behaviors that could be considered harassment or hurtful

It’s important to note that the first step in any situation where an LGBTQ worker experiences harassment or discriminatory behaviors at work or if such behaviors are witnessed is to report the behaviors to the company’s human resources department or management. By law, any workplace in Minnesota is required to take the necessary steps to ensure these behaviors do not happen again.

How to Fight Back 

While it’s difficult to discern an exact number of how many LGBTQ workers are discriminated against in Minnesota, it can be comforting to know that there are legal options for anyone that is discriminated against or continually harassed. Discriminating against LGBTQ workers is against the law, and those guilty can be held accountable.

If you are in a situation where you have experienced harassment, hurtful behaviors, or discrimination at a workplace in Minnesota due to your gender identity or sexual orientation, the first step, as mentioned above, is to seek help from HR or management. If the discrimination or hurtful behavior continues, or if HR or management refuses to investigate the issue, you may want to consider taking legal action. In cases involving wrongful termination due to being LGBTQ, taking legal action is also an option.

While it can be difficult to find the courage to seek help from management after you have been discriminated against or harassed for who you are, coming forward is an essential step to stop the wrongful behavior in its tracks. When going to HR or management, do so with the help of a trusted coworker if you can. Having support will make the decision to come forward an easier process, plus it guarantees that you have a witness if something should go wrong. 

If you decide to take legal action or are forced to due to management not acting against the discrimination, take comfort and pride in the fact that by taking legal action, you can help protect other LGBTQ workers in Minnesota who may be in a similar situation or might be one day. No one should have to hide who they are. The only way to instill change in our workplaces is to fight back against discrimination and harassment when we see it—and make our world safer for future LGBTQ generations.

Our employment attorneys have experience helping LGBTQ workers in Minnesota fight back against employers who have discriminated against them. We can help you file an LGBTQ discrimination claim against an employer who is treating you unfairly. To learn more, get in touch today.


Joshua Newville is a Minnesota employment lawyer, civil rights attorney, and mediator. Josh litigates and advises on such matters as wrongful termination, whistleblowers, discrimination, police misconduct, and more. He offers paid legal consultations and free online case reviews regarding employment law and civil rights.


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