US labor secretary visits Indiana to talk workers’ rights with LGBTQ activists

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS — During his visit to Indianapolis Thursday, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh met with about a dozen LGBTQ activists to discuss workers’ rights.

“You have somebody in the Department of Labor that is certainly going to do everything they can to make sure that the workplace is safe,” Walsh told the group.

Walsh said the Labor Department has work to do when it comes to making sure members of the LGBTQ community in America have equal rights in the workplace.

Some at Thursday’s discussion said they’ve felt that discrimination firsthand.

“Maybe you don’t get the big contract, the big project, maybe you don’t get to have the meeting with the important people,” said Chris Handberg, executive director of Indy Pride.

“They misgender me all the time and people I work with on a daily basis,” said Angie Martinez, who works in health care and serves as a board member for Trinity Haven, a LGBTQ+ youth transitional home.

Martinez and some of the other activists at the meeting called on the Labor Department to fund workplace training and set guidelines to ensure fair treatment of LGBTQ workers.

“There needs to be accountability,” Martinez said. “Accountability from the federal government to states to local organizations.”

Some activists at the discussion said they also want to make sure LGBTQ workers have protections at both the federal and state levels.

“Last summer we saw the Supreme Court gave a ruling saying that employees could not be discriminated against based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which is fantastic on paper, but in practice, Indiana is an at-will employer state,” Handberg said.

According to Rob Hicks, an Indianapolis attorney who specializes in employment issues, Indiana law does not specifically name sexual orientation as a banned basis of workplace discrimination, so it’s not entirely clear yet if the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law would also apply to the same form of legislation in Indiana.

As the Biden administration is working to set the tone on LGBTQ policy for state officials, Walsh said he also wants to make sure workers’ rights are protected in the American Jobs Plan.

“We’re still looking at making sure worker protection, it’s equal worker protection, that we’re protecting all workers’ rights to be able to work in the areas that are within the jobs plan,” Walsh said.

We’ve reached out to state lawmakers who run the employment and labor committees in Indiana’s legislature to get their response to some of the concerns raised, and we’re still waiting to hear back.

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