SF aims to collect LGBTQ data of its employees

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday June 22, 2021
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San Francisco Mayor London Breed. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
San Francisco Mayor London Breed. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

San Francisco has been a municipal leader when it comes to collecting sexual orientation and gender identity demographic data among its residents. Now, city leaders want to do the same with employees and those who apply for jobs with the city in a voluntary and anonymous way.

In order to do so, however, city officials need to jettison a restriction in the city's municipal code that forbids it from inquiring into the "sexual orientation, practices, or habits" of city employees. Known as Chapter 12E, the City Employee's Sexual Privacy Ordinance of the Administrative Code, it was enacted in 1985 during the height of the AIDS epidemic as a way to protect LGBTQ applicants and city employees from being discriminated against.

Despite local laws banning LGBTQ-based discrimination that had been adopted in the late 1970s, there was widespread concern among the general public about LGBTQ people transmitting the then-little-understood virus. Those fears led to city leaders wanting to strengthen protections for LGBTQ people seeking employment with City Hall or various city departments and their drafting of Chapter 12E.

Thirty-six years later that provision in the code is now hampering efforts to ensure LGBTQ people are adequately represented among city staff. Thus, Mayor London Breed and gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman introduced new legislation Tuesday during the Board of Supervisors meeting that repeals 12E of the Administrative Code. They want to direct the Department of Human Resources, now led by out director Carol Isen, to collect voluntary and anonymous sexual orientation demographic data from city employees and applicants.

"This important policy change will provide the city with invaluable voluntary information about our LGBTQ+ workforce that will help us identify any potential barriers to city employment and promotions," stated Isen. "We are building upon our efforts to support more pathways into city employment and creating a more diverse workforce. We look forward to implementing this change and expanding upon our efforts to create a workplace that is equitable, inclusive and welcoming to all."

The city and county employs approximately 37,000 people, making it the largest employer in San Francisco. While it collects such information as to the gender and race of its employees, the city currently has no way of knowing how many LGBTQ people work for it.

In a statement to the Bay Area Reporter, Breed said doing so would assist the city's "commitment to equity across our workforce and continue to advance LGBTQ+ rights across our city."

Noting it is Pride Month in San Francisco, Breed added, "We are taking continued action to be a leader in hiring and retaining a diverse workforce that reflects our community that includes our LGBTQ+ community."

Mandelman told the B.A.R. in a statement that, "LGBTQ city employees work hard every day to support the people of San Francisco. This legislation will allow the Department of Human Resources to better track our citywide diversity, equity, and inclusion goals and identify strategies to recruit LGBTQ employees into public service."

He added that he was "grateful for Mayor London Breed's leadership and partnership on this new legislation that will help San Francisco more effectively identify, measure, and address the needs of our city's LGBTQ employees and applicants."

The supervisors will likely take up the proposed code change in late July or early August. The board's government audit and oversight committee will likely first hold a hearing on it and vote on whether all 11 supervisors should adopt the proposal.

In October 2018 Breed ordered all city agencies and departments that collect demographic data to update their forms, both paper and electronic, so that they include the option of nonbinary in addition to male and female when asking about gender identity. As part of her directive, Breed ordered the city's human resources department and the Office of Transgender Initiatives to provide gender identity trainings to city employees as part of their required trainings on harassment prevention, implicit bias, and cross-cultural communications.

Most city agencies have been required to collect the SOGI information of the people they are serving since the summer of 2017. While there have been issues in instituting the data collection efforts, all but the city's Department of Public Health have made great strides over the last four years in gathering the LGBTQ demographic information so it is useful in reviewing how they are serving the needs of the LGBTQ community.

As the B.A.R. reported in April, the health department's SOGI data collection efforts have been hampered by its switching to a new records-keeping system called Epic during the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Just as it was ramping up work on converting tens of thousands of records and retraining thousands of clinical and non-clinical staff on how to use Epic, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, leading to a large portion of DPH's IT and analyst resources being directed to focus on the health crisis.

According to its SOGI data report for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the health department expects a process for data migration and validation will be possible perhaps as soon as later this year. In the meantime, DPH said it has arranged for an audit of its SOGI data collection to be undertaken by a researcher at UCSF.

Now that the city's special command center it established to address the local response to the COVID pandemic, which drew city staff away from their regular work, has been closed down and those employees reassigned to their normal duties, Mandelman also called Tuesday for the supervisors to hold a hearing on the SOGI data reports for the 2019-2020 fiscal year that the city departments submitted at the end of 2020.

It also will likely be held by the board's government audit and oversight committee, which last held a hearing regarding the city agencies' SOGI data collection efforts in November 2019. Mandelman also called for the departments to provide an update on their SOGI data for the first half of the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

Therefore, the hearing on the SOGI data efforts would cover the period spanning from July 1, 2019, through December 31, 2020. Mandelman also requested that the city departments report on any LGBTQ data they gathered related to COVID, including cases, deaths, vaccinations and testing among LGBTQ residents and workers in the city.

As the B.A.R. has extensively documented since the start of the health crisis last March, COVID SOGI data on cases and testing was not initially collected by the city, or the state of California, until late in 2020. It is unclear what data there is on vaccinations, as earlier this year the B.A.R. reported that the state's public health department was not tracking vaccinations among LGBTQ Californians.

Asked about that omission in the vaccine data during an LGBTQ virtual town hall in April by the B.A.R., state public health officer and director at the California Department of Public Health Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, formerly with San Francisco's health department, pledged to improve the SOGI data collection for the inoculations but did not give specifics.

The city's Department of Disability and Aging Services did help conduct a survey into COVID's impact on the LGBTQ community. But the results of the survey have yet to be publicly released.

"It is important that we know as much as possible about the impacts of COVID in the queer community. We are hoping that DPH and other city departments will be able to provide COVID SOGI data beyond what is currently available on the DataSF portal, such as vaccination and testing rates," Mandelman told the B.A.R. "If we have not been collecting that data, it is important to find out why."

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