DISCRIMINATION: Where Sexuality and Work Collide

A recent series of unfortunate events has given me time to reflect on a type of discrimination that a large percentage of my community faces daily, and one that I, myself, can now count myself a victim of.

LGBTQ workplace discrimination is hardly a new problem. A decade ago, 37% of lesbian and gay people experienced workplace harassment and 12% had lost a job because of their sexual orientation, according to the 2008 General Social Survey. It’s just a part of the battle we’ve faced long since the days of the Stonewall Riots.

Laws and corporate policies have changed a lot in that decade, with many companies and states enacting protections for members of our community, shielding us from detriment brought on by our gender or our sexual orientation. Yet, the problem remains.

BACKSTORY

In recent months I took up a new position, only to fall ill suddenly and wind up hospitalized. With plenty of on-the-record notice given to my boss, I was summarily fired, without my knowledge, the day I ended up in the emergency room.

When I was released, I was flummoxed. My work email had been disabled. No call back from my boss. No messages from Human Resources. No communication.

Eventually, someone on the inside informed me that I’d been dismissed. When I reached out to corporate, it became clear that something was off.

Long story short: as the following few days unfurled, my boss was terminated. I was reinstated, only to discover that I had been replaced the very exact day I was hospitalized. Rumors had swirled that I was a “no call, no show” which was simply untrue. After being reinstated, things became even muddier.

After meeting with upper management, it became clear my firing was the final straw that sealed the termination of my direct manager. Further, it was confirmed to me that what broke the camel’s back was when he was informed that I had to be re-hired, he screamed down a hallway, “I can’t believe I have to rehire that fucking faggot!”

I felt validated and violated, all at the same time. Sure, I’d grown up gay and come to expect discrimination in a myriad of various forms, but hadn’t yet experienced it in the workplace.

Reviewing my time with my boss, I never had an inkling that there was an issue – yet, apparently there was.

To make matters worse, I was offered a demotion out of management. The argument was that there was a need to fill a certain position and given that my job had already been filled, it was the only option.

In the end, I’m currently in a stalemate and still trying to figure out exactly how this went wrong. I’m past the point of, “What did I do wrong?”

In fact, I know I’ve done nothing wrong but be myself. I’m great at my job…and I’m gay. Corporate policy reinstated me but left me stripped of my actual position. A captain without a ship.

When it comes to the workplace, outside of office romance, is it ever okay for someone’s sexual orientation to come into play?

According to federal and Texas state law, as of this year, no.

LAW & ORDER

In February of this year, a federal court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applied to LGBT workers. The same rights afforded to the act became federally protected. It echoed the sentiments of 71% of Americans that believe the LGBT community deserves the same protections as the rest of the country.

Within a month, Texas followed suit when a judge out of Houston ruled in the same manner. It was a groundbreaking ruling that brought some sense of legal comfort to the Texas LGBT community given that just four years earlier, countrywide, one in four struggled to keep food on the table for lack of civil rights.

All legality aside, as in my case, the law can only go so far in buffering the reality of the corporate environment. A staggering 46% of LGBT Americans remain closeted at work. Why?

According to an HRC study, the common reasons cited are:

  1. Fear of being stereotyped (38%)
  2. Fear of making coworkers uncomfortable (36%)
  3. Fear of losing connections with coworkers (31%)

One in five of those polled also reported having been encouraged to dress more masculine or feminine based on their birth gender.

Worse yet, 45% of those in a corporate environment believe their company’s anti-discrimination policy actually hinged on their boss’s feelings on LGBT matters. Of that subset, 13% percent feared they would be fired if they were open about their sexuality.

TAKEAWAY

At 31, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my sexuality is a part of who I am – and has been since birth. I don’t hide it, nor do I flaunt it. I never had to “come out of the closet” given my good fortune of having a supportive mother. I’m lucky in those respects. As for in the workplace, I now plainly see that even excellent job performance can’t sway a bigot’s determination to be intolerant.

State laws are still in transition across the country when it comes to protecting the gay community in the workplace. There are only twenty states, plus the District of Columbia, that have laws that directly protect us. It is still legal in 28 states to fire a worker for being LGBTQI.

Workers who have to remain in the closet for fear of retaliation or retribution, face a greater hurdle than their straight counterparts. It’s hard to play the role without losing yourself. They face mental health issues with serious implications: isolation, exhaustion, and depression.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The truth of the matter is: being gay in the workplace isn’t a choice, just as it isn’t outside of the workplace. Firing someone for being who they are, when it harms no one, is immoral, unethical and growingly illegal.

Here’s my message to my former boss: If you want to be a leader, stop thinking you’re better than me because you have it easier. Oh, and hope you enjoy your pink slip.

JWW

Leave a Reply