Gay and Lesbian Discrimination


Dear Employer,

Remember last year when you hired that new employee?  You were so proud of your choice; fancying yourself a friend of the underdog.  You really put yourself out there, hiring an out gay person with equal or better qualifications than the other five straight applicants for the job.  Don't they realize you really went to bat for them - that if it weren't for you, this firm would be not only white and bright but super straight as well? Why don't they show their gratitude every day?

Have you ever had to think a gay person as your peer?  Have you ever worked in an office in which anyone was openly gay?  When you and human resources toss around the idea of 'fit' and 'appropriate behavior' and 'team player,' have you considered what those euphemisms really mean?  An employee of yours has contacted us and informed us that despite your liberal protestations, you are a bit confused about what it means to be an equal opportunity employer.  It's the 21st century and it's really too late in the day to be thinking only of quotas or giving your office a bit of color.  You are in your comfort zone daily.   It's time to reconsider your assimilationist model and think about what kind of commitment you have made to your employees.  Is your office a supportive environment?

If you feel you have received this letter in error, try the following:

-- Do you expect everyone to conform to white middle-class values?  Is your MO Don't ask, Don't tell?  Every time you think it is inappropriate for lesbian, gay or transgendered employees to discuss their personal lives on the job, count the number of times a day you mention your hetero lifestyle.  Maybe it's as simple as pointing out what a great dad your husband is, or how your sister-in-law just passed the bar, or how you met this attractive woman at a dinner party and you plan to ask her out on a date, and what about that day off you took last week to attend your best friend's wedding.  Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their personal life with the whole office.   Think of how many times your gay or transgendered work-mates silence themselves because their personal lives are not accepted as polite conversation.

-- When a close colleague came out of the closet recently did you find that the quality of their work changed?  We don't think a person's sexual orientation has any effect on their ability to do their job - why do you?

-- When an employee of several years begins to transition, and she is now a he, do you really put as much time and effort into making sure you use his preferred pronoun and call him John (not Joanna) as you gossip with other employees or your spouse about the changes taking place in his body and life?  Are you only worried about his hormone treatments and doctor's visits because of what it could cost the company in health insurance and sick days each year?  Or do you just wonder idly how he can begin to afford this expensive process on the meager salary you pay him?  John's decision must cause quite a stir when you hand out bonuses each year.  Does he still receive Joanna's measly pittance or a bonus commensurate with his new gender identity?

-- When other employees get all in a huff about 'the bathroom issue' and your transgendered administrative assistant, do you call her into your office for a private chat in which you tell her: (a) to make sure no one is in the bathroom when she enters; (b) to wear more gender appropriate clothes so there is less confusion; (c) to apologize to her work-mates, (d) to find a new job?  Or do you ask her which bathroom she prefers to use, make a public statement in support of her and be the first to sign up to take diversity training workshops, required for all employees in your office, that include queer and transgender issues?

-- Really, answer truthfully.  Why don't you advocate regularly for same-sex partner benefits for your employees?  You're a power house - throw some muscle around when it really matters!

-- If your subordinate has a 'partner' or out lesbian friend pick her up at the end of the day, do you treat them the same as other visitors?   Do you treat them as you do the boyfriends or spouses of your other employees?  Do you treat that employee differently?  Is your gay employee's partner, date or family welcome at company gatherings where straight employees bring loved ones?  Or is your solution just to prohibit visitors and eliminate family picnics from your company's activities?

-- When you hired that new gay man did you swiftly institute an office-wide dress code to discourage 'flamboyant' outfits? So the next time you think to yourself, 'Why does so-and-so have an attitude?' Or 'They seemed so much more amenable when I hired them' or 'Is this person really committed to the company?' or even, 'This person would be so much easier to work with if they had the same background as me,' think again.  You might consider how many of these concerns of yours have to do with your own cultural biases, and narrow scope of experience with people from diverse backgrounds. Stop using diversity as a code word or a throw-away.  Think about the implications of that homophobic joke that circulated via email. If you don't quite know how to handle the situation, bring in some professionals who do.

Don't worry, we don't think you are a homophobe or a discriminating bastard, that's just your own guilty conscience.  Look on the bright side!  There are lots of ways to make amends.  Hire some more out gays and lesbians.  Consider your expectations for these employees and compare them to those you have for your white-boy buddies. A gay employee's failure to assimilate to heterosexual norms is not their failure to do their job.  Shift the culture of your department.  Generally the same sexist, homophobic and xenophobic attitudes that produce uncomfortable environments for your lesbian and gay employees also adversely effect people of color and women in the workplace.  Why not kill a few birds with one stone?  Remember, you're the boss, and your employees will follow your lead. It's up to you to take that extra step to make your workplace a supportive and safe environment for all your employees.


In solidarity,



(and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force)


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