Are You One Of 30% Of Queers Bullied Back Into The Closet By Co-Workers?

According to a recent report by the Williams Institute, 38 percent of LGB employees have experienced workplace harassment due to their sexual orientation and more than one-third of all LGBs aren’t out to any of their co-workers. Women and minorities still face workplace discrimination despite laws against such treatment, so it’s unrealistic to expect an Employee Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) to change these number dramatically, especially since we won’t see ENDA passed for some time. Just another reason to hate work…

Some folks tell flamboyant employees to “tone it down” or not to “mention their personal lives at work.” But when everyone else gets to wear wedding rings and talk about their girlfriends and boyfriends at work, the tone is decidedly personal. But while one’s sexuality is their own business and one’s work should speak for itself, inevitably you’ll end up working alongside a prejudiced meathead. So what’s the solution? Being loud and proud to push every co-worker towards acceptance, telling one or two trusted colleagues, or quietly working and never letting on about your sexual identity?

We imagine the statistics would be even worse for openly HIV-positive employees.

Thumbnail image credit Bill Dimmick

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  • Rob

    I’m not “out” in that I have not acknowledged it, but I would never deny the issue if it came up. The fact is, I’ve only heard one person in the whole office mention their love life. It just doesn’t come up, straight or gay.

  • Fitz

    I’m lucky, in that I work in a field where i am in demand. (even now). And 2 years ago when I semi-retired, I became even more in-demand, lol. So.. no.. I am 100% out. Anyone has a problem with it, they can bite me. In fact, being gay is an amazing asset here– gives me a perspective that they lack.

  • shle896

    I’ve been and am out at most jobs I’ve ever had. I am just matter-of-fact about it when it comes up. If asked if I’m married or have a girlfriend, I don’t hesitate to simply say, “I’m gay”. It’s never been a problem for me, except with one job I had doing pr and marketing for The Salvation Army. They fired me the minute they found out. I didn’t want to work with them anyway, since they’re a bunch of bigots.

    Ironically, my direct supervisor (who is a minister) at The Salvation Army always seemed light in his loafers and sure enough, he tried to pick me up at a bath house – over a year later. I ripped him a new one and told him he was lucky I didn’t tell his wife and kids and employer, but that I wouldn’t stoop down to his level.

    Also, ever since then I’ve refused to put money in their holiday kettles at Christmas. The Salvation Army DISGUSTS me.

  • christopher di spirito

    Appalling. Obama and the Dumbos failure to pass ENDA makes me livid.

    I have been very fortunate. Never bullied or harassed at work. I’m out and I make sure everyone knows I’m gay. People are fine.

  • Mike in London UK

    No .. i’m the manager who got a temp employee fired on the spot for having a homophobic rant in front of me.

  • inoits2

    We have responsibility to be honest about who we are and coming out certainly can change opinions. However, I do not voluntarily offer that information as it may hurt my chances at winning a project. I would rather not be thought of as that gay guy first. That is better when they know me for my work. Also being flamboyant and talking about last nights trick may not be deemed professional behavior. Same is true for straights. Most places seem to have clear etiquette about what is acceptable.

  • Dallas David

    After coming out in the USAF (1977) I swore I’d never go back in the closet.

    Since then, only a few people have actually asked if I was gay. A few more have asked why I’m not married, and I told them. Had a few run-ins, mostly with the older white-bread America types, but those were easily fixed. Had to interview for a security clearance in the Dallas gov’t building, the agents began by reading me my Miranda Rights, and asked all sorts of intrusive questions, had I answered them I’d have admitted guilt to breaking the Texas Sodomy Law. I refused to answer, told my boss at work what happened, and some company bigwigs had a rude phone chat with them. Cool. The company later went on to have one of the first GLBT employee groups. Cool.

    But I haven’t seen any good stuff like this outside the big cities in Texas. Seems like most of ’em are Limbaugh fans.

  • EMZero

    At my job you can’t throw a shoe without hitting someone queer. It’s pretty fabulous.

    (I work at Target, by the way.)

  • inoits2

    @EMZero: I love target! Cheers.

  • alan Balehead

    it’mostly women who do this…

  • Snownova

    I made a point of telling my (future) manager I was gay during the job interview. I even invited the whole team to my big gay wedding four months later. It helps that Im in the Netherlands and everyone I work with has a college degree of course. (not to dis people who dont have a degree, but education kills prejudice dead)

  • DonLakeside

    What does orientation have to do with the workplace? Private matters are private; the workplace is public.

  • USGovEmployee

    I’m totally out at work, but it’s not like I’ve made a point of going “I’m here, I’m queer, deal with it or I’m going to HR.” Rather, I talk about it (and all other aspects of my life) with my work friends, and if it ever comes up in conversations with other employees (like my boss asking if my relationship with my best friend was a serious one to which I replied, “Well, we’ve been friends for a long time, so it’s a serious relationship, but I’m gay–we’re just friends”). She was totally fine with it, just felt a little embarassed to have misjudged my friendship.

    Oh, and I have a LGBT Certificate of Distinction from my grad school displayed in my cubicle (relatively discreetly) so people can realize it without me having to say anything.

  • James

    I work in a male dominating profession; however, I have a few co-workers who are out, who happen to be only the females. It does not seem to be an issue with them as they are high ranking individuals. As for I, some know I’m gay and I’m sure others sense it. I’m not saying I’m exactly out, but I’m not in either.

  • Fitz

    James, are you a dominatrix?

  • Daez

    I’m out and proud at work. I’ve had my fair share of discrimination (mostly from my residents). However, I’ve never once really had to stick up for myself because anytime something is actually said my coworkers get my back. Being a male in a female dominated position makes it easier to be out and proud though.

  • Daez

    @christopher di spirito: ENDA won’t help most people that have been discriminated against for being gay. (The important part of this article is that any employer with under 20 employees is IMMUNE to non-discrimination laws). (All religious charities and organizations are also immune from such laws).

    So, in short, any place that is well known for discriminating against gays is already immune to ENDA. Grand, ain’t it?

    The only real responsible way to handle this situation is to get to know your own employers non-discrimination policy and to not take jobs where you are not covered. Since most larger employers (and many smaller employers) already include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy it makes job hunting easier.

  • Daez

    @inoits2: Why does it not surprise me that you would equate coming out at work with talking about last nights trick?

    You better be damned sure I’m going to talk about my husband at work when everyone else is talking about their boyfriends. Its just the way its going to go. That being said, I try to be cautious about my residents that don’t know I’m gay finding out.

  • Daez

    @DonLakeside: Your sexual orientation IS NOT a private matter. You act like it is something to be ashamed of. You don’t see straights calling their orientation private do you?

  • inoits2

    @Daez: Hey that is fine but for some of us there may be consequences. I personally do not plan to be a sacrificial lamb for the cause. My well-being comes first. Caution is advised when making the decision to come out in ANY situation. It’s not just la la la, look at me, I am gay, love me!

  • inoits2

    @Daez: What’s good for the straights is not always what’s good for the queer.

  • Fitz

    Daez is right. We will never be accepted by other people when we don’t accept ourselves. The reality of my marriage is no more (and no less!) in the face of anyone than anyone else. And since I am in healthcare, and I am very comfortable with who I am… my position has been very important both for kids, DL men, newly out, etc. I don’t see patients too often anymore, but my presence is felt here, and the queer kids usually find an excuse to come say hello.

  • Daez

    @inoits2: Yes, your well being is at stake. Selling your identity for a few extra dollars isn’t exactly doing anything for your well being. In short, if your company hates you because you are gay then do whatever it takes to find a new job. Because in the end, the fear and self loathing you develop by being forced into the closet for a few extra dollars is doing nothing for your well being.

    @inoits2: Umm, I think you meant to say that you totally support straight people talking about who they are fucking, but gay people should keep their mouths shut in order to avoid discrimination. I feel sorry for you if you believe that. What about those of us that really don’t get a choice because we live our lives instead of hiding who we are?

    @Fitz: You lost me at Daez is right! :P

  • alan Balehead

    When women find out your gay and can’t date you…they will not go to the gay bar with you (surprise!) most of them will usually make every effort to fire you…women are the real “predators” in the workplace….

  • Daez

    @alan Balehead: What the fuck are you talking about? Seriously! I have all female bosses but one and they absolutely love hearing about me and my husband. They love hearing about my being gay. In my life, I’ve always found women to be 100% more accepting of gay males than straight males are. I would come out to a female way before I would a straight male.

  • Daez

    @alan Balehead: Oh, and one of my bosses wants very much to go to the gay bars with me, but unfortunately I never actually go to the gay bars myself.

  • inoits2

    @Daez: Gosh it must be great to have a perfect life with Smurf houses, rainbow forests and pink unicorns. Take off the rosy glasses and see that a few dollars means no street and there are few jobs. You people are so quick to tell everyone to come out but you don’t have to live their lives after the fact.

  • Daez

    @inoits2: I’ve been homeless. I’ve lived on $600 a month. I’ve been out of work. I’ve been through a lot of things. However, the one thing I didn’t do in order to survive is lock myself up in a closet.

    I feel for you if you can’t find a job that accepts you, but my guess is you haven’t even bothered to look.

  • shle896

    We shouldn’t beat up on anybody who is still closeted privately or at work. It’s a process and everybody’s experience is different, depending on your family and where and how you were raised and every workplace is different in their attitudes and the make-up of their employees. It is, afterall still perfectly legal in this country to fire someone simply because they are gay, so what works for some may not work for others. Personally, I think that gays still in the closet need our support, not our condemnation.

  • Fitz

    You can’t really blame someone for protecting themselves if they feel that their survival is at risk. I would just encourage them to consider their survival in the longer-term, and encourage them to slowly work their way into a location and position where they are welcomed whole. Out at work” is just another layer of the onion. If inoits2 is ever fortunate enough to be welcomed in this way, their life will probably be happier and more useful. The old cliche is really true: you are either part of the solution or part of the problem. It’s very possible (just consider it..) that there are places that you could work that wouldn’t make you have to hide. I gently encourage you to look for that.slowly. I am aware of the economy.

  • Fitz

    Alan, you are a bitter & boring man. I love women. My mom was one. being gay doesn’t have to turn you into a misogynist.

  • inoits2

    @Fitz: Thanks for the splash of reality. Of course we would all be happier and healthier if we could be out to everyone. But knowledge is power and at their discretion your enemies can use that power to justify firing you in most places. Without consequences for themselves. You are at their mercy and it’s naive to think that everyone accept us without bias with open arm. I would especially not recommend that working class gays come out in certain fields, like say road work. I am not talking about lying about it anyway, my point is that it’s best to not volunteer it.

  • inoits2

    @Fitz: Yes, it is best to avoid generalizations even though they stereotypically might be true.

  • Avenn

    @DonLakeside: Why separate the two? I believe it contributes to general unhappiness. After all, we’re not different people when we are on duty. As people spend 50% of their awake time at work (not counting weekends), it’d better be worth it, and you just can’t stop being you. Who wants to suffer half of their daytime if it could instead be a little more personal and friendly environment where you could be you?

    Also, studies have shown that people who spend some of their working time on personal matters (such as facebook) are actually more productive despite the lost time. A relaxed environment is more productive, and this also speaks for a more personal approach at work.

  • Daez

    In the immortal words of Brian Kinney, “If you do your job better than anyone else, no one really cares where you put your dick.”

    I’m out and proud because I know that I’m an asset to the company I work for. I have enough faith that my work stands for itself regardless of rather I’m gay or straight. I’ve never missed a day of work or called off. I am well liked by my direct supervisors. I am dependable and reliable. I simply stand out at my place of work as an exemplary employee much more than I do as the gay employee.

  • Fitz

    I do think it’s worth saying that most of the time you ain’t foolin anyone anyway. So it’s not a question of weather you are gay or straight, it’s a question of weather you are out or closeted. And working class people have gay kids, brothers, cousins… I don’t mean to be naive.. but between my own capacity to figure out when I am safe, and the general goodness of people, being “out” has been the right choice for me. That being said– when i go into the office, I go to work- not to hug pictures of my husband.

  • Daez

    @Fitz: I have to agree. I think for a lot of us the rumors were already flying anyways and we had the choice to deny them or confirm them. For me, it made more sense just to confirm because not doing so would have been such an obvious lie anyways. I think MOST employers put a lot more stock in an honest employee than they do in one that is in the closet but overly obvious.

  • Carson

    I’m definitely out at work, but have never experienced harassment. No one has came up to me at work and specifically asked if I was gay, but I always come out when it comes up in conversation. I talk about it openly and with a normal-conversation tone to my friends, no matter who is around. I bring my boyfriend in work with me. People from work have added me on Facebook, where I am openly gay, and don’t treat me any different than before. It’s pretty obvious to my managers and they treat me the same as they would any other employee. I know people talk about it behind my back at work because my friends have told me about it, but they are all too cowardly to say anything to me. However, even though you can be fired for being gay in North Carolina, I know I’m safe at work because I have so many friends there who don’t judge me for being gay, and our harassment policy protects employees from sexual orientation-based harassment. I just wish everyone could have a work environment like mine, or even better.

  • OVERITalready

    I recently retired from a career I had for 33 years, where I’d been “out” for about 15. After taking a year off, I went back out into the workplace and found a great job working in the wine industry here in California. I was very open, from the start, with my new employer. I thought he should know that I could be a great asset to his company, as far as reaching a broader customer base,suggesting a gay-friendlier approach in his ad campaigns and promotions. Well, he hired me. Businesses NEED us, and it’s time that everyone realizes that.
    The boss and his wife recently invited my partner and I to an industry function, as their guests. We had a great time, and we were well received, even in this very conservative community.
    I know this is NOT the “norm” in many places, but wanted to share with others that attitudes are changing. Demonstrate some class and a strong work ethic, and the co-workers and the boss him/herself will not give a “rat’s patootie” if you’re gay.

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