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LGBTQ+ Workplace Discrimination


By Dany Ricci

Between building resumes, filling out applications, and sweating through interviews, the frustration of job hunting isn’t exclusively a queer experience— it can be stressful for almost anyone! However, as much as society has moved towards acceptance and equality in recent years, the curve is still a little steeper for even the most qualified LGBTQ folks.

A 2014 study from the Equal Rights Center and Freedom to Work tested this theory by submitting pairs of similar (fictional) resumes to eight federal contractors throughout the U.S., with the main difference between these two resumes being that one mentioned involvement in LGBT organizations, while the other did not. The results of this investigation were concerning, suggesting that LGBT applicants were 23% less likely to receive a call-back than their non-LGBT counterpart, despite the LGBT applicant being better qualified.

In addition, Fortune magazine reported in 2017 that “in a majority of states, being fired due to sexual orientation or gender orientation is a reality,” as there is no nationwide law protecting LGBTQ people from employment discrimination.

These kinds of discrimination range from subtle to blatant, and may show up in a variety of different ways, as captured concisely in Out & Equal’s 2017 Workplace Equality Fact Sheet. For example:

  • One in four LGBT employees report experiencing employment discrimination in the last five years.
  • The Transgender unemployment rate is three times higher than the national average.
  • Nearly one in 10 LGBT employees have left a job because the environment was unwelcoming.
  • In 28 states, you can get fired just for being lesbian, bisexual, or gay.
  • In 30 states, you can be fired for being transgender.
  • Over one quarter (27%) of transgender people who held or applied for a job in the last year reported being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion due to their gender identity.

That said, the fact sheet also mentions that LGBT-supportive policies and workplace climates are linked to less discrimination against LGBT employees and more openness about minority status. Less discrimination and more openness, in turn, are also linked to greater job commitment, improved workplace relationships, increased job satisfaction, improved health outcomes, and increased productivity among LGBT employees.

For most, this supportive workplace climate is the ideal to aspire to, but realistically (and coming from a harm reduction model), sometimes the main priority is to find a source of income and stay safe. Either way, how’s an ambitious queer person supposed to navigate this less-than-perfect situation?

The Transgender Job Bank, an online aggregator for LGBT-friendly job postings, has a few tips:

1. Check local and state laws on employment discrimination, to see if you’re at risk for being targeted;
2. Remain subtle about your gender/sexual minority status—there’s no need to disclose it in an interview, and it’s illegal for an interviewer to ask about it; and
3. Prep some questions about company culture, to gauge whether it’s an accepting environment that you’ll feel safe in.

This process gets further complicated for those who identify as transgender, non binary, or gender-nonconforming and find themselves faced with the restrictive ideas of professional attire. In the Fortune article “What It’s Like To Be Young, Gender-Neutral, and in the Job Market,” genderqueer college student Sarah Scott described their experience in the workplace: “It was really discouraging…[interviewers] were uncomfortable that I was in the building, let alone comfortable with the idea that they might have to work with me.”

They also experienced bathroom discrimination, being told to leave the women’s restroom and use the men’s facilities instead.

“It’s almost a dead giveaway that you might as well not waste your time in the interview if they have to redirect you toward the men’s bathroom and you to have to turn around and tell them…I know which bathroom I’m supposed to be using, but thanks for your concern,” they said.

Their method of coping with this situation was to leave the job environment that made them uncomfortable and seek new employment in a “more progressive-minded area.” However, others may not have this luxury—what to do when your very gender presentation might bring up judgment and discrimination? As the Transgender Job Bank says, “For some, concealing a part of their identity for the workplace is irrelevant; for others, this might as well be a death sentence.”

The Rochester Institute of Technology published an FAQ for Trans* Job Seekers that offers a few different options based on your comfort level with sharing your gender identity:

“Dress professionally for the gender you would like to be seen as; this will reduce pronoun confusion on the part of your interviewer. Many select professional but gender-neutral clothing choices…this is a highly individualized decision. You may want to conduct a mock interview to help prepare yourself, whether you wish to out yourself in the application process or not.”

A mock interview is a great way to practice how to present one’s LGBTQ identity in a professional context—how much to disclose, what questions to ask to test the climate of tolerance, ways to convey one’s identity professionally. While daunting at first, most or all of these skills can be hammered out with practice. This is why The Center’s LGBT Employment Services Program and Trans Employment Program provide one-on-one interview practice, professional mentoring, skills workshops, and resume review services to help support our clients through this arduous process and find them safe and fulfilling work environments.

(Image: Ash Edmonds/Unsplash)

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