Tuesday, June 19, 2012

LGBT Pride at Work

Happy Pride Month! June is the month that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and those of us who don't fit into the officially normative sexuality-and-gender-expression roles celebrate our pride in who we are. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_pride is a good starting point, if you're not familiar.)

But: Should you be "out" on the job-search or at work?

There's no short answer. On the one hand, attitudes are beginning to defrost. The military has repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The President has affirmed gay marriage as a good thing. Blogs for the kinds of folks most likely to make hiring decisions extol our virtues: we work just as hard as anybody else; to dismiss us as employees is to dismiss a talented group. Companies who want to profit from us may get trashed by homophobic critics, but they get just as much love and then some from advocates of equality. (I'm talking about the J.C. Penney Father's Day ad; see this article if you missed it the first time around: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jenny-block/jcpenney-june-book-gay-dads_b_1556680.html.)

But on the other hand, there are horror stories out there too. I won't rehearse them. You can get fired, legally, for being out at work. Or not hired. Or not promoted. And no matter what you read about legal protections, any public legal action you invoke is likely to get you branded as a troublemaker.

The quartet of articles above suggest doing your due diligence to find out about a prospective employer's corporate culture. What does the non-discrimination policy say? Can you find connections inside the company through LinkedIn, Facebook or other social media to see if what's on paper matches what's actually practiced? Are there differences among departments or divisions of your target company? On your resume, will your LGBT community service show off your team-player spirit, or damn you to the circular file?

Once hired: Can you find a mentor to whom you can speak frankly? What happens when you use the ambiguous term "partner" to describe your longterm relationship? Do you feel like you have to grit your teeth when a co-worker denounces someone as a "fag"? Will you get passed over for promotions because your level of self-censorship precludes you from water-cooler chatter about family, vacation plans, and children?

At least part of the equation involves some soul-searching. Are you willing to not ask, not tell? Willing to lie? Willing to put a sham picture of a spouse on your cubicle desk? At what point does your contribution to the company become aiding and abetting the forces of darkness? At what point does putting bread on the table trump other considerations?

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