Think back to the last social gathering at work. Many employees look forward to events such as holiday office mixers because it offers them a chance to show a more personal side of their life with co-workers. Many probably didn’t think twice about bringing a date or a spouse.
However, for members of the LGBTQ community, social events with co-workers can come with enormous amounts of stress. Recent surveys show that 50 percent of LGBTQ individuals remain in the closet when it comes to addressing sexual orientation and gender orientation in the workplace. Hiding such an important part of one’s life day after day leads to feelings of isolation in the workplace and may contribute to the higher rates of depression and anxiety suffered by members of the LGBTQ community.
Why Many Prefer to Stay Closeted
Members of the LGBTQ community remain closeted at work for several reasons. The reasons they fail to speak up about their sexual identity revolve around legitimate consequences.
Nearly 40 percent of respondents indicated they feared being stereotyped for speaking frankly about their sexual or gender identity. Over 30 percent feared losing close connections with co-workers in the office and feared making other colleagues uneasy.
Even though American society has made great strides in advancing equality for LGBTQ individuals, the workplace clearly remains one area in which attitudes remain more conservative. Some industries, in particular, expose members of the LGBTQ community to prejudice.
For example, those who work in customer service report often overhearing discriminatory remarks while on the clock. In addition, many LGBTQ individuals in the medical field experience discrimination when patients refuse to be treated by professionals who don’t conform to traditional cis- and heterosexual tendencies.
Oftentimes, individuals who identify as LGBTQ refrain from reporting discriminatory comments to their company’s human resources department out of fear of outing themselves and opening themselves up to negative consequences on the employment front.
Consequences of Coming Out
Members of the LGBTQ community often face lack of advancement in their chosen careers or even termination based upon their sexual or gender identity. Many states still fail to consider sexual and gender identity a protected class under the law, which means employers can legally terminate employees based on nothing more than what they have under their clothes or who they prefer as life partners.
Even in states that consider sexual and/or gender identity worthy of legal protection in the same manner discrimination on the basis of race or religious preference is prohibited, less than scrupulous employers can find loopholes to derail careers of those in the LGBTQ community.
For example, more employers than ever connect with their employees using social media. An individual’s posts receive no special legal protection, meaning employers can legally point to social media posts they find objectionable as a cause for termination. Employers may hold LBGTQ individuals to higher standards than their cis- and heterosexual peers. As many performance evaluations contain a degree of subjectivity, employers can often point to almost anything they want as a reason for lack of career advancement.
Toward a More Inclusive Workplace
In order to address discrimination in the workplace, change needs to start at the highest level. Since discriminating against LGBTQ individuals in the workplace varies from state to state, lawmakers should introduce and pass federal-level solutions such as the Equality Act, which would add sexual and gender identity as protected classes under American law.
Allies of the LGBTQ community can alleviate the onus on their peers by reporting discriminatory comments and remarks to human resources without revealing anyone’s gender or sexual identity. Business owners and managers should take measures to implement nondiscrimination policies as part of their employee handbook and hold those who violate these policies accountable.
While society still has far to go in addressing discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community in the workplace, every individual can take small actions to ease the isolation these individuals often feel. Creating nurturing and supportive workplace environments free all people to become their best productive selves free from unjust prejudice.