In an opinions piece by Brian McNaught posted on CNN’s website, he suggests that homosexuals man-up and start coming out at work. This notion is naturally surrounded by a great deal of controversy, many wonder what difference it would make gays were to come out in workplace, if any. As someone who is gay, I have to experience life both in and out of the work closet, and have some personal insight to this very issue.
In 2006, the Chandler Public Library, where I worked, was putting together their first “Teen Leadership Conference.” This conference’s theme was about diversity, and my co-workers were struggling to find a teen who was openly gay who could speak on this panel. At the time I was just nineteen years old, still technically a teenager, was out to very few co-workers, not the entire Chandler Public Library system at large, and was approached by a dear co-worker about me possibly speaking on this panel as someone who was gay. That would mean be coming out not just to every single one of my coworkers, upper management, various members of the press if they showed up, and even possible the Mayor and the Chandler City Counsel, as they have been known to drop in from time to time at these various functions…oh, and let’s not forget about the room full of about hundred teenagers.
That was quite a question.
For me, and for millions of closeted homosexuals in the United States, coming out in the workplace could be the end of our career as we know it. Many non-discrimination policies do not cover sexual orientation or gender identity, and there still is no federal law that prohibits discrimination based on either of these two qualifiers. Attempts to pass this legislation, titled the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, have been brought up almost every single legislative session for the passed thirty years, it passed the house once in 2007 I believe, only for President Bush’s veto threat to stall in in the Senate.
This same piece of legislation has caused up-roar in within the gay community, as to does sexual orientation protection also protect those who are transgender, and in 2007 the Human Rights Campaign, the nations largest lobbyist organization fighting for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, took a great deal of political backlash for failing to denounce one bill that only included sexual orientation, verse one that included both sexual orientation and gender identity. Because of that inside fighting with-in the GLBT community, neither bill became law.
Here in Arizona, you can be fired for being gay. Simple as that. It’s the same in more than half the states in the U.S. In fact, you could be fired for even being perceived to be gay. Real guys might where pink, but so do gay men, and both look good in the unemployment line.
And coming out at work, for many, seems over the top. If you aren’t gay, you probably don’t understand this. You certainly don’t come out as straight, why should I have any special rights or protections? The reality is, you’re right. We don’t want special rights or privileges though. We just want to be able to put a picture of our family on our desk at work, like you do, and know that that very picture won’t get us fired, as it has for some. You might not realize this, but consider your own dialog when you walk into the office and someone asks how your weekend was, and you talk about your spouse. You likely use “he” or “she” – use gays likely use “they” and “them” – a sick game of pronouns that we could both live without.
I was asked by a co-worker, who to this day is a friend of mine. I asked her to give me twenty-four hours. I joined the union immediately, ensured that I would have legal aide should I be fired, or otherwise punished for being gay, and then I wrote one hell of a speech to talk to a group of teens about the reality being gay is.
My direct supervisor was there that day. I was nervous, but excited. And lucky for me, I did a good enough job that my direct supervisor gave me an award. But the reality is, I am lucky – and that’s sad. No one should be “lucky” when they simply want and need to be who they are.
McNaught’s commentary is right, we homosexuals should come out at work. But in this economy, we can’t afford to, until the federal government ensures that we can, passing an fully inclusive Employee Non-Discrimination Act would do that.