48% of Gay Workers are a "Silent Minority"

by Cathy Vandewater | June 21, 2011

How much do your coworkers know about you?

Do they know you went to a wedding this weekend? That you have siblings? Your significant other's name?

They probably do, and you've probably never given it too much thought. Unless you're gay. In that case, you may be paying serious attention to your pronouns.

A new study reports that a whopping 48% of all college educated gay and lesbian Americans are hiding their sexual orientation at their jobs. A third go as far to lead a double life, pretending they're straight at work and being "out" in their real lives.

This is pretty shocking news, considering how accepted LGBT people are in the entertainment industry and in the media. Glee, Lady Gaga, Modern Family all present a portrait of gay characters living normal lives friends and jobs—and receiving support from loved ones during the rare homophobic attack, which is always portrayed as unjust.

But real life may be a bit different for gay Americans. Take a recent incident at Starbucks, where an employee was pressured to quit after an outburst from a manager, who was apparently uncomfortable with his being openly gay. The employee, Jeffrey Warren, later told KIROTV that he had previously been passed up for promotions before the incident, and was disappointed that he would experience discrimination at company with such a liberal culture.

And technically, he shouldn't have, as Starbucks is one of the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies (nearly 90%) that have anti discrimination policies in place that protect sexual orientation. Changes in language for certain policies—extending benefits to "partners" instead of spouses, and "parental leave" instead of maternity leave—also help make for a more inclusive and equal work environment for LGBTs. Policy wise, things have greatly improved in the last decade.

But unfortunately, interpersonal issues remain where they were years ago. The study notes that gay employees still feel that they can't present their "whole selves" at work for fear of problems with coworkers.

Though it's true that no one should explicitly discuss their romantic goings on at the office—gay or straight—it's damaging for employees to have to feel they must lie or hide parts of their lives to fit in. Everyone should be able to proudly give the name of their significant other, just as they discuss vacation plans or their children's ages. For now, though, LGBTs at work are, as the study notes, the "silent minority."

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Filed Under: Workplace Issues


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