Gays in the Workplace

In my life I’ve met many courageous and tireless human rights leaders. One of the strongest most dedicated, and fearless died a few months ago in Boston. Rich Rasi cared for people, all people. A quiet manner and affable approach to others was his hallmark but his legacy was a tenacious life-long commitment to speak up for the rights of all people. He was the voice of those who either had no voice or were afraid to speak for themselves.Rich was a gay man. When NEHRA (Northeast Human Resources Association) dared to host the first ever breakfast meeting to discuss Gay Lesbian issues Rich Rasi and Bob Fleming, another charismatic advocate of human rights, were chosen to be the co-presenters. The audience was mesmerized when they were asked to imagine how their life would be if the majority of people in the world were gay and the minority straight. We all learned and grew that morning. Our sensitivity to gay and lesbian issues was enhanced. For many, the trite stereotypes fell away for good.Rich had a quiet, engaging sense of humor. I met him for the first time at that NEHRA breakfast. I was in a group of people chatting before the program started. Rich joined the group and singled me out. He asked me to thank Bob Gatti for sponsoring the breakfast. Remember, this was the first breakfast on gay issues in Boston! Then Rich reached out to hold my hand, and with a big smile and quick wink he said, “Frank, we have a lot in common.” Everyone in the group turned to me and I quickly asked: “What do we have in common?” Rich smiled and walked away saying, “I’ll tell you after the meeting.” He was really putting me on. After his talk I said to him, “Hey, what do we have in common?” With a big laugh and “I gotcha” look he responded: “We both worked as priests in Paterson.”I don’t know how you view “gay rights,” the gay lifestyle, or GBLT issues. But I think I know how you feel about hiring people based on their abilities. In 1994, the Governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld describing his employment policies proclaimed,” Hiring people based on their abilities, regardless of their sexual orientation, was a complete no-brainer. It’s just elemental fairness.”Gay and lesbian friends provided input for this article. I wanted to hear their concerns about the workplace. Would you believe that their biggest fear is safety followed by ignorance, stereotyping, and job security? Discrimination is always present: sometimes the “in-your-face” variety, other times the sneering, behind closed doors kind. There is discrimination in promotions, selections for jobs, and project assignments. Some level of harassment and ridicule pops up when GLBT issue are discussed. In the policies and procedures of many organizations there is a lack of sensitivity to gay issues like domestic partner benefits, sick and bereavement leave, and work/life balance issues.In an article posted on Gaywork.com, Josh Aterovis lists some recent examples of discrimination based on sexual orientation. “An award winning chef lost her job in Georgia when her company instituted a blanket policy of refusing to employ anyone who was gay or lesbian. A Colorado police officer’s calls for backup went unanswered after her colleagues were told she was a lesbian. A stockbroker and volunteer for charitable causes in his Maryland community was fired when his employer learned that he was gay. An employee relations director of a Maine manufacturing company was forced to quit after being told that he would be fired if rumors that he was gay proved to be true. An Oregon pest-control technician was fired for being gay, even though he had one of the company’s highest sales records.”Equality Principles on Sexual Orientation. The Equality Project (www.equalityproject.org) was formed in 1992 to monitor the policies of major corporations dealing with sexual orientation in the workplace, and to press companies to implement the progressive policies expressed in the Equality Principles on Sexual Orientation.The ten principles speak directly to the concerns of the GBLT community:

  1. The company will prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression or gender identity as part of its written employment policy statement.
  2. The company will disseminate its written employment policy statement company-wide.
  3. The company will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of any employee’s actual or perceived health condition, status or disability.
  4. The company will offer equal health insurance and other benefits to employees to cover their domestic partners regardless of the employee’s marital status, sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity.
  5. The company will include discussions of sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity as part of its official employee diversity and sensitivity training communications.
  6. The company will give employee groups equal standing, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
  7. The company advertising policy will avoid the use of negative stereotypes based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
  8. The company will not discriminate against advertising, marketing or promoting events on the basis of sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity.
  9. The company will not discriminate in the sale of its goods or services based on sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity.
  10. “The company will not bar charitable contributions to groups and organizations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity.

The Equality Principles were originally developed in 1995 by the Equality Project and are currently being updated to include transgender workplace concerns.Before talking about the laws of this country I’d like to recommend an article by Kipp Cheng on December 10, 2002 on DiversityInc.com entitled “Gay Buying Power Skyrockets, $608 Billion by 2007 Projected”. He reports, “The buying power for the GLBT market in 2002 was estimated at $451 billion and projected to reach $608 billion by 2007, a cumulative increase of more than 34 percent.” The size of the gay and lesbian market in the United States is estimated to be 13.5 million people. The January/February issue of Diversity.Inc magazine, in its Diversity Factoids section, prints that “Gay and lesbian families reside in 99.3 percent of all counties across the United States, with some counties showing increases of gay and lesbian households of more than 700 percent between 1990 and 2000. Additionally, more than 3 million children have a gay or lesbian parent, according to MarketResearch.com.” The words of Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. were never truer: “If you will respect my dollar, you must respect my person.”Most of us presume that gays, lesbians and bisexuals are covered under anti-discrimination laws. Such is not the case. Protection is offered in only a few states. Right now there is no federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. On January 15, 2003, The Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) website talked about Legislation/Legal Protections. “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provides basic legal protection against employment discrimination based on race, gender, disability, religion, and national origin. Title VII’s prohibitions against sex discrimination are based on gender only and do not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation. Sexual orientation-related suits filed under the gender provision have so far been unsuccessful.”The Employment Non-Discrimination Act seeks to provide a comprehensive federal prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation and to provide remedies for violations of the act. This bill has been introduced in Congress.Nine states protect gay and lesbian applicants and employees through comprehensive laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. These states are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. Eight states, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, have executive orders that ban discrimination in public employment based on sexual orientation. “The state civil service rules in Illinois and Michigan prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.”Many corporations have alliance groups for GLBT workers. Check out the websites of DuPont, IBM, and Ford. Let’s take a look at one: “The Employee Alliance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Empowerment at IBM (EAGLE at IBM) is committed to promoting a safe and open working environment for all employees, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”Two websites that you will find especially interesting are The Gay Financial Network (gfn.com) and Gaywork.com. Gaywork.com provides services for the gay and lesbian community searching for equal opportunity jobs in which they can feel free to be themselves. There are currently over 500 business listings and over 150 individual job listings. Gaywork.com has over 8000 active members.The Gay Financial Network was launched in April 1998 and is dedicated to delivering the complete range of financial service products to the gay and lesbian market. This market shows tremendous support for marketers who advertise specifically to this community. “In fact, recent studies show that when offered products and services of similar quality, a staggering 87.73 percent of gay and lesbian clients would purchase products and services identified and marketed directly to them.GBLT employees often feel “invisible” in the workplace because very few of their co-workers openly acknowledge their lifestyle. No one wants to be invisible! Rich Rasi, my friend, worked very hard to make people visible and respected. Rich should be smiling down on his Irish buddy and thinking: “Man, that talk that Bob Fleming and I gave at the NEHRA breakfast did some good.”

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Frank X. McCarthy is Partner in Charge of Diversity Practice with The Corporate Source Group. He was a Catholic priest from 1956-70, working in parish and school assignments, serving as a paratrooper chaplain with the 101st Airborne, and as pastor and director of an African American community project in Paterson, NJ. He founded Xavier Associates and conducted diversity searches for over 25 years. Frank is a well-known and widely respected author and speaker on workplace diversity, recruiting, and candidate research. He can be reached: frank@diverseworkplace.com

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