June marks Gay Pride Month, a time when members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community and the greater community at large reflect on the gay rights movement — how far it’s come and how much further it can go.
Articles, TV shows, parades and concert celebrations across the country will mirror and reflect the lives of people who don’t often receive much recognition in the mainstream media — gay fathers, lesbian moms, same-sex marriages. The diversity of the LGBTQ community will be represented in some fashion.
Often this exposure changes how we think about those who fall into the “different” category. What once seemed foreign is actually quite similar. Who hasn’t fought with a partner over finances, kids, vacations and sex? It’s a common experience, even when it’s same-sex partners doing the fighting, loving and child rearing. Although there has been marked change around attitudes toward gay men and women, the LGBTQ community still struggles to receive equalities afforded to straight men and women.
It’s often been stated that the workplace becomes a second home and co-workers become family. Many in the gay community have experienced family discord as a result of disclosing their sexual orientation. What happens when that discord is repeated because co-workers have not checked their biases at the door? Imagine what it is like being in a work environment where others feel discomfort about your sexual orientation, such as an orchestra pit, symphony or band where working well together is of utmost importance. In what ways is this tension manifest — in work relationships, on performance night, or in other areas? Mental health issues like anxiety and depression, work tensions and other stresses could result. Maybe it’s all of the above. When the equilibrium is upset the entire system is in jeopardy. What gets done about this tension? Is it swept under the carpet to reappear later? Or is there an opportunity to look at our differences, safely and constructively, to preserve a more successful work environment?
A recent report found that 15 to 43 percent of lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals polled since the mid 1990’s claim that they have experienced employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
As a response to workplace discrimination, a growing number of states prohibit discrimination against gay and lesbian employees. While there is no federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in private employment, an executive order specifically outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal government. Gays and lesbians fare better on the state level — 17 states, including California, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York (plus the District of Columbia), have laws that currently prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in private employment. Locally, more than 180 cities and counties nationwide prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in at least some workplaces
It’s not surprising that there’s still discrimination against the LGBTQ community. We live in a culture where a quick scan of late-night talk shows use being gay as frequent punch lines. Watch a week of late-night monologues to test this theory. After the laugher dies think about the implicit and explicit meanings. In what ways do these jokes validate discrimination and permit continued intolerance? Imagine if you’re gay or lesbian or considering coming out. What might that impact be?
This is the beauty of Gay Pride Month. It reminds us we can change. It encourages us to come out of the metaphorical closet, whatever that closet holds. It’s where people can challenge their own fears or phobias about themselves or gay men and women and come out with a deeper, more emphatic sense of ourselves and the people we live and work with. Whether it’s about race, religion, ethnicity, hair color, or weight, we’ve all experienced outsider status at some point in our lives. Gay Pride Month is a reminder about how people can work together to acknowledge their differences and find commonalities, creating stronger, more meaningful relationships in and out of the work environment.
As always, the MAP office is available to help in any way we can. Call us if you have questions, need information, or want to talk about your situation.
Thomas Lorio is a clinical social worker at the Actors’ Fund. This article is based on material from www.nolo.com and www.advocate.com. Also, visit www.LamdaLegal.com for a state-by-state list of antidiscrimination laws, including city and county ordinances.