The challenges of being LGBTQ in the workplace

MHA Admin

Thu, 06/13/2024 – 10:15

by Rae Barton

[TRIGGER WARNING: This blog post contains references to sexual harassment in the workplace]

Unfortunately, employment discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community is still a widespread, prevalent issue. Nearly half (46%) of LGBTQ+ employees say they have experienced unfair treatment in the workplace, according to a 2022 joint study by the Center for American Progress and NORC, a nonpartisan research group based at the University of Chicago that compared the experiences of non-LGBTQ+ people with those who identify as LGBTQ+. Among the worrisome findings:

  • 46% of the LGBTQ+ have experienced unfair or mistreatment at work
  • 57% report the mistreatment was motivated by religious beliefs
  • 36% of BIPOC LGBTQ+ people report being verbally harassed while 26% of white LGBTQ staff report the same.
  • And 34% have reported leaving a job due to the mistreatment by their employer

My experiences of mistreatment in the workplace

As a queer, nonbinary, transmasculine person, I have experienced various forms of mistreatment in the workplace, compared to my cis-het coworkers (cisgender, or “cis,” means identifying as the gender you were assigned at birth; heterosexual, or “het,” means identifying as straight).

When working for a nonprofit organization, I was subjected to sexual harassment by my immediate supervisor. During my five years of employment at this agency, my supervisor had come into my office, locked the door, and then exposed herself in front of me, while blocking the only exit.

All I could do was avoid encouraging this behavior and wait for her to stop so that I could exit my office safely. I wish I could say that I went to Human Resources right away to report the abuse. But it took me months to report what had happened, and during that time my supervisor continued to be inappropriate. She would call me, sometimes sober and sometimes drunk, at all hours of the day or night, send inappropriate photos of herself, trauma dump on me, or ask me to drop off beer to her at her apartment so she didn’t have to drive.

How I handled being harassed in the workplace

Because I was uncomfortable speaking to the only HR employee at this agency, I chose to write a formal letter of complaint about my supervisor and the unacceptable things she did to me. I sent this letter to the HR staffer, who said she would look into things.

The abuse continued for the five years I worked there. When I felt I couldn’t take any more, I ignored the chain of command and sent a second letter, with more proof and records of the abuse I was subjected to, to the director of the agency.

I was finally taken seriously and an investigation into my supervisor started. During this investigation, my supervisor quit her job to avoid being terminated for sexual harassment, and I was told that my employer could no longer pursue my complaints because of it. I quit a few weeks later.

Takeaways

If you or someone you love is a victim of a hostile work environment or being discriminated against due to their LGBTQ+ identity, know that you are not alone. This is a widespread issue, and it affects so many of us. Make sure you prioritize your safety and, if you are able to, consider speaking up about your mistreatment.

Some things you can do to combat workplace mistreatment include:

  • Start an LGBTQ+ group/club at your workplace and build community
  • Reach out to local agencies advocating for LGBTQ+ rights for support
  • Keep track of these occurrences and report them to HR or someone in senior management
  • Help your LGBTQ+ coworkers who are at higher risk of workplace mistreatment

For more information on LGBTQ+ workplace discrimination, see this Human Rights Campaign article or this article from the United States government on moving toward equality in the workplace.

If you or someone you know is being sexually harassed at work there are resources available to help you.

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Author: MHA Admin