Here I sit – at the top of my game. Corner office in a mostly white, male-dominated industry. Consulting to companies whose brands are well known throughout the country. Yet I’m not out – on a global basis at least. For, you see, while I am lucky enough to live and work in a state with protections for workers against sexual orientation bias, many of my clients aren’t even aware that such protections are even an issue or even necessary.
To be sure, there has been a sea-change in attitudes toward the LGBT community in my lifetime. For goodness sake, we just celebrated the Supreme Court decision to make same-sex marriage a right in EVERY state. But marriage is not synonymous with acceptance. I can’t tell you how many clients of mine fought tooth and nail to keep benefits from same-sex workers, and only now, begrudgingly, are they forced to treat all spouses like any other spouse.
But in the workplace, it is still a mixed bag. Most states do not have specific protections for LGBT individuals (HRC: Equality Act). And even when there are protections, at-will employer laws can perpetuate under-the-radar discrimination. Showing your Pride at work can still be a tenuous proposition.
So I pick and choose when I think it is safe to show my Pride. I keep a small rainbow disco ball hanging in my office, but keep no pictures of my girlfriend at my desk. My theory is that as long as people think of me as being gay in theory only, they will tolerate my Pride. But I worry that anything that concretely identifies me as being in an actual relationship will be too provocative and I will be seen as the lesbian that ‘throws her sexuality in your face.’ Challenging thinking is generally a net positive activity, but I never want my ‘otherness’ to provoke some deep-seeded bias in my clients. In my role as a trusted advisor, I must carefully balance the benefits of being my true self with undermining that hard-earned trust. My girlfriend and I just bought matching rings; I wonder how a diamond band will be perceived?
Perhaps I’m a relic of old-school work paradigms, but is it worth my livelihood to prove myself wrong?
So let us revel in the remarkable Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage, and, at the same time, remember that laws don’t provide immunity from prejudice, especially at work.
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