Report: It’s Still Risky to Come Out At Work


The Williams Institute has released a report summarizing data from academic studies and other sources so as to get a picture of anti-LGBT workplace discrimination and the negative effects such discrimination has on LGBTs.

Unsurprisingly, the report finds four decades worth of evidence of discrimination against LGBTs in both the public and private sectors. The report, however, particularly focuses on studies that have been conducted since 2005. The report also presents new data on sexual orientation and gender identity-related workplace discrimination from the national 2008 General Social Survey (GSS).

The 2008 GSS provides a rare snapshot of discrimination as it is one of only a handful of national probability surveys that currently collects data on sexual orientation and discrimination in the workplace.

Among the data collected, 42% of LGB survey respondents said they had experienced employment discrimination at some point in their lives. A further 27% said they had experienced employment discrimination related to LGB identity in just the five years prior to the survey.

Further to this, GSS data demonstrates that levels of employment discrimination go up when LGB employees are open about their sexual orientation at work, with 38% of out-employees having faced discrimination as opposed to the 10% of those discriminated against who reported not being out.

“This new data shows that it’s still risky to come out about being LGBT in the workplace,” says study co-author Christy Mallory, Legal Fellow. “Therefore, it’s not surprising that the GSS data also show that one-third of LGB employees are not open about their sexual orientation to anyone at work.”

What about trans employees? The report highlights that several studies from 2010 and 2011 report rates of discrimination against transgender people are even higher. “Recent studies show … pervasiveness of discrimination against transgender people in the hiring process,”says Williams Institute Executive Director Brad Sears. “The devastating results of this discrimination are confirmed by the high rates of poverty and unemployment documented in the transgender community.”

The effects of such discrimination can be wide-reaching. The report highlights that LGBTs are less likely to be out at work which will obviously have an impact on interpersonal relationships. Many LGBTs, especially if open about their identity at work, also find themselves being paid less than their heterosexual identifying peers. They also have less employment opportunities than non-LGBTs.

“Research shows that LGBT employees who have experienced employment discrimination, or fear discrimination, have higher levels of psychological distress and health-related problems, less job satisfaction and higher rates of absenteeism, and are more likely to contemplate quitting than LGBT employees who have not experienced or do not fear discrimination,” says Ilan Meyer, Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy. “In contrast, supervisor, coworker, and organizational support for LGB employees was found to have a positive impact on employees in terms of job satisfaction, life satisfaction, and outness at work.”

It is easy to try to dismiss claims like these and say: well, if you don’t bring your sexuality or gender identity up in the work place, how would other people know? The notion, then, that it is LGBTs that are creating a problem for themselves by being open or, as the phrase goes, “shoving their personal lives in peoples’ faces.”

This, however, misses the point. Heterosexuality is everywhere. It is demonstrated by the ring upon your finger that indicates you are married, by the picture of your children or significant other that sits upon your desk, and even in the little things like mentioning your plans for the weekend. LGBTs wanting to be open about their home life and not be discriminated for it, then, is not something that should be seen as an extraordinary ask.

Things have got better. The data shows it. Yet change is slow, and LGBTs are still vulnerable. That is why Congress must pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity can’t legally be used as a reason to make employment related decisions such as hiring, firing or advancement.

You can read the full Williams Institute report here.

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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to brainchildvn.


Holly Lawrence
Holly Lawrence5 years ago

It's still very difficult and so much has to do with which part of the country you are in. The West Coast is more accepting than the Bible Belt and although it's such a tough hard road to travel sexual discrimination can not take place in the workplace - of course that does not mean that it does not happen but use your voice - stand for your rights - let the bastards know you won't be pushed into a corner any longer!

pam w.
pam w6 years ago

Some years ago, I filled in for a manager who was on vacation. Among her subordinates was a poor transgender person who was in transition toward becoming anatomically female.

I'll never forget the nasty attitudes of the women in that office....they REFUSED to allow this person to use the women's room!

Now...anyone who's seen one knows that women's bathrooms have stalls. Nobody would see this person and this person wouldn't have seen anyone else.

But these nasty women refused her the right to use their bathroom!

As a manager, I had to solve the problem....and the only possible solution was to give her the key to the management bathroom. So, that's what I did.

I'll never forget the humiliation and pain those BITCHES caused that poor person! And yet...with courage and steadfast determination, she went quietly ahead toward the life she sought!

She was my hero and I told her so!

Does evil prejudice exist in the workplace? betcha!

Zoe B.
Zoe B6 years ago

Jack, yes people will judge, but that's a bigger reflection on THEM than it is on the person being judged. As long as a person does their job, and is sociable, there should be no reason for "outcasts".

This friend you have with the problem of people thinking he is gay... I would think there's more to it than his voice alone. I know people who do go from job to job, but, not because "they're mistaken for gays", more because they're drama queens, they gossip, bitch, go behind peoples' backs, get people into trouble, flap about, and some even make up the most drastic of lies.
I'm not calling your mate a liar, I'm just saying, if he can't get on in a job.. in any job.. the pattern seems to be more in HIM than in a workplace. i bet, on closer inspection, some of the places he didn't fit in, there are some genuine homosexuals that get on, and mix in just fine.

kenny s.
Kenny Stidham6 years ago

Never piss off someone on the job who you might suspect of being gay. Especially in any food service industries. You never know what you might be putting in your mouth.

Jack Heltzel
Jack Heltzel6 years ago

A lot of time people can just guess, or suspect a person is LGBT. By the a gay man, for example, speaks. People can often (not always) guess a guy is, by a "feminie" tone in his voice. Other times, dress, can also lead people to think it. My point is, I guess, society will have their own thoughts, whether private or public, and both can be damaging to a person's career, when prejedice is applied. I know someone who used to go from job to job, because people "thought" he was gay, and it led to an unfavorable working enviroment. Just because he had an 'effeminate' tone to his voice.
Maybe, someday all haters will be bred from existance in the workplace.

Gloria H.
Gloria H6 years ago

If you sign an at- will paper in order to work, you can get let go for hic-cuping, or because the boss had a bad cup of coffee or any or no reason.

vicki fellner
Victoria Fellner6 years ago

I just heard from my son in NY. He and his partner of 15 years are getting married next Wednesday Aug 3rd. I 'm so happy I just had to post it here.

Dan(iel) M.
Dan(iel) M6 years ago

I have to agree with several of the postings here. First off it is no one else's business about your orientiation.
In the work place it should be about your capacity to perform the tasks of your assigned job, and that's it.
If you choice to tell that should be up to you and you alone.

Have to agree also that EDNA must be passed.

Zoe B.
Zoe B6 years ago

Wayne, I don't know what area you work in, but, very often my colleagues will ask me "how is Steph, tell her I said Hi", my wife is ALWAYS invited to social events, and she has become friends of the group of people I work with;
In hotel/catering, ok, I might not tell the guests who get chatty, when they ask if I'm married, but, a newcomer to the workplace, or anyone else, i am open, and honest, and nobody discriminates because of it, because they see me as a PERSON first and foremost.

Wayne M.
Wayne M6 years ago

When a Gay man or Lesbian places pictures of the person s/he loves and other family members at her/his work station or mentions s/he is going on a special date with his/her same sex partner, s/he is accused of "flaunting it" and told to "keep it to yourself".

Yet, heterosexuals not only do these things, but frequently hint at their sexual adventures or talk about plans to go to the closest "singles bar" after work or on the weekend.

It is a double standard and the double standard is wrong.