Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (Seriously): Why You Can Still Be Fired for Being Gay

United_States_Gay_Pride_flagI remember the day Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. As a proud army brat, it was really powerful for me to see the US Military, this huge establishment that’s about as open minded as your average HR generalist, recognize that gay people could talk about who their partners actually were without actually breaking the troops or jeopardizing our national defense.

The trouble with that policy, for starters, was that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell set a precedent that telling your peers you are gay is not OK – that being open about who you really are and who you really love would destroy your personal friendships and professional relationships, not to mention a hostile work environment. And they were changing, evolving. They said we were the same. Our relationships were equal.

Disclaimer: I probably took this whole idea of inequality in the ranks a little personally, because when I was a kid, the Army was our life.  My family sacrificed so much for this country – time with each other being the biggest price we paid as our debt for service.  Not to mention the fact that we were always in transit, always off to the next posting, the next deployment, the next new school and house and neighbors and friends.

But here’s the thing.  The Army always had a way of showing our family – and all military families – that they not only understood the sacrifice we were making, but they also appreciated it.  They had various ways to demonstrate this recognition, from ceremonies and picnics to discount days at theme parks.  They would even act as intermediaries to inform the family directly when service members couldn’t make it.

I think back now, and I really can’t imagine trading the experience of growing up an Army brat, the feeling that while your family might be part of the Army, the Army was also part of your larger family. But being in the military is also a job, and I also can’t imagine being told I had to leave this family, and leave home, because I could be fired for being gay.

But even after the military finally retracted this policy, and even after all the strides we’ve all made in evolving this civil rights issue move from the margins to the mainstream when it comes to accepting LGBT equality, somethings, sadly, haven’t changed.

You can still be fired for being gay.

Yeah, I know. A lot of you are probably shaking your heads in disbelief, thinking “no way,” or “that doesn’t happen.” I know you’re skeptical, because I’ve read your comments on the last two posts I wrote on this topic over at RecruitingBlogs, Coming Out at Work and How To Respond To A Coworker Coming Out. In both cases, someone has shared their disbelief in one way or another that I’d even need to come out at work, or that what I’ve had to go through would never happen at their company or in the progressive city they work in.  Sadly, they’re wrong.

I wish that sexual preference and the workplace was a passe conversation topic, but the real shocker here is that this is still a major issue that’s majorly affecting the work lives, careers and happiness of millions in the workforce.  Sure, one of the nation’s biggest (and most conservative) employers – the US Army – changed their policy, but in 29 of the states that military protects, it’s still OK to fire someone simply for being gay.

Out at Work: Fired for Being Gay

Yes, you read that right: 29 states. 58% of our country. Don’t believe me? Here’s a map from Upworthy:

fired_for_being gay

Pardon my language, but that’s a f ton of red, y’all. Head shakers – what do you think of those apples?

In all seriousness, WTF? If you don’t think there’s blatant inequality and discrimination happening, now you know. It is. It’s real. And there are 29 states where the laws support discrimination in HR departments. There are enough people being fired that publications like the Advocate can create an entire series on people who have been fired for being gay in 2013.

Stories that hit the heart like Bradley Kindrick, who was working the overnight shift at 7-Eleven in Virginia Beach, Va., until March when he was attacked. His employers told him he was attacked because he was gay. Clearly, he deserved it. Or Ken Bencomo. He was an English teacher at St. Lucy’s Priory School in Glendora, Calif., until July when he and his partner were featured on the front page of the newspaper when Propisition 8 was dismissed because no one knew he was gay until then. Can you imagine? Being outed by a newspaper then losing your job in a matter of weeks? Talk about a bad day at work.

Now, there has been some progress thanks to organizations like the Human Rights Campaign. There’s a ton to talk about in this space but the big focus is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Here’s a brief synopsis of what it would create:

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  ENDA simply affords to all Americans basic employment protection from discrimination based on irrational prejudice.  The bill is closely modeled on existing civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The bill explicitly prohibits preferential treatment and quotas and does not permit disparate impact suits.  In addition, it exempts small businesses, religious organizations and the military.

I don’t think this legislation can change fast enough and until it does, the biggest thing HR professionals can do is educate their employees about the LGBT community. They need to let their organization and co-workers know that even if the state laws are discriminatory, their department won’t be. it’s important to communicate that message clearly and not just assume your employees know. And the organizations we belong to need to support this Act when they can (cough cough SHRM cough).

We need to keep talking about this. Honestly, I feel like a lot of these laws can only still exist because people don’t know. They know gay people but they don’t know a lot about the laws that don’t protect them. The news doesn’t talk about people getting fired for being gay because the news talks about marriage equality. Marriage is great but that’s another post for another day. For now, if you live in one of the 29 states, go talk to your team. Tell them it’s against your policy. Make sure they feel it’s ok to talk about, address and stand up against.

Until next time, thought I’d add a little bit of humor with this kick ass photo I found, because I know I just dropped a ton of serious stuff on you. Seriously.caption

About the Author: Katrina Kibben is the Director of Marketing for Recruiting Daily, and has served in marketing leadership roles at companies such as Monster Worldwide and Care.com, where she has helped both established and emerging brands develop and deliver world-class content and social media marketing, lead generation and development, marketing automation and online advertising.

An expert in marketing analytics and automation, Kibben is an accomplished writer and speaker whose work has been featured on sites like Monster.com, Brazen Careerist and About.com.  A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, Kibben is actively involved in many community and social causes – including rooting for her hometown Pittsburgh Steelers.

You can follow Katrina on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

 



  • joe gerstandt

    Great post Katrina, thanks.

  • Tammy Colson Zupan

    Excellent post and call to action. I can tell you that way back in 1989, enlisted Marines had their own policy. “Who you sleep with is your business, just don’t put me in a position to have to lie for you”…. it wasn’t the optimal solution, but really, the only people who cared were the officers in charge. My roommates and I (I was the only straight girl) co-habitated well. As a recruiter and HR pro for 20 years, I’ve adored telling hiring managers “really, that candidate/employee is gay? That matters how?….now, whats the problem again?”
    Oh ….. Go Browns! ;)

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