Maybe you think you know the story of infamous gay politician Harvey Milk. Maybe you’ve seen the 2009 Sean Penn film and are all caught up on the subject.
I’ve been in retail for almost 10 years now and spent the majority of my time in management. I’ve worked in several different companies in at least 3 different states. And I say all that to say that I’ve had quite a bit of training in Human Resources and workplace discrimination policies. I guess I’ve always take my experience for granted and assumed that others would be as knowledgeable of their resources as I am. However, I often find that is not the case. So here’s a few basic tips on what to do if you think you’re being discriminated against in the workplace.
1. SAVE EVERYTHING
The first signs that things are going south usually start with write-ups/corrections/counseling or whatever term your company uses. Basically they’re starting to take steps towards termination. Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that every corrective counseling means you’re set for the boot. Perhaps you truly have some areas you could work on, and your employer or manager is just trying to get some better performance out of their colleagues. Don’t panic, but be aware.
And most importantly, save EVERYTHING they give you. Copies of schedules, write-ups, requests off, company guidelines and handbook. Most places are required to give their employees copies of all these items and you will need them if it goes to HR, mediation or court.
2. KEEP A JOURNAL
Factor in the tone and atmosphere of the office to see if there has been a shift in authorities attitude towards you. Write all of this down in a notebook, every little instance no matter how small it may seem. Again, this all matters and will benefit you in the end. This includes a change in your schedule (have your hours dropped? Did you switch from days to nights for no reason?). How about request’s off? (Are you suddenly finding all your requests denied even though you have the vacation or personal days to spend?). Is your boss making rude or sarcastic comments towards you? Are you suddenly being written up for issues that weren’t a problem in the past?
I have a friend who worked for a company for over 10 years. She was a good employee, but she had a bad habit of being late. And this was true in every area of her life, not just when it came to work. But because she was such a benefit to the company, they overlooked her tardiness. Now I’m not saying her lateness should have been excused, but I am saying the company and the manager had set a precedent. So when my friend came out as transgender to the company, it looked pretty suspicious that after 10+ years she was suddenly being written up for her tardiness.
But the write-ups didn’t start immediately. First she noticed a change in her supervisors attitude towards her. Then she overheard the staff making some inappropriate comments. Finally, she felt isolated and cut off from her work family. Then the write-ups began. I can’t say that a journal would have saved her as she did break company policy by continuing to be late. But I can tell you that evidence goes a long way.
3. FOLLOW THE RULES
I know. It feels like we’re forced to dot every i and cross every T just to avoid illegal termination. But the simple reality is, if your boss is looking for a reason to fire you, don’t give them one. I understand that my friend’s company set a precedence of ignoring her tardiness for over a decade. And that’s why she would have a legitimate case to bring to court, or at least to the HR department. However, at the end of the day, there’s still a handbook (which she probably signed) that boldly states tardiness is not permitted. If you have a weakness at work and you’re being targeted, focus on that weakness. In the long run it will do you a lot more good. But don’t stop there and simply tread water. Move to the next step.
4. UTILIZE YOUR HUMAN RESOURCE DEPARTMENT
I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to queer individuals who never reported their discrimination. There are federal laws in place that prohibit workplace LGBTQ discrimination. In addition, most states and most national and local companies also have these protections in place. YOU HAVE TO GO TO HR! The biggest fear people have about going to HR is retaliation from their team or supervisor. However, if you’re already being targeted then it’s too late to worry. You need to protect yourself and that means leaving a long paper trail. If you can prove you reported these issues then that’s more on your side for the future. Regardless of whether HR has your back or not, set yourself up to be legally protected.
Also, you may be very surprised to see that HR actually does care about your well-being. There is a reason companies develop and staff a human resource department. Now reporting may mean that some changes will occur. Perhaps you’ll be offered a transfer, or a position in another department. You are not required to take these offers. But maybe the change will be beneficial in the end. Or perhaps you’ll aid in the removal of an unhealthy supervisor.
If nothing comes from your report, again, request a copy. Keep it on file and continue to keep your journal. This is extra stress and worry, but in the end you are protecting yourself. Don’t let a company or a group of supervisors beat you into silence. If you are being unfairly treated, take steps to fight back. If all else fails, take this to a legal level.
5. REACH OUT FOR LEGAL AID
There are many companies out there that offer free legal aid for those who have been discriminated against at work. Utilize these resources. You are worthy of help and fair treatment. Don’t sulk away in fear and rejection. We are a resilient people! Dig deep for that strength inside of you and ask for help. Lamba Legal, GLAAD, the HRC, and more. Also, check out this link for the Huffington Post that lists a state-by-state directory of aid specifically for queer people of color.
There are so many ways we can stand up to workplace discrimination. You don’t have to take this lying down and you don’t have to face these attacks alone. If you’re still struggling or in need of advice, feel free to message us here or on social media @yourqueerstory. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always here to help.
No I’m not going to apologize for that title. I know Paul will message me and tell me that Homo So Alono isn’t going to show up well in our SEO scores. But I don’t care. I am creative goddamn it!! But what the hell does it mean? I started to title this post “So You’re Alone for the Holigays”. But then the other title just came to me. And if someone doesn’t turn that title into a song then I don’t know what I’ll do. Perhaps I’ll be forced to take matters into my own hands and create one myself. Stay tuned for more news on that.
But with Thanksgiving just a few days away and the official holiday season about to launch; I thought it my duty to publish an obligatory article. You know, one on what to do when your family doesn’t want you for Christmas. And I don’t mean to come across as flippant. I’m simply using sarcasm to cover up years of trauma and rejection, and yes, my therapist simply adores my cynicism.
In all seriousness though, the holidays are hard. This is my 7th holiday season since first coming out as a queer infidel and my first season since coming out as transgender. And I absolutely can not wait to be misgendered at every holiday party, and to fend off a series of inappropriate questions about my body. ‘Tis the season to be sure. In reality, I have to admit is has got better. Been better…? Become Better? It gets better and so it did.
I really am looking forward to a few wonderful and relaxing days with my fiance and her family. This is my third year partaking in their traditions and I am finally ready to tackle them fully. However, the first year was not so easy. It had been a while since I had really been immersed in a family setting during the holidays, and I became a little overwhelmed. In fact, at about 8 pm the night of Christmas, I had a break down in my car.
I can’t quite explain everything that went into my meltdown. Part was due to the constant movement as I tried to keep up with the many different faces. Part was due to the immense kindness shown to me. Even though Samantha and I had only been together about 8 months. And part was due to the flood of memories from my own family Christmases. A mound of emotions were triggered that I could not stop.
The first few years after leaving my church and coming out were very lonely. Though I would often still stop by my parents for an hour or two; the truth is, the experience was so uncomfortable I couldn’t wait to leave. However, being alone on the holidays is also a hard experience. I found myself with a lot of time and little idea of what to do. Coming from a very structured environment, where every moment was planned and filled, I felt suddenly lost. Throughout that first year I dreaded each holiday and breathed a sigh of relief when the calendar moved to January.
The next season I decided to take things into my own hands and began to set a series of traditions that I held until last year. Here are my super creative, totally out-side the box ideas of what I did on the Holidays.
ASK TO WORK HOLIDAYS
I know, no one’s ever thought of that ever. But seriously, I always thought only loser’s worked the holidays and somehow felt obligated to take them off. Then I realized that people who work holidays make mad money and I was totally broke at the time. Not only will most places pay time and a half or even double time (for certain holidays) but it’s the one time of years customers actually pity you. I worked as a server at a country club and a cashier at a gas station.
Not only were my tips at the club incredible, but people buying gas were ALSO trying to give me money. My bosses let me eat the extra food and take all the coffee I wanted. Plus, strangers would bring in random cookies and treats and even little nip bottles (back when I drank). On top of it all, I stayed busy and didn’t have time to focus on my loneliness. Seriously, working the holidays is the best. And even though I’m a manager now, I still usually work Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.
START A TRADITION
My family had so many traditions that I literally didn’t know how to do Christmas when I left. Once I got out at work, I found I usually had several hours to kill. My options were to go home and drink alone, or find something else to do. For me, it was movies. Now I have to point out that I love going to the movies alone. And Christmas movies are the absolute best. Especially when you love musicals and Star Wars.
I made it a whole thing. I’d get to the movies early because I’m not here to mess around. Get my ticket, then my popcorn and soda. And I’ll be honest, back then I usually smuggled in a flask. If you’re not an alcoholic like me, DO IT! I’d wear a warm, snuggly sweater and comfortable pants and curl up on my seat. Once I even brought a blanket because it’s Christmas. I’m at the movies alone on the biggest holiday of the year, no one is saying shit to me.
That’s the tradition that worked for me. Later on my thanksgiving tradition became a late dinner with my roommates and friends. It doesn’t matter what your tradition is, make one. Buy that expensive bottle of booze and save it. Go to a restaurant every year. Get a huge tub of holiday popcorn and movie marathon at home. But find some way to make this holiday yours again, even if you are alone.
DONATE YOUR TIME
I’m not kidding. Working through the holidays and having my movie tradition was great. But I still felt empty and every year I drank a little harder and a little longer. One year I actually didn’t work just so I could drink non-stop through the whole day. I know, goals. It wasn’t really that fun. When I got sober (one week before thanksgiving) I knew I needed something else. I worked the holiday, went to a movie, then volunteered fro my recovery group. And today that’s one of my new traditions. I help to run marathon meetings on holidays for recovering alcoholics/addicts.
I can’t explain what a game changer volunteering was for me. As bad as I thought I had it, I always saw someone in worse condition. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, your church, the local queer organization. Almost all of these places are doing things for the holidays and need helpers. My personal belief is the more we help others, the more we help ourselves. Even when I’ve felt my lowest, helping another person has ALWAYS lifted my spirits.
OPEN YOURSELF TO NEW TRADITIONS AND NEW LOVE
Remember that meltdown on Christmas Day? I was so broken from years of rejection that I couldn’t tear down my walls. Afraid to love these people back because I didn’t want them to hurt me. I felt like I didn’t belong. And I didn’t want to try to belong, because of fear. When my therapist brought this to my attention, I decided to change. Opening my heart to another family has not been easy. But the more I do, the more I heal. Today I don’t have to spend Christmas or Thanksgiving alone. But I do have to work to keep my heart open.
No matter how many times we’ve been rejected. And no matter how many times we’ve been hurt. There is always hope for healing. It wouldn’t be fair for me to hold my new family accountable for my old families actions. Neither of us would benefit from my closed off heart. Today as I receive love, I am able to give love. I am excited for my future and the future of my children. I know they will grow up in a loving family and never have to spend the holidays alone. And I know that I am okay. No matter what happens, I have survived and I am Alono no Amorno.
Happy Holigays Queerstians
When I set a boundary now, I wait until I am in a healthy space.
So I want to start off first by saying that I’m not a therapist. I’m not licensed as a counselor and I’ve never practiced in a professional setting. What I have to pass on comes from either my own experience, advice that I’ve passed on to others, or advice that’s been passed on to me. That being said, let’s talk about coming out to a hesitant or un-supportive family. This is a topic I’ve had plenty of personal experience with as I’ve had the opportunity to come out twice in my life. Much to my parent’s chagrin!
The first time I came out was one week before my 23rd birthday. I was had been married for 4 months and was still heavily involved with my Fundamental Baptist Cult. So I decided, what the hell! Let’s shake things up and come out as a lesbian. (Not really, but it seemed that’s how everyone viewed this sudden announcement). If you know anything about the IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptists), then you’re probably wondering if they even allow gays in their clique. And the answer is no, no not at all, not even a little. So I left and started over while trying to figure out how to have some kind of relationship with my fanatically, religious family. It took a lot of time and a lot of arguments but eventually, I learned the beauty of boundaries.
Boundaries are a wonderful thing because they allow us to keep people in our lives but with as little harm as possible. Now, this is only if you WANT to keep someone in your life and as long as that relationship won’t bring you physical or mental harm. I still have my parents in my life, but it is very limited. Our conversations aren’t always healthy for me; however, I do find some peace in staying in contact with them. And I do believe they honestly want to be a part of my life even if it’s ever so slight. So for now, I maintain some contact. I say all this to point out that it’s okay to cut people out of your life, yet it’s also okay to try to find a relationship that works if you wish. But you have to have boundaries, or at least I do. So here are some hard lines I’ve learned to draw through the years.
1. I Don’t Hide Who I Am
Boy is this easier said than done. Almost 8 years later I feel like I’ve finally worked most of this one out. About a year after I came out as gay this boundary was tested when my stepfather pulled me aside to talk to me about the Facebook. For a YEAR I had been as quiet as a mouse on social media about being a lesbian. As I was coming up on my first June as an open homo I put up a small post about my excitement. My stepdad told me flatly that I was welcome to live my life how I wanted but I shouldn’t disparage the family name by blasting my lifestyle all over the internet. I responded by going home and covering my profile wall to wall in rainbows, and Pride memes, and posts about how I proud I was to be queer. To be fair I went a little overboard, but the point was made that I was done hiding in a closet.
2. Occasionally We Have To Compromise
However, the next time my family asked me to hide who I was I had a much more difficult time. My baby sister was getting married and to this day I don’t know that I love another human more (other than my other siblings of course!! In case you’re reading this ;)). Two months before the wedding I shaved my head, which is a whole other story in itself, and my family was flipping out. I was getting calls from every member in the family tree, folks I didn’t even know were in the tree! My sister was insisting I wear a wig if I wanted to be in the wedding because guests might suspect I was gay. I had been out for nearly 2 years at this point…EVERYONE knew I was gay. My family just wanted to give the impression there might still be hope for me, and we ALLLL know that all hope is lost for the butch lesbians. I wrestled a lot with their proposition. I was finally living authentically and this seemed like a lie.
But I love my sister and this was her day so I swallowed my pride and wore a wig. I looked like Jackie freaking Kennedy. It was hot and scratchy, and the woman who prepared my wig (who wasn’t in our church/cult) seemed very perplexed as to why I would do such a hideous fur. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad once we tamed it down and bit, and I don’t think most people suspected I was nearly bald underneath, but I knew. And it ate at my core because I had betrayed myself. To this day I don’t know what the right decision was in that situation. I don’t regret being in my sister’s wedding, but I do still feel ashamed when I think about the wig. We are all going to face compromises when it comes to family and my only suggestion is to pick a line you can live with. I decided I couldn’t live with myself if I ever had to hide like that again, so when my brother got married last year I wore my normal men’s clothing and short haircut*. I was not in the wedding, but I was happy in my own skin.
3. Don’t Let Fear Make Decisions
Throughout the years my family has pushed my boundaries and I use to feel shame or even fear when trying to hold them in place. Being the over-thinker that I am, I often wondered if I was being selfish or unfair so I constantly caved under pressure. Of course, this left me frustrated and hurt time and time again. I realized that I wasn’t moving my boundaries out of compassion or love, but rather out of fear. Fear that I might fully lose my family forever. Fear that I might end up all alone in this world. In recent years I have worked to take fear out of the equation and it has not been easy. When I set a boundary now I wait until I am in a healthy space. That means I try to not set boundaries in the heat of the moment; you know, as you’re fighting with your parents and screaming “Fine! Then how about we just never talk? How about we never talk ever again!!”.
Rashly set boundaries are almost certain to be broken and this sets a precedence that our boundaries aren’t meant to be kept. When I set a boundary today I examine it carefully, I look to see how this is going to look in a few weeks, months or years. And most importantly, I look hard at WHY I’m setting a boundary. If I’m setting a boundary out of fear, then I am more likely to hurt myself and those I love with this boundary. When I set boundaries out of love, both sides benefit. If I don’t draw clear lines with my family then they will continue to cross those lines and our relationship will crumble under the bitterness and hurt. And if I set guidelines out of fear, and then I will break those guidelines when I’m feeling good, the confusion will again cause the relationship to crumble. Fear-based decisions are rarely healthy and rarely helpful.
4. Make Boundaries Clear
I realize these thoughts aren’t groundbreaking but I hope they are helpful. I would challenge any reader to think of a few lines you are not willing to compromise on and communicate those clearly to your family. Often it is easier to set clear boundaries through a letter or email. And if you’ve already set these guidelines, then examine why you set them. And above all, remember that its okay to walk away completely if the people in your life refuse to respect your boundaries. I found this out especially in my transition. In coming out as transgender I have had to make these lines sharper and more rigid, and it has caused relationships to decrease and even go away completely. What I do know from my past is just because someone isn’t in your life today doesn’t mean they’ll never come around. If I stand firm in who I am, those who respect me enough will respect my terms for being in my life. And those who have no respect for me aren’t healthy for me, no matter how much I may miss them.
Remember you are always welcome to reach out to us here on Your Queer Story. We are also on all forms of social media and you can find us using @yourqueerstory . In addition, we have an online support group on our Facebook.
And if you’re in or around Rhode Island, we have face to face support groups posted almost every week so check out our calendar page.
Stay queer my friends,