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LGBT Discrimination in the Workplace: Alone in the Boys Club Part 2

This piece is a part of a three-part series (part one here) to promote inclusion in the workplace. I cover some of the different “onlys” (i.e. The different identities that I, and others, wear which set us apart and prevent us from getting into the “boys’ club”) I’ve experienced. This piece will cover LGBT discrimination in the workplace.

As Pride month comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about how LGBT discrimination in the workplace is still a pervasive issue and my own experiences as, generally, the only queer woman in the boys club of sales.

Sometimes when I talk about my partner, I pause after referring to her and sneak a glance at the person who I’m talking to’s face. Does their left eyebrow twitch? Raise up at the end? What about their lips? Do they curve up in the corner? Or do their eyes widen just a smidge?

Living in San Francisco doesn’t make me any less afraid to talk about who I am, especially at work. And especially when I’m the only one on the team who openly identifies as queer.


Living in Two Worlds

Being a femme queer woman allows me a certain amount of privileges I recognize a lot of my LGBTQ+ sisters aren’t afforded. I can pass as straight and while that can be a whole different problem in and of itself, it does give me the choice to hide if I don’t feel safe.

Being a Queer Woman in the Boys’ Club

Presenting as straight but being queer on a team of mostly straight men is also something that has opened up interesting conversations for me. I was so proud I was of my new life when I first moved to San Francisco, three years ago. How excited I was to share the story of how I got here, how my girlfriend and I found each other, how in love I was with her. I was moving to a city filled with progressives, in a town heralded for its gay culture.

But the first time I ever mentioned her to a co-worker, it opened up a discussion on my sexuality I wasn’t entirely ready to begin, especially not in front of co-workers I didn’t know on a personal level. When did I first know I was attracted to girls? Were my relationships with men in the past fake? How do I know I’ll never like a man again? Can I still find men attractive?

And then the questions got worse. What is it like to kiss a girl? How do you like kissing girls? How do you like your girlfriend’s boobs? What part of a girl’s body do you find the sexiest?

Consequences

I felt my face get hot and I played with the ends of my hair or picked at my cuticles as I tried to find a way to talk around the questions that kept coming. Deflecting only did so much and after minutes of awkward laughter and silence, the guys changed the subject, laughing to themselves as they turned their chairs away from me.

After that, the “boys club” I wanted to be a part of so badly, opened its doors to me. What I didn’t find out until later, though, was that it wasn’t even to the room they were seated in. It was to a confined box on the outside looking in.

I wasn’t a part of any club, I learned. I was the entertainment.

One of the Many Conversations

One day, this guy tapped me on the shoulder and asked if he could talk to me in private. He was technically my senior and my onboarding buddy, so I figured I should say yes. We walked into a phone booth and he pulled up his phone to show me a girl he matched with on Tinder.

“So she’s trans…”

And immediately I reminded him that I wasn’t. That just because I currently identified as the “L” in the LGBTQ+ acronym, didn’t mean I could speak for an entirely different community whose experiences I didn’t know about.

He laughed and continued to tell me about their explicit text messages, before asking, “So how do I find out if she has, you know, still has a, like has — cause I don’t want that. I don’t think I’d be okay with that, but if she doesn’t still have one, I’d be fine with it.”

It might seem innocent, or at least well-intentioned, him asking me that. It might even seem like a good thing, that he’s checking with me first.

The Issue

But this is a pretty clear example of LGBT discrimination in the workplace. He singled out the only person who was queer on the team and asked me to speak on behalf of someone I didn’t know because I wasn’t like him. He also used our conversation as an opportunity to talk to me, his co-worker, about his sexual preferences in the office.

I didn’t want to be anywhere near their “boys club” if it meant being used like this to make them feel less guilty about the bullshit they said and thought. Their filters dissipated once they knew I liked girls.

But that’s just a singular experience in this box that I’ve found myself in time and again. Whether it’s these boys objectifying women in front of me, telling me details of their sex life, or inviting me to strip clubs at lunch, I felt for a moment like I’d rather be straight than have to deal with this.

Staying Strong

After breaking free from their constraints, I’ve found myself able to combat their bullshit with a simple, “What do you mean by that?” and a faux-puzzled look.

Most people squirm as they try and explain their sexist, homophobic jokes. They get so uncomfortable, they will almost immediately start to apologize.

But no matter what, because I have certain privileges, I’m going to continue speaking openly about who I am. I am trying to combat LGBT discrimination in the workplace by sharing my experiences with the world, in the hopes that the next queer person will know that they will always have a friend in me if they need one.


Moving Forward Despite LGBT Discrimination in the Workplace

LGBT Discrimination in the Workplace: LGBT Employment Non=Discrimination Laws

Credit: Fast Company.

Still, I haven’t let myself get pushed back into the closet. People can quote the bible, tell me I can go to hell. They can yell at me on the street, threaten me, and make me feel even more different and alone at work. But I’m not going back to hating who I was. Or hiding it because I’m afraid someone is going to get uncomfortable, even if that means getting fired.

I know that if I can continue to use the privilege I have and be open and speak about my experiences as a queer woman of color, then hopefully other queer people can feel comfortable opening up as well.

While being included is a universal feeling we all crave, we also need to feel safe in the spaces we spend a majority of our weeks at. LGBT discrimination in the workplace is all too common, especially in the workplace. We shouldn’t feel threatened for just being ourselves.

I’m determined to make these spaces I occupy safe for people like me. We need to feel and build a sense of community so we know we’re never truly alone. 


This piece is unrelated to my time at Crunchbase. These are scenarios and situations I’ve encountered at other places I’ve worked. And going along that point, this isn’t about the companies themselves. A company can come from the best place, do everything right, and still have stuff like this happen. We are dealing with a systemic cultural problem that pervades teams across almost all industries.