In a talk with Public Policy students yesterday, the leader of the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender organization in the country discussed the dilemma that faces many gay employees – deciding whether to disclose their sexual orientation to coworkers.
Joe Solmonese, the director of the LGBT advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, led a roundtable discussion in Weill Hall, saying that being labeled as the ‘gay coworker’ can have its hazards depending on where someone works. His talk focused on how to judge whether people should share their sexual identity at work.
“Look, if you’re going to go to work at the floor of the New York Stock Exchange or go to work for a progressive think tank, the degree to which your sexual orientation or your philosophy of your sexual orientation makes a difference is going to be very different,” Solmonese said.
Questions during the roundtable centered on how to test whether a workplace environment is welcoming to the LGBT community.
Solmonese said that it can be very hard to shake association with sexual identity in today’s workforce.
Solmonese said people can talk around hard issues like sexual orientation by asking what benefits a company offers. If same-sex benefits are mentioned, he said, the person has successfully avoided having to talk about their sexual orientation.
The majority of students who attended Solmonese’s roundtable said they planned to join nonprofits or progressive organizations like Google – businesses that Solmonese said were generally welcoming to the LGBT community.
At the end of Solmonese’s question and answer session with the students, one person asked how to mentally prepare for workplaces that might not be welcoming to gays.
Solmonese said one should have a group of people to lean on just in case his or her work environment is hostile.
“A support system is key,” Solmonese said. “I think that when you go into those types of jobs that swallow you up it’s really important to maintain a balance.”
A woman named Alison who attended the event, but asked that her last name not be printed because she is not openly gay, said the talk was interesting but that ultimately the decision to come out to co-workers is individual, no matter how welcoming the environment.
Naomi, another student who asked that her last name not be used, said the talk gave good information for gay students entering the workplace.
“I think we’re starting a conversation about identities in the workplace,” she said.