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iSPARC LGBTQ+ Blog On Mental Health And Employment

Posted on: 6/2/22
Posted by: Emma L. Narkewicz, MPA, and other iSPARC staff contributors

sunsetting over a group of undefined people holding pride flagsThis blog was written in honor of LBGTQ+ Pride Month, which occurs in June of every year. During Pride Month we honor the Black, Latino, transgender, and queer activists who fought for LGBTQ+ liberation at Stonewall, remember those who died due to HIV & AIDs and anti-LGBTQ+ violence and celebrate the contributions LGBTQ+ folks have made globally. You can learn more about the history of Pride Month at the Library of Congress’s website.

5 LGBTQ+ staff members at iSPARC volunteered to answer a set of questions about their experiences with mental health and employment as LGBTQ+ individuals. These folks represent different ages, genders, sexual identities, races, and lived experiences.  The complete responses were used to create a word cloud, and the blog is composed of key quotes pulled from staff responses. Common themes were fear, stigma, hope, authenticity, community, acceptance, progress, and a recognition of the work that still needs to be done in our workplaces and world. You can access LGBTQ+ resources at GLAAD’s website.

  1. Growing up, did you think that LGBTQ+ individuals could be open about their sexual orientation and gender identities in the workplace?

“When I was growing up, people weren’t as open about their sexuality: it was a hush-hush situation, where talking about it wasn’t done, and shame surrounded being out (or being outed).”

“Oh, gosh, no. I never imagined that this would become a reality for those of us in our community. I didn’t realize how much progress would be made in public acceptance of gay men like myself, as well as other community members”

“Growing up I didn’t think that individuals could be open in the workplace because it was still a time when it was taboo.”

  1. How did your perception of LGBTQ+ acceptance or rejection in the workplace impact your mental health and self-esteem?

“To know that I am coming to work at a place which not only supports my humanity but where my colleagues are open and accepting and embrace who I am, and that I do not have to hide myself to appease them, greatly enhances my positive experiences at work and greatly decreases my stress.”

“I was pretty worried when I came out to my workplace years ago. I wasn’t sure how I’d be received, although I didn’t need to worry as much as I did. I was welcomed”

“I used to be hyper-aware of how I presented myself in academic andcollage of words that describe LGBTQIA people professional settings, which can take a lot of energy. This meant not mentioning my girlfriend and removing items that signified my LGBTQ+ identity before entering certain. This led to a lot of self-doubt and anxiety because I felt like I was not being true to myself but also that there was a real risk that being out in the workplace could hurt my professional chances and relationships.”

“I have often felt like I couldn’t be myself at work because there is still a fear of acceptance. It does cause some anxiety—especially when people are unaware of my orientation.”

“I have thankfully never had the experience of being asked about my romantic preferences by an employer. However, as a Pansexual in a heteronormative relationship, most people make assumptions about my romantic preferences. It is highly encouraging to see how inclusive we are in our gender/ pronoun options among our center-wide surveys as well as our young adult research.”

  1. What has your experience been as an LBGTQ+ individual in the workforce?

“It’s cool that there are not only people in their 20s who are out [as LGBTQ+] but also older individuals who seem to have personal and professional success. As someone who grew up unsure if I could have a happy, successful future as my authentic self, this is super inspiring.”

“As a lesbian, I almost always have to ‘out’ myself at work as soon as someone mentions or asks about a husband or marriage. It can be difficult because I am in the face of the person I am telling and sometimes their ‘surprised’ reaction can be overwhelming. It is always an experience I don’t look forward to. I’d prefer to use generic terms such as partner instead of girlfriend—just to prevent questions.”

“I have been lucky, mostly.  I have worked in environments where being out was tricky – religious-oriented environments, for example, in which there were varying opinions about gay people, made being LGBTQ+ a harrowing work experience.  In others, I have been welcomed with open arms, and being LGBTQ+ has been a non-issue, and that has made working and being open a joy.”

“I have been delighted to see the amount of LGBTQ+ community members are employed at iSPARC. It makes me feel that we are inclusive and accepting. However, I do think there needs to be more social activism focus on LGBTQ+ Youth Research at the center, and more inclusive programming in workplace culture”

  1. In your opinion, what progress has been made in the past decade towards achieving acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace?

3 people sitting in cafe having coffee and working on laptops“I think the more people who have come out, the more their loved ones have been forced to confront their inner biases and educate themselves.”

“The one change I have really noticed is the inclusion of pronouns in daily life. Many companies have their employees’ pronouns on their name tags, or at the end of their signatures.”

“I mean…. It’s amazing.  We have privileges now that were fought for, so hard by so many, and that are carried forward by youth and older folk alike.” 

“I think having more out LGBTQ+ individuals with diverse identities and professions has helped normalize LGBTQ+ folks in the workplace. Having openly out friends, family members, co-workers, professional athletes, politicians, doctors, musicians, teachers, etc. has showcased that the LGBTQ+ community are people that we know, respect, and love.”

  1. If you think progress has been made, how do you think that has helped with the mental health of LGBTQ+ individuals.

“It would be terrifying for me to be the only out person in my school or community or workplace but being part of a community makes it me feel a lot less isolated, overwhelmed, and afraid.”

“I would be remiss if I didn’t also say I think the biggest factor in reducing this is the people and, therefore, my new friends and their ability to help me feel welcome.”

“I think a lot of this comes down to reducing stress and hypervigilance. Having experienced overt and covert homophobia for a large portion of my life, I think it arms you with a sense of needing to be vigilant and on guard. So, I think the big benefit is an enormous reduction in perceived stress and acute stress and psychological trauma.”

“The fear of hiding who you are or the fear of succumbing to imposter syndrome, I would say, is significantly less. The comfort and safety of being yourself is—at the core—the need for most individuals in the workplace. Being accepted is monumental.”

  1. In your opinion, what progress is still needed toward achieving acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace?

“I believe that all workplaces should be required to go through cultural competency training, diversity, and inclusion workshops, and should be structured to continue practices inclusion measures throughout daily/weekly activities. Everyone should have access to a mental health counselor at work as well.”

“There is so much more work to be done. Suicide is still the 2nd leading cause of death amongst LGBTQ+ youth.”

“I think there is still a lot of work that needs to be done towards affirming non-binary and transgender individuals in the workplace. The use of they/them pronouns is not wildly discussed or implemented in many workplaces and transgender folks face especially high rates of discrimination and violence, including in the workplace.”

“I think education is the number one way to achieve progress in this area. Sexual orientation is by far one of the most underdiscussed, discussed topics—if that makes sense. Allyships and committees are great and have really led critical movements toward valuing all employees. Asking the opinions of LGBTQ+ persons is also a good strategy when it comes to business operations”

  1. Lastly, is there any advice or words of encouragement you would give to young LGBTQ+ individuals who are not sure if they can be their authentic selves in the workplace?

“There are so many people who see you, who want to welcome you, and who have a need for all that you bring. Find the places that have room for you and bring it. The world needs you.”black hand and white hand holding hands in front of pride flag

“For any young adults just beginning their journey in full-time employment, any employer that would encourage you to hide who you are… isn’t worth working for, no matter the job or money. Be who you are, do what you love, and do it honestly.”

“It is your personal choice whether to be out in your workplace and how people react reflects on their character, not your worth and validity. Figuring out your career, adulthood, and your sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and who you want to share this with can be incredibly intimidating but also exciting and liberating. Find friends, co-workers, a workplace, and a community of people that love and support you, because you deserve nothing less. I promise you that while things might not always be easy, and despite recognizing it is a huge cliché, it really does get better.”

“Coming out and therefore coming to terms with your ‘authenticity’ (which is a good term for this I think), can only happen when you personally feel prepared to tackle these sorts of conversations – the stress of doing this must be done by approaching it voluntarily. No one should make you feel compelled to come out before you are ready. Ever. But… if and when you do, just know you’ll be loved and respected and honored. And life is better on the other side for almost all of us”

“Acceptance. There will be times when people in the workplace are not ok or agree with your living but be true to yourself. Not being yourself is a disservice to yourself and others because they don’t get to see the true, remarkable you that you are.”