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Committees Are for Straight People

LGBTQ people want equality now -- here are three things you can do

The statistics should not be surprising by now. Transgender people face extreme levels of poverty and unemployment. Lesbians and bisexual women are more likely to receive public assistance, less likely to graduate from college, and twice as likely to be unemployed than straight women. African American, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander, and Native American LGBTQ people all face higher rates of unemployment than the general population.

Queer, trans, and gay people have long been refused work, denied advancement opportunities, and fired for reasons relating to their being out — and sometimes too proud. Employment nondiscrimination protections matter but they do not address subtler forms of bias in hiring and promotion, such as whether LGBTQ people who are visibly and happily “different” can ever really “fit” into a workplace culture.

We are here and we are queer and we work with you. This June we celebrate 50 years of visibility, activism, and community. We are not a fad. We are not new. You know more about us and our history than ever before. It is time to do something about it. This 50th anniversary marks a line in the sand between what was “good enough” in the early years and what we need now. We invite you to step over the line by stepping up your commitment to eradicating bias and discriminatory practices in your workplace — and the tremendous economic disparities that result.

1. Hire Transgender and Nonbinary People. How many transgender people work in your organization? In most cases, the answer is “not enough.” In 2017, 27% of California adolescents reported they are viewed as gender nonconforming. Are you ready for this? Transgender and nonbinary employees are part of the workforce, but your forms only have male or female check boxes. We can’t wait for the Chief of Human Resources to find time in her schedule to meet to hear (again) about how the forms have to change. HR is the source of many barriers for LGBTQ people in all kinds of organizations. Diversity offices have been created to address the historic deficits and ongoing bias of HR. Why don’t we just fix HR?

2. LGBTQ issues are Diversity Issues. While some companies celebrate Pride through ads and sponsorships, many are behind when it comes to the hiring, retention, and promotion of LGBTQ employees. Volunteer LGBTQ Employee Resource Groups are left to do the heavy lifting of diversity and inclusion work. This year, a leading company in the upper echelons of the Fortune 500 hosted a Pride event organized by LGBTQ employees which the Chief Diversity Officer did not even attend. This is typical across industries even though nearly 40% of LGBTQ adults are people of color. We are beyond cupcakes and rainbow flags at work. Make sure your diversity agenda includes LGBTQ issues, period.

3. Committees are for Straight People. Are you watching Chernobyl on HBO? We are. Higher Education loves committees, yet the most important institutional change efforts on behalf of LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty have come from protest, strongly worded letters, coalition-building, and late-night strategy sessions. Please stop slowing down our movement for justice with your committees. We can’t wait for the task force to write up their report. We can’t wait for you to hire a diversity officer to take care of it (they don’t). Ignorance and the slow-moving gears of bureaucracy are no longer excuses. Stop being embarrassed by gay employees, nonbinary students, and the lesbian alums. Embrace the struggles and civil rights movement of the LGBTQ community at every level of the institution, from academics and student life to public relations and formal speeches. We contribute to the culture of higher education well beyond our numbers. We deserve to be recognized.

The 50th anniversary of Stonewall marks a line in the sand. Fix the problems in your workplace, whether non-profit, higher education, or corporate America, so that Pride isn’t just a celebration of the previous actions of others, but rather a time when you commit to doing more in the coming year to eradicate bias and discrimination in hiring and employment of LGBTQ people.

Jessica Halem is the LGBTQ Outreach and Engagement Director, Harvard Medical School and serves on the Board of the Tegan and Sara Foundation. Jessica tweets @jessicahalem.

Jen Manion is Associate Professor of History, Amherst College and author of Female Husbands: A Trans History (Cambridge University Press, 2020) Jen tweets @activisthistory.

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Jessica Halem

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