Out on a Job Interview?

By John J. Kinyon, April 28, 1994

When looking for a job, more and more people are asking: "Will the new work environment be supportive to me as a member of a sexual minority?" Most universities have non-discrimination policies, and many have domestic partnership benefits. Today, more graduating students than ever are out, and the prospect of going back into the closet, and living a double-life again, can make a big difference in their choice of employers. Some workers want to change jobs just to get a fresh start -- out of the closet. Employees want more tolerance of their orientation than they currently have. But, how can one tell if an employer is lesbigay-friendly? Here are some tips.

Start before the job interview. Does the job ad include sexual orientation in the non-discrimination statement? Check gay publications to see if the company advertises to gay people, and to see if there is a lesbigay employee support group. Contact the NGLTF Workplace Project to see if they have any information about the company. Ask your friends what they've heard. If you have access to the Internet, look in the Queer Resources Directory for the list of supportive employers.

If you are using a recruiter or student placement office, ask them about the company's non-discrimination policy and how well they support their lesbigay employees. A good recruiter is aware of the attitudes of each company and will help place you in a situation that is good match. If you are a member of a union, find out what their policy is and how proactive the union is in working with employers on gay issues. Some unions are very supportive.

Even if you can't find out much about the company directly, you may be able to infer their attitudes. Are they located in a gay-friendly area such as San Francisco? The west coast is generally more respectful of individuals than other parts of the US. Is the future work site or company headquarters in a state, county, city or community that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation? Is the industry well known for support of gay people?

With this information you have one more choice to make -- will you be closeted or out during the interview process? This personal decision is yours to make.

At the interview, you may choose to "test the waters" by broaching the subject with the Human Resources representative. If you do choose to bring up the topic, inquire whether the company has a policy covering sexual orientation, what it covers and how it will be enforced. Find out if sexual orientation is discussed during employee diversity training, and if this training is mandatory. Determine whether management and Human Resources have had training on lesbigay issues. Ask if there is a lesbigay employee support group, and what its goals, funding, and status are when compared with other employee organizations.

Question the number and grade level of employees who are out, and perhaps ask to speak privately with one of them to get a feel for the office culture. Query whether your partner will have access to company events such as award banquets, the company picnic and holiday parties. Ask if there may be a conflict between you and your potential coworkers and supervisor. Find out if the company contributes to appropriate civic and social groups.

Next, learn about the company benefits. According to the March 18, 1994, Wall Street Journal, over 70 companies offer domestic partnership programs -- is your prospective employer one of them? Inquire about their AIDS training program and whether participation is mandatory. Find out about their medical benefits plan. Learn whether your partner will receive tuition discounts and have access to company facilities.

The most important aspect of the interview is when you meet your potential supervisor and coworkers. Again, the choice to be out or closeted during this portion of the interview is yours. If you choose not to be out, be alert for clues on the office culture. A picture of a same-gender person on a desk, or gay sub-culture items on display will probably make you feel more comfortable than a Biblical quote on the bulletin board. Listen for clues in conversation, and perhaps drop a hint or two to see if anyone picks up on it. If they do, you may want to be more direct in your questions.

If you still have concerns after the interview, you can follow up with a phone call to the supervisor, to find out, in a less threatening situation, if there will be any problems because you are a gay person. Be prepared to answer questions about why your "sex life" is relevant to the job. More in-depth information on this topic, for both employers and employees, can be found in Gay Issues in the Workplace by Brian McNaught and The Corporate Closet by James Woods and Jay Lucas, and The 100 Best Companies for Gay Men and Lesbians by Ed Mickens.

With luck, you will be given the opportunity take the next step in your professional career. You will be able to take pride in your successful job hunt as a lesbian, bisexual person, or gay man. Perhaps you have also taken another step out of the closet and will feel free to be who you are -- a gay person ready to take on job challenges without worrying or hiding who you are.

"Out on a Job Interview" was originally published in Gay Chicago Magazine May 12, 1994. Copyright 1994 by John J. Kinyon. May be reprinted with attribution.

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