Working Smarter for release Jan. 19, 1996. by Paula Ancona distributed by Scripps Howard News Service Imagine having to hide who you really are at work. You couldn`t truthfully talk about your weekend plans or the most important person in your life for fear of rejection, harassment and discrimination from coworkers or supervisors. That`s what many gay people face in the workplace. While others can talk about their spouses, religion or minority communities many gays feel they must hide. `If you`re afraid to tell people who you are at work it takes a toll on your ability to focus on your job,` says Brian McNaught, author of two books on gay issues and a corporate diversity consultant based in New York. `You spend a lot of your energy hiding.` A 1992 survey from OutLook magazine bears this out. Sixty-two percent of gay women and men said their sexual orientation was always or often a source of stress on the job, and 27 percent said it influenced their choice of organizations to work for, write Liz Winfeld and Susan Spielman in `Straight Talk About Gays in the Workplace` (Amacom, 1995). In a 1992 Philadelphia study nearly 30 percent of all gay men and 25 percent of gay women said they have experienced employment discrimination, write Winfeld and Spielman, principals of the Common Ground consulting firm, Natick, Mass. Gay advocates believe that gay people, like others, have the right to work in a safe place, be treated professionally and be compensated fairly. Here`s how any working person can improve the workplace for gay employees -- and their relatives and friends. Next week`s column will give tips for managers. _ Remember that gay issues in the workplace are about professional conduct and mutual respect, not about endorsing a moral or religious view, notes McNaught, who wrote `Gay Issues in the Workplace` (St. Martin`s, 1993) and is featured on the video `Homophobia in the Workplace` (Excellence in Training Corp.). _ When in doubt about whether a comment or action about sexual orientation would be appropriate substitute the issue of race. Ask yourself: Would a racial comment here be appropriate? McNaught suggests. _ Use inclusive language like `partner` instead of `spouse,` `husband` or `wife` in conversations and correspondence. This shows that you don`t assume everyone is heterosexual. _ Don`t laugh at or repeat anti-gay jokes, Winfeld says. Say something like `I know gay people, I am insulted by what you said and I wish you would stop.` Or say `I don`t get it,` McNaught suggests. Comment only on your feelings; don`t hurl more insults. If you don`t know what to say walk away. _ Demonstrate that it`s safe for gay people to be honest with you. Mention a gay issue at lunch and discuss it in a positive way, or display a button, poster or book in your work area about sexual orientation issues, McNaught suggests. _ Don`t assume that gays are making a sexual statement when they mention their partners, Winfeld says. They`re referring to an important part of their lives just as heterosexuals do when they display photos of spouses, girlfriends or boyfriends. _ If your company has a gay/straight alliance, join it or attend a few meetings. Paula Ancona is the author of `SuccessAbilities! 1003 Practical Ways to Keep Up, Stand Out and Move Ahead at Work` (Chamisa Press, 1995, 800-WORKTIP). She has been writing about workplace and career issues since 1988. Write her c/o this newspaper or send e-mail via to email@example.com. Paula Ancona Working Smarter Columnist PO Box 753 Excelsior, MN 55331 Reprinted with permission. Article may be reprinted provided Paula Anacona and Scripps Howard News Service are credited.
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