Can You Be Gay in the Workplace and Successful?
There is no rulebook for how to be gay in the workplace, so it can seem frightening for someone who’s still “in the closet.”
Will a gay man who comes out lose his job? Can you be fired for being gay? What if you’re feminine? Dimitrius is joined by guest Grant as they discuss what it means to be gay in the workplace and how experiences differ between individuals.
What are the Unwritten Rules?
Grant Gayle 00:59
I came out to a lot of my close friends at the age of 24. And that’s the age that I started the job that I have now. It’s my first job out of school.
When it comes to navigating any workplace. It feels like there’s so many unwritten rules. So many implied expectations you have to meet in order to succeed. In general, climbing the proverbial corporate ladder can be challenging for anybody. But it’s especially difficult for LGBTQ individuals.
There’s no guidebook for people like me, for instance. And until very recently, we weren’t even meant to inhabit these spaces in the first place. So no matter how well you performed, if you didn’t fit into the heteronormative framework you were expected to easily fit into, you weren’t going to be taken seriously. So is that still the case today? Well, yes and no. And we’re going to get into why that is on today’s episode. So let’s get started.
My first job out of college was at a gym, I was a supervisor making about 10 bucks an hour. Yeah. But it was the only job I could get when I moved out of my small town to the big city.
I remember walking into countless interviews, where people would look at me, they mentioned my hair that asked me if I could cut it off because men weren’t supposed to wear their hair past their shoulder at the time if you wanted to work in like a corporate environment. And I could just tell when I walked through the door.
And they looked at me that they weren’t gonna hire me, or move me to the next step in the interview process. And to be honest, I wouldn’t even cut my hair for nobody. We do enough for these companies already as it is. And me, cutting my hair off wasn’t even a guarantee that I was going to get hired anyway.
So why make the sacrifice, so my options were very limited, and I definitely wasn’t seen as a viable candidate. So when I finally did land my first job as a supervisor, even though I was only being paid 10 bucks an hour at the time, I was still very proud of that title. But again, I wasn’t taken seriously.
I was constantly undermined, my superiors allowed my staff to go over my head all the time, I got teased by some of my co workers. And I was even told that some customers voiced their displeasure with my presence to my bosses. I remember getting told to clean the showers and the locker rooms and the men’s locker room. And I’d get harassed and asked why I was in there.
And nobody seemed to care when I told them about this. But again, I didn’t have any other choices and almost no career prospects at the time. So I had to go to work every single day in this environment where I had a degree, but I was only worth $10 An hour and considered a joke.
Eventually I did end up leaving that job for personal reasons. actually didn’t have anything to do with what was going on there how I was treated, but I found out later that my bosses had been paper trolling me and sending all these reports and write ups that I had no knowledge about, to their HR people, some weirdo sitting in a cubicle somewhere in Tampa, Florida, and basically just lying and saying that I wasn’t doing my job or whatever.
So when I decided to go job hunting again, I found all this out. And I found out that I was ineligible for rehire because of what they did. And it was a huge smack in the face. Because essentially, I had to start all over, I could not use that year, however tumultuous it was, I couldn’t even use that year to show that I had experience as a supervisor.
So from then on, I learned that I had to be especially careful as a feminine Black LGBTQ person, and how I navigated the workplace. And that still haunts me to this day, the hyper vigilance and constantly covering your tracks. I’ve been very successful since then, no, but I never really got over just how miserable my time was at that gym. Just because I was different.
Now, not everyone’s experience is like mine. So I wanted to get a perspective, from someone who had an easier time fitting in than I did. My friend grant landed a way better job right out of college. He didn’t have to deal with the unnecessary scrutiny, politics, and underhanded practices that I did. So I wanted to pick his brain about what a typical day at work like is for him now. So without further ado, let’s bring in Grant.
Being a Gay Civil Engineer
Grant Gayle 06:45
My name is Grant. I am a 29 year old gay man, a little bit about myself. I am a civil engineer, or civil and environmental engineer. I work in the private consulting industry. So I work with a lot of City’s water districts. I work as a design engineer, project manager, I get to wear a lot of hats. So that’s a little bit about myself. And I guess the professional side of me.
Very good. Very cool. So that’s what you do now? What was your first job? And what was the first day like for you?
Grant Gayle 07:21
Ooh, the first job. That would have to be in high school, I did work at a movie theater, my senior year of high school. That was an adventure. I did a couple odd jobs at its Spanish tutoring math tutoring here and there. But that was my first experience, you know, making a paycheck. So.
But of course, when I was doing those jobs, that was long before I was even out to myself, let alone the world. So and even while I was working those jobs, you know, I had, I was navigating life and who I was, and I didn’t even know what questions to ask myself at the time. But it definitely being not out at the time includes a lot of my behaviors back then. And of course, an adult and we unpack a lot of that now. So yeah, that was my first appearance in the working world.
Can you describe like your first day? What was that? Like? What was the experience?
Grant Gayle 08:21
Okay, well, I remember my first day at let’s just say the movie theater job. I remember I was at the orientation. And they had us in our group, and they gave everyone everyone a purple lanyard. But they gave me a red lanyard. I’m like, why don’t I get a red lanyard?
And he was like, well, you’re 18 that means you get to operate the trash compactor. All you other kids, you don’t get to touch it. Like “Ooo I’m an adult!” So yeah, it wasn’t really too eventful. I do remember being thrown into a 10 hour shifts on my feet for like, yeah, 10 hours. And I did that for months and months on end.
So your first shift was 10 hours? Yes. Oh, my goodness. My first shift was six, and I thought I was gonna die. So kudos to you. So what are some day to day interactions you have that might make it awkward or uncomfortable with regards to your sexuality?
Grant Gayle 09:20
Sure. So for a little bit of background, I came out to a lot of my close friends at the age of 24. And that’s the age that I started the job that I have now. It’s my first job out of school. So working here, I love it. But as far as conversations that are awkward, you know, keep in mind that I’m not fully out at my job.
The most awkward interactions I would say not so much conversations are. Let’s just say we’re doing some kind of work related event outside of work with my co workers. You And I show up and everyone’s got their spouse or significant other kids. And I’m usually the only one who shows up by myself.
Single and and it’s not really awkward in the sense that I’ve discussed that. Sometimes I wonder if coworkers are thinking, Oh, let me grant such a well put together good looking guy. Why is he single and has been single the whole time we’ve known him. So things like that are potentially awkward, but I wouldn’t say it’s full on awkward.
So, you know, I don’t go to these functions too, too often. But when I do, it’s something that does show up in my head, it’s something I had to think about. Because when you’re in a environment where you’re talking to your co workers, you don’t just bring up your sexuality, especially if you’re, I don’t like this term, but straight passing.
People don’t really suspect it unless you tell them. But of course, how do you tell them? Well, you know, I’ve always told myself, the other day I tell my co workers is the day that I go to such and such event and I bring my partner, like, now, you know,
Well, I’m glad that the experience has mostly been, oh, how do I say nice, neutral, a little bit sounds like nothing too pushy. I’m sensing. So that’s good to know.
Grant Gayle 11:19
Right. And I will say that, you know, some co workers do know that I’m gay. And those conversations have come about. And each individual has been an interesting and different experience. In, you know, how I introduce myself, or at least that part of myself, to that person.
And I remember the first time that I came out to a co worker, we were, you know, just making friends and, you know, kind of shooting the shit. And we were just talking about birthdays. And I found out that this coworker had a birthday that was very close to mine.
And then I think it said something like, oh, well, I’m good with birthday. So I’ll remember your birthday. And I’ll give you a cake or something. When when it’s your birthday. And she was like, That’s interesting, because usually only when remember birthdays, and like, well, but I’m gay. Does that help?
That was the first time I ever said anything like that. Shout out to Aubrey, lovely to death. But yeah, that was my first interaction where I came out as a gay man, to someone in the workplace. So there have been others like that with several other people, you know, we can talk about that later, as well. But with the people that know me, it’s never awkward. In fact, I use it to my advantage.
Does Being Gay Hurt You in the Workplace?
Well, I’m glad to know that you’re still able to navigate your day to day in your job, and that you’re able to form those relationships where you can trust someone. Now, has anyone ever told you that your sexuality would prevent you from moving up the corporate ladder, or having longevity with the company,
Grant Gayle 12:57
No one has actually ever directly told me that. And honestly, if someone has told me explicitly, something like that, I’d be very concerned and I would be applying to jobs elsewhere. So thankfully, I’m not doing that. But, you know, fortunately, my company I have seen a handful of LGBT people make it up pretty high.
There’s one upper level project manager who I know is gay, and you know, I see that person being very successful a company I’ve for LGBT people, so I don’t feel inhibited at all.
And I feel like we’re at work people value for what you bring to the table, and it doesn’t really have anything to do with your gender, sexual orientation, race, at least I’d like to think nots, you know, solid, that’s never going to be written on paper.
But, you know, I personally have not been promoted to the level of someone who is more senior. So I’ve yet to experience that.
But you know, in the coming years, that may be something interesting to observe, you know, depending on whether I’m out to certain people that I work very close with.
My company, interestingly enough, has had a couple of pride events. You know, I noticed in our we have an office in Florida. And that put a little article on the company, intranet page.
They did the little party and they had like rainbow cupcakes, Rainbow decor, they invited a bunch of people to just take part in festivities, I’m like, dang, they need to bring that over here in Texas, and like, that’s really reassuring to me, and it makes me feel, you know, safe in this environment.
So I know a lot of people in their workplaces do not feel safe in their workplaces. In fact, I know a few people who in recent years have been fired for being gay.
And of course, when they get fired, they’re gonna say, it’s obvious that they got fired because of their sexuality. But then they’ll say prove it. And they’ll say it’s for something related to job performance. And you know, I’ve been very fortunate to never have been put in that kind of predicament.
But I’m glad that you were fortunate enough to not have to experience that. When they sent you the article that had the Pride event from Florida. Do you know how the people in your office?
Grant Gayle 15:18
I didn’t really know what other people’s reactions were, aside from a couple people who I am close to in the office, and I was like, Hey, did you see that? And I’m like, Yeah, that was pretty cool.
And, but of course, you know, if you mentioned that you liked this or that, and it might be, quote, unquote, politically charged, you know, that’s revealing something about yourself that, you know, maybe you’re not ready to reveal yet.
So, you know, my praise of that event has to be, at least to me, has to be more on the reserve side. And that’s just part of, you know, how I navigate in the workplace is, you know, when do I say I like this, or I don’t like that.
And you’re right about that. Because even myself, being very out there still, you still have to navigate things a certain way, you still have to play the game sometimes. So I completely understand that. Absolutely. Okay. So it seems like you kind of know what you’re doing there.
And so I guess I would just ask you, what advice would you give your younger self, who’s just entering the workforce who’s getting ready to unknowingly step into their first day where they have to work a 10 hour shift?
Advice for our Younger Gay Selves
Grant Gayle 16:31
That’s a good question. I would say, even in general, I wish that I knew about therapy, long before I even started working, because oftentimes, your performance at work is reflected by the confidence that you have in yourself, whether that’s confidence that you have, you know, on your professional work, or even just how you feel about yourself in general, because that can really leak through how you go through your day to day work life.
So I would say that when I started at the age of 24, which was around the age that I was coming, you know, in the process of coming out to friends and family, it was a bit difficult, you know, I tried to keep my personal life, my work life separate, and I try to keep those emotions very partitioned. So I think that I probably would have excelled more, had been more in tune with myself at the very beginning.
But of course, as you navigate to your early adulthood, you know, these are things that you have to navigate no matter what. So I don’t know how much it would have changed, because, you know, we can’t relive the past.
So, you know, I just try to put things in perspective and be very forward looking, and just see the positive outcomes that will happen in the future. But you know, my day to day life at work, I just never let my guard down.
And if someone were to ever say something, to me, that was homophobic or anything of that nature, I would just not let my guard down, I would stand up for myself and hold my ground.
Because, you know, one, that’s stuff like that’s not appropriate in the workplace. Number two, having the courage to report something, if it ever happens, you know, without fear of retaliation.
That’s the second step really. But I’ve been fortunate to never have to deal with something like that. But I’d say I’m pretty good at sticking my ground when, in my day to day work life.
So I guess my last question for you then is, what do you want to do next?
Grant Gayle 18:40
I do like where I’m at, I don’t really see myself leaving the job that I’m at unless I got an offer that was exorbitantly higher than what I’m being compensated for right now. I do like the area that I live in born and raised here.
You know, I’m not the most extroverted person. So taking on an upper management level role further down the line seems right now at least out of the question, but I’m just gonna take it day by day really, you know, I’ve learned to live my life in the present, and enjoy every second of it.
And, you know, spend a lot of time in the past, think about the future, the future, the future, and then the future comes and then you know, you don’t enjoy the moment. So I’m really just trying to enjoy the moment realistically, not just in my professional life, but in my personal life, too.
Another miscellaneous goal that I’ve had for myself is I wanted to get this. It’s a bucket list item. I want to live in Europe for a little bit, but gotta see how I can make that work.
Well, I will say you mentioned you’re an introvert. With regards to upper management, I will definitely say that I’m also very introverted, but I do a lot of leadership and everything like that as well.
And it’s a very interesting dynamic, because you’re, I’m very analytical, and I want to completely understand something before I speak on it. And so sometimes that comes across a certain way. So it’s something that if you ever want to step into that role, just know that it’s a lot of, you’ll look at your extroverted peers.
And you’ll notice how they do things. But not everything they do is going to work for you. But it’s still going to work, you just have to figure it out a little bit, of course, I would just, I would just say that just in case, one day you wake up and you decide, You know what, I’m going to try to a leadership role, it’s going to take a little bit of time to kind of just and massage yourself into that role. But it’s completely possible.
Grant Gayle 20:42
It really is. And, you know, I’m glad you brought that up. In fact, at my job, we have this for any kind of project manager training, one thing that we had to do is take this personality test, and it takes like an hour to complete.
And it analyzes you from top to bottom in various metrics. In fact, one of them was sociability. And it ranks you on a scale of one to 10, whether you’re completely introverted or extremely sociable, and I was ranked as a tool, if I remember correctly. And you know, some people were like a nine or a 10.
But what we learn from stuff like that is, ideally, if you want to be a, in a project management type role, ideally, you want to be somewhere in the middle, because too much of one thing in either direction, is not necessarily a good thing. And while at the core, you’re never going to change who you are. But you can mask certain personality types to fit that mold.
Exactly, exactly. Because to give an example, for me, I’m very I am the type of leader where if I don’t have to tell you anything, I believe in you. And I know you can do your job. And we’re all adults, and I shouldn’t have to, we’re not, this isn’t preschool, I shouldn’t have to come by your desk and make sure that you’re working and you’re on task or whatever.
But some people still need, they need that they need for their superior to come by and check and see how they’re doing. Because they don’t, you know, sometimes they get caught up, and they just are afraid to speak up or something.
And so that was like you mentioned with having to kind of be in the middle. And even if you’re on one end of the spectrum, you can still kind of bring yourself there, it kind of takes some adjusting.
But definitely I agree with that. But I just wanted to mention that to you. Because I know a lot of people who are LGBTQ and they wonder, you know, can I even be in a leadership role?
Is that something for our people going to take me seriously, you know, first of all, and then do I have the emotional, mental, sometimes physical capability to even lead a team.
And everything that you mentioned, and pretty much what I’ve touched on, I just want to take that away that you absolutely can doesn’t matter. As far as your identity and everything like that goes, what matters is that you want the best for your team, yourself, really, and that you are trying to be the best leader that you can, because at the end of the day, that’s all they’re gonna care about. That’s all they care about.
Now for me, you know, I come in and ideals have heels on and I have whatever Starbucks drinks in my hand. And they come to me, they go, Hey, I need help with this and whatever.
And it’s not about, you know, oh, all the other political things that you brought up, regarding LGBTQ, it’s about, I believe in you as a person, that you’re able that you’re capable, and you’re smart enough to that someone that I can come to and look up to anyone can be a role model,
Grant Gayle 24:09
Right. Totally agree. And of course, you know, depending on whether you’re out or not, are visible or not. One thing that’s unique to the average LGBT worker is breaking down those obstacles. Like if you are in a work environment where some people might be a little bit hostile towards LGBT, that is an opportunity for you to shine through the prejudice and really demonstrate your true ability to perform your role.
Do the self care that you got to do. But yes.
Grant Gayle 24:44