Workplace Discrimination And The Queer Black Woman

February 24, 2016  |  


According to a recent study from New York University, certain “LGBT indicators,” such as previous work experience with an LGBT advocacy organization or a past leadership position at an LGBT student organization, may make it more difficult for queer women to get a callback for job interviews.

Published in the sociological journal Socius, “Discrimination Against Queer Women in the U.S. Workforce: A Resume Audit Study” found that women who listed previous work experience at an LGBT organizations were 30 percent less likely to be called in for an interview. Researcher and study author Emma Mishel personally understands the plight.

“When you look at my work history, it’s a lot of LGBT organizations, so it’s pretty obvious that I’m queer,” she told Fusion in a recent interview.

But what happens when it’s pretty obvious you’re Black and queer? As the study’s introduction states,“limited research has examined hiring discriminations in the United States, and little to no research has examined hiring discrimination against LGBT (or queer) women specifically,” pointing out that the only two sizable resume audits done regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation either focused on gay men or “restricted their experiment to gay-friendly and/or left-leaning metropolitan areas, thus providing limited insight into broader patterns of discrimination.”

The need for more research into discrimination against queer women in the workplace is further demonstrated by past wage discrimination research which Mishel noted has shown that LGBT women “may in fact be favored over straight women in the workforce,” sometimes getting paid more than straight women or having more success in male-dominated fields. When it comes to Black LGBT women the data is even more limited.

“Right now, most diversity and inclusion efforts are about discrete identities—women, gay employees, employees of color, et cetera—but in reality, most of us have a bit of this and a bit of that,” said an anonymous financial services executive in the Center for Talent Innovation’s January study, “Out in the World: Securing LGBT Rights in the Global Marketplace.”

“I’m black, I’m a woman, and I’m queer. My issues are not going to be identical to a white woman’s issues, or a gay man’s issues.”

So far, a white woman’s issues are the most researchers have to go on. In her study, Mishel drew up two very similar resumes for two fictional women and applied for more than 800 administrative positions in Virginia, New York, Washington, D.C. and Tennessee. On one resume, she included a leadership role at an LGBT student organization (she explicitly spelled out the phrase “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender” to be sure the hiring manager knew what the acronym meant), indicating that the candidate might be queer. The other resume, which acted as the experiment’s control, included a leadership position at a non-LGBT student group. The inclusion of an LGBT activity proved to be the defining characteristic resulting in the overwhelmingly large percentage of less callbacks.

“You would think that in 2016 people wouldn’t have to hide their beliefs on their resume,” said Ellen Kossek, a gender diversity, human resources and workforce expert who currently works as the director of research in Purdue University’s Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence. “There’s nothing about that that’s job-related unless you’re like a religious institution (and I don’t feel that you should hide behind that, but I have to respect other people’s beliefs). You should hire people for their skills and not based on their sexuality. That’s a private matter, so why are we making people hide who they are in order to get hired?”

This isn’t the first study to find evidence of anti-LGBT discrimination. According to a 2014 report co-authored by the Equal Rights Center and Freedom to Work, LGBT applicants who applied to positions with federal contractors “were 23 percent less likely to receive a call-back than their non-LGBT counterpart, even when the LGBT applicant was more qualified than the non-LGBT applicant.”

Job searching is already a pretty stressful experience. For many people, these anxieties are compounded by worries about discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation and gender expression and all of their intersections.


Cydney Brown is a senior psychology major and Swahili minor at Howard University, as well as the president of the university’s LGBT advocacy organization, CASCADE, which stands for the Coalition of Activist Students Celebrating the Acceptance of Diversity and Equality. Brown is androgynous, masculine-presenting and prefers women. When she graduates, she hopes to work in the nonprofit sector, specifically working with groups that advocate for LGBT youth of color.

“Right now, I’m focusing on comprehensive sex ed for young people between the ages of 13 to 24, making sure there’s adequate info in textbooks across the country so that people our age are able to make informed decisions about their own bodies,” Brown said.

Although she plans to head into a career in which she won’t have to worry about anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace, she has had concerns when applying for positions in the past.

“I started thinking about it because I’m masculine-presenting. The first thing I think about is, ‘Are they going to be OK with the fact that I wore a suit and tie to my interview?’ Most of the time, I come off as a black man, so there’s already that dynamic. Once they realize I’m a woman, it’s like a whole list of other factors has to go into this employer’s perception of me,” she said, noting she often worries about how to “navigate gender and professionalism.”

For example, when Brown had a government internship, her primary concern was the strict dress code. “They had very clear rules about what men and women can wear in the workplace, but as someone who kind of fluctuates on the gender spectrum, well, could I be more accessible this way? Would it still be appropriate if I wore this suit and tie with no tie?”

Although she eventually plans to go into the kind of work “where that doesn’t matter,” she noted that “masculine-presenting people are still a new thing in society.” She worries that a boss might be more “traditional or old-fashioned” and wonders how open she can be about her own family dynamic, since she was raised by two women.

“Because I’m a Millennial and it’s absolutely mandatory that wherever I work accept all of me for who I am, I’m not really in the mindset to sacrifice that, but I understand not a lot of people have that option. Being a part of organizations that work to foster a more affirming perception of different identities across the board is more important to me,” Brown said.

For 25-year-old Christina Lyles, interacting with male coworkers is more of an issue than dealing with an employer’s attitudes about her sexuality. Although she has never been a part of any LGBT groups that might tip employers off about her sexuality during the application process, she has found the retail industry to be “lesbian-friendly.”

In fact, Lyles said she’s only felt apprehensive about her sexuality when dealing with male co-workers finding out that she’s a lesbian, likening the experience to going to a straight club and having men instantly assume that she’s straight, available and interested in their advances.

“Of course, you tell one person you’re gay and everybody knows, which is fine, but then you find out that they know now and you’re kind of walking carefully because you don’t want them to say something awkward, or you’re wondering if that’s why they stopped speaking,” she said.

Some members of the LGBT community don’t even make it to the point of being discriminated against in the workplace, as Mishel’s study pointed out, the exclusion often comes before one can even get their foot in the door. To combat these issues, Kossek offered up these suggestions.

“First idea of inclusion is whether you could even have access to the job,” she said. If an LGBT-identifying applicant does get the job, the next questions that need to be asked are (1) would they be comfortable working there and (2) would they be able to perform to the best of their ability while dealing with the anxiety of feeling discrimination at work?

Follow-up studies that focus on how organizations are managed and how people are socialized to recruit people will be necessary to answer those questions, Kossek said.

“I would like to see a leadership study, including people of all backgrounds and keep an experiment keeping all of those controls in and see what happens with some relatively non-expensive inclusion training and recruiters and leaders speaking out.”

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  • Miss

    Potential employers don’t need to know your sexual preferences. It’s about work not finding a date.

    • Jangee

      Great point!! It seems that some, if not many, LGBTs put their sexuality above everything else!! OK, we get it, you are LGBT and any of the other 23 or more designations.

      And… SO WHAT!!!

      Perhaps, if people who profess to be “OF FAITH” did the same and CAME OUT LOUD AND PROUD, our country would not be in this sexually progressive sink hole to begin with where the liberal left think that they can tell people what to think and how to behave on this issue!!

      One’s sexuality should not be an issue in the work place but it is because people cannot keep their personal lives and business out of it that we find ourselves on the defensive almost by the minute.

      Recently, a friend of mine was falsely accused of discrimination against a subordinate alleged because of the person’s sexual orientation when my friend was NOT EVEN AWARE OF this person’s orientation in the first place!!! But, luckily and being the true
      professional that everyone should be in the work place, my friend had documentation to prove that this was a fraudulent charge!!

      Be happy LGBT advocates because apparently you are winning the fight. Those of us with traditional or religious beliefs DO NOT HAVE AN ADVOCATE IN THE WHITE HOUSE, STATE HOUSE, LOCAL LEGISLATURES, CORPORATIONS AND THE MAINSTREAM

      We are slowly being pushed “IN THE CLOSET” (and, I am sure many of you are ecstatic by that notion because you need the attenuation/eradication of the – LAST HURDLE – to your total prurient dominance – RELIGION, in general, and CHRISTIANITY especially!!) by so-called laws and policies SHOVED DOWN our throats!!

      But that is what we deserve because we let you set the agenda, devise machinations and subversive attacks on our faith that render us silent and impotent to the point where WE ARE NOW AFRAID to be who we are – EVEN WITH THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF SCRIPTURE augmenting truth and providing GOD’S BLUEPRINT to live virtuous lives – because we

      Go ahead and continue to be who you are but GUESS WHAT? Others have the same rights to be who GOD wants them to be and it does not matter whether you get another LGBT magazine “ALLY OF THE YEAR” president like Obama who had this recent “honor” bestowed upon him.

      In many people’s opinions, he should receive no less than the “LIAR OF THE CENTURY” award as he pretended to have “traditional/Christian values” and said that he would uphold our marital and family traditions but instead turned out to be the worst enemy of Christianity, people of faith and the traditional family in modern history!!!

      God will be the final arbiter and this country and this world will reap what they have sown as every single evil will one day inundate us from the proverbial “Pandora’s Box” and we will have no one to blame but our Godless, perfidious selves!!

  • Masterpieced

    It can also work in the reverse.

  • Masterpieced

    It can also work in the reverse. I am a Radio, Television and Film person. Because my field is widely LGBT, I CANNOT get a break because I have ZERO LGBT affiliations on my resume’.

    You cannot have it BOTH ways. I suggest you change tour dress. Lose the bow tie and vest until you are off probation. Then, NO MORE LGBT jobs. Volunteers ALL you want that’s a private matter.

    Folk are afraid to hire you because they think you will PREACH this all over their pristine workplace.

  • trueletterson*

    y’all just don’t get it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • nope they just don’t get it why in the world would any sane person put another stumbling block in there own way, why add more un necessary weight than you are already carrying, why put your self at a greater disadvantage in this super competitive world when you should already know how it is?

      • Val

        This is no different than the “Black names” situation. Studies have shown that those Black people with Black sounding names get fewer callbacks for interviews. So should Black people name their children based upon how their names will be judged by racists? Or should the racist be weeded out of hiring positions.

        My point is why should gay people have to hide who they are in order to get a job. The problem is not with the gay applicant, it’s with the bigoted HR person.

        • we were born black and we had no control over our race and I wise you young black people would stop with that mindset before we find ourselves in a very dark place to the likes y’all have never ever seen or lived [I have, I was born and grew up in the Jim Crow south]. respectfully this is totally different, I wise you could talk to my 94 year old Aunt who have been gay since the 1940s she would tall y’all that this is a bogus argument Peace Val. they have convinced y’all to buy into.

  • Lisa

    Why not just change the acronym around so that it reads GBLT and when anyone asks, just say that you were the director of the good BLT sandwich promotion society…

    • Masterpieced

      I just laughed out loud–literally… good one