So you graduated. And you just happen to also be gay (or a part of the LGBT community), in addition to the 101 other things that make you unique. For some, this combo can be intimidating as much as it is exciting. Emerging out of that school bubble means you get to start your life in a truly big way, but at the same time there’s that fear about whether your uniqueness will stop you from landing the opportunities you’re aiming for.
While it’s true that discrimination based on sexual orientation used to be widespread, things have changed quite a bit. Racial, ethnic, and religious barriers shrink every day as communities become more diverse, and as media (especially the Internet) exposes people to different lifestyles and perspectives that put a human face on what used to be “those other people.” And on a business level, with the baby boomers retiring and the hunt for skilled labour getting more cut-throat, companies across Canada are realizing that they need to create a safe work environment where everyone can thrive and grow in order to attract the best talent. It’s about supporting an inclusive work culture that respects and values people’s differences. And studies are finding that those organizations that celebrate diversity find a competitive advantage by out-innovating their competition, and better recruiting and retaining a broad range of skilled team members.
But it’s one thing for Jobpostings to write this, it’s another to learn the reality from the LGBT university and college graduates who live it. We sat down with a couple grads to get their take on being gay in the workplace.
Michael Giordano, 30, is returning to school to study nursing in George Brown. Since high school, he’s worked as a medic in the Canadian Army Reserve, as a flight attendant, and currently, he works in the financial industry. In this wide range of industries, did being gay play a factor in his job? “It’s definitely been a part. I mean, joining the army, it’s a very Type A macho organization. ... Sure, when you’re dealing with some of the more hands-on elements — like the infantry and the engineers — maybe you had your guard up. You watch how you conduct yourself a little. But luckily, as part of the Canadian Armed Forces, especially among the medics, it’s never been an issue for me.
“In my current role, it’s never been an issue either. I was never dishonest but, you know, I don’t wear a sign when I go to work because that’s not what I’m being paid for. I go there. I do my job. I do it well. And if it comes up organically in a conversation with a colleague, then yeah, sure, we’re having a conversation. It’s part of getting to connect with your coworkers, and I welcome it.”
Casey Oraa, 27, a York University graduate and currently an executive assistant in a public sector union, recalled his first experience coming out at work. “I was working at Tim Horton’s and had been a supervisor for years. (Even though they were) a very LGBTQ inclusive employer, there was still a lot at stake for me because I’d already established a certain “whatever” about me and was worried about how it would affect the perception of me within my role. In the end, (after I came out) it was fine. The owner was really supportive and wasn’t afraid to confront homophobia in the workplace if and when it arose. I guess a popular myth for LGBTQ persons is that you come out once. But you never only come out once, you’re kind of always coming out. This is especially true when nowadays it’s very rare to remain at one workplace for the duration of your working life. ... For me, my politics are that I don’t feel I should have to be boxed in, and I’m not going to cave into that discourse. I like who I like. I love who I love. And if you don’t like it, that’s your problem, not mine.”
Karen Bajza, 24, briefly studied in Calgary, then emigrated south to graduate from California State University in Chico. She says her experience coming out in her third year of college was largely positive, and that’s what encouraged her to be open in her current role as a communications manager at International Trade Education Programs (a non-profit working out of the Los Angeles area). “In college I felt like everyone was really supportive and close-knit, it was a really good learning environment on how to build a good community.”
Outside of college however, Karen began to hear about cases where coming out wasn’t so easy. “I had a recent co-worker — a volunteer who works with us — who for the past five years has been playing the straight role. Nobody knows that he’s gay. He’s just now getting comfortable with it. ... So we’ve been talking, and he’s working out his game plan about what he wants to do. I mean, I can imagine what he’s going through. I think it’s come down to his desire to be himself and have his coworkers respect him for all of him, and not just the character he’s been portraying.”
Michael Mirpuri shared a similar experience to Karen. Mirpuri, 22, is a Schulich School of Business grad who now works as a staff accountant for Deloitte, and acts the director, president, and chair of the LGBT advocacy association, Out on Bay Street. Mirpuri says, “I’ve never worked in an environment where colleagues or myself have felt uncomfortable about being ‘out’ in the workplace. Sexuality is not a physical trait, and no one should feel the need to go around wearing a sign that says so. But if approached with the question or an opportunity to voice a comment or opinion, I would never stray away from the truth. ... That being said, there are individuals I know of that keep their private lives personal and are not ‘out.’ So I believe it really comes down to being completely comfortable with yourself first, regardless of where you are or with whom you are interacting with.”
These experiences are but a snapshot of the wider LGBT community. Overall though, the focus nowadays centres around the concept of authenticity. Are you being your real self? Especially at work?
Brent Chamberlain, executive director at the non-profit, Pride at Work Canada, says, “As a student, you have to think about what it looks like to work in an environment that isn’t conducive to being open about your sexual orientation. That means you’re going to hide everything you do and are outside of work. And certainly that has a huge detrimental effect on one’s productivity, which eventually affects your career progression, relationships with colleagues, et cetera. I would argue that it does make sense for students who are LGBT-identified to look for employers who show those positive signs around being LGBT inclusive or simply ‘diversity friendly.’ Remember, you’re working and spending the majority of your life in an office, make that experience one where you’re comfortable being your real self.”