Editor’s Note: We should applaud the Supreme Court’s recent decision to protect LGBTQ rights in the workplace. However, it will take much more than a law to end discrimination. After all, there’s a reason why the author of this article has chosen to remain anonymous. It is incumbent upon all of us to create inclusive environments to prevent the kind of acts described below.
It started with a simple enough question. “What’s your hurry to get home?” my CEO asked me late on a Thursday as I was precariously close to missing my red-eye flight to the opposite coast.
“It’s my husband’s birthday tomorrow, so I’d like to be there,” I replied.
“Husband? I guess if you wanna call it that,” the CEO said with much disdain. (I’m a male.)
“I do,” I said, while trying to laugh off his comment. “That’s why we got married.”
“Who allowed that?”
Genuinely confused, I answered, “You mean the Supreme Court?”
“When? Why haven’t I heard of this?”
“Two years ago. It was sort of a big deal.”
“I bet it was for you guys. What’s the cost for us? Is he on our insurance? As a CEO, I should know these things.”
My glimmer of hope was dashed by the harsh reality that he wasn’t wondering about insurance for spouses of straight colleagues in the office.
Roughly four weeks later I was let go. “Too expensive. You understand.” But I didn’t understand. I was also concerned about how suddenly leaving this company would impact my reputation in the niche industry in which I worked.
During severance negotiations, which would require signing away my right to pursue any legal action against the organization, the CEO explained, “Your numbers are great, but you get why you were the logical choice to let go.” (This was a statement, not a question.) “Other people are the sole breadwinners for their families, but you have your ‘friend.’ He has a job, right?”
Instead of fighting, instead of suing, I took the severance because my husband and I needed the money to keep afloat, especially if there was going to be a span of unemployment.
This would also be bad enough if it was the only time in my career that I faced employment discrimination due to my sexual orientation. But it wasn’t.
“Have Sex With Me or I’ll Pull the Contract”
Earlier in my career, there was a government defense contractor who called me from the Pentagon to blackmail me over the phone, threatening that if I didn’t have sex with him, he’d pull his company’s contract. I simply said, “This doesn’t seem like a good idea.” I know, not the best reply, but I was so young and so aghast that I really didn’t know how to respond.
He called me again the next day, again from the Pentagon. “I’ll have a hotel room for us Friday night in the city,” he told me.
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This time, I responded: “This is unethical, and my employer instructed me to tell you that there would be legal action if you pursue breaking the contract based upon this quid-pro-quo harassment.” He hung up. My bluff had worked — I had not mentioned this to anyone, let alone my employer, mainly because I wasn’t sure if my company would have supported me.
“Easier to Work With Than the Gays”
At a media firm at which I worked, one of our clients was a hospital. I had negotiated roughly $50K of free media exposure as part of their annual contract renewal with a vendor they consistently used through us. When I rolled out this plan at a meeting with the client, the vendor’s representative was also there, offering praise for my negotiating skills.
After the meeting, however, my boss immediately called me into his office. First, he congratulated me for the negotiation. Then, he apologized. He was sorry, but he’d be moving me to another account of equal value.
Because the manager on the client side had called my boss immediately after the meeting to express concern about me: “I’m uncomfortable working with him. We’ll take the plan, but we want another account person, a woman this time because I think women are easier to work with than the gays.”
My boss’ decision to take me off of the account was draconian, but the hospital was our biggest client. Even though my boss gave me a raise as gratitude for the negotiation, I recognized this as nothing more than an attempt to pacify a grotesque situation.
“You’re Too Out”
While working at another government defense contractor, I discovered two gay senior VPs were in a relationship, which was against the rules. Plus, the two of them often formed a voting block on small committees that would sometimes derail progress.
Likely assuming that I was going to reveal their relationship status to management, one of the VPs quietly cornered me in the elevator one day and said, “You’re too out. Yes, you get shit done and have exceeded your numbers, but you’re not wrecking this for us. I’m pushing you off the team.”
I discussed this with a lawyer, who explained, “No case. It’ll be ‘he said, he said.’ You’ll lose.”
Two weeks later, I was let go from the company. After a merger with another organization, I was an “unfortunate duplication.”