Patricia Nell Warren

Smoke and Fire on LGBT Hiring

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | January 07, 2008 9:04 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: ENDA, gay seniors, retirement issues, unemployment

The day that Iowa’s primary results hit the news, another event almost got lost in the election uproar. The national unemployment rate has soared to a two-year high of 5 percent. Beyond what ENDA ought to be doing for us, I wonder if our community does enough to meet the employment needs of our own people.

We’ve been battling with mainstream interests over workplace issues – homophobia, domestic partner benefits, and especially ENDA and transgender inclusion in ENDA. Meanwhile we may be losing sight of another key employment battlefield. Today many seniors can’t retire -- they have to go on working at least part time. Rising costs of everything mean that their fixed income -- Social Security, pension, IRA or whatever -- isn’t enough to cover minimal needs any more. The gay community has an estimated 3 million seniors in it, and a growing percentage of these are unemployed or hurting for work. We also have our own aging baby boomers who will need to work. And those seniors include a percentage of aging transgender people who also need jobs.

Our needing-to-work seniors face some fierce ageist hostility in the gay world. And -- as we’ve learned from the ENDA fight -- a surprising number of LGBs harbor hostility and lack of understanding for TG/TS/IS people and don’t support the importance of transgender rights.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire – meaning that these lethal biases surely figure in some LGBT hiring practices. It’s difficult to come up with statistics, but nobody can deny that the “young cutie” factor often influences hiring. The young cutie often gets the job, though he or she isn’t necessarily the best qualified. And we all know that sometimes an employer will find an excuse to lay off an elder employee and hire the young cutie. Then there’s the LGBT employer who quietly manages to avoid hiring a qualified transgender person because some of the other employees might feel “uncomfortable.”

Our people hope for jobs in our own community when they can’t, or don’t wish to, work in the mainstream. For sure, our community doesn’t abound in well-paying corporate jobs with benefits and pensions, because it’s so small-business-based. But it’s our obligation to do the best we can. And the LGBT business world can’t do its best unless we make sure that our own noses are clean on ENDA issues.

In recent years, the gay media have gotten better about covering senior issues. But they usually hew to pointing the finger at unfair treatment of our seniors by outside interests -- Social Security, health insurance, benefits, nursing home practices, etc. Seldom do they investigate the right -- or the need -- of LGBT seniors to keep on working!

Recently, I took a look-see through a lot of LGBT websites that express concern over general aging issues. Organizations for seniors include SAGE, GLEH and PrimeTimers. They deal with everything from caregivers to dating. Some community centers have local senior outreach programs. But I was surprised to see how little our Web resources say about the life-and-death need of some seniors to go on working.

As the U.S. recession deepens, we will be compelled to create more community job resources for our own people. Unfortunately the ENDA battle has resulted in people on fighting over specific categories of worker, each with its pros and cons. But ENDA ought to be about every human being’s right to have a job -- if that person needs to work to meet survival needs.


Copyright (c) 2008 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.


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As the U.S. recession deepens, we will be compelled to create more community job resources for our own people.

But how do we do this?

Bil:

"But how do we do this?"

Well, we can start by turning up the heat on those 'community' organizations with hiring power to stop discriminating in their own hiring practices.

I know - that doesn't address overall numbers of jobs or increasing those numbers, but ending the discrimination in allocation of a community economic resource would be a start.

Patricia:

Thanks for this post.

"How do we do this?" ... One thing we can do is develop better support systems for GLBT entrepreneurism. A few points here:

(1) Although Patricia is correct that "our community doesn’t abound in well-paying corporate jobs with benefits and pensions, because it’s so small-business-based" ... we can still name a few such successes: the software company Quark Express generated millions in profit that eventually funded the Gil Foundation; Andrew Tobias built a financial guru empire, not to mention that he also rose to become Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. Several current gay/lesbian millionaires were early employees at Microsoft, back when employees were compensated with generous stock options. ... But these success stories are relatively rare, and more to do with raw talent, hard work, and dumb luck than by any force creditable to the GLBT populace.

But the main point here is this: Once a business grows to a particular size, giving preference to GLBT job applicants constitutes reverse discrimination, and under an ENDA-type law, would be totally and unquestionably illegal --- and *is* illegal under many existing city and state ordinances. So supporting the employment opportunities of GLBT workers (of any age) needs to be done in the same spirit as we support equal opportunity for racial groups --- even when GLBT employers and/or equity owners are at hand.

(2) The above notwithstanding, the GLBT community could do a *much* better job at supporting and encouraging GLBT entrepreneurism. Clearly, being a GLBT businessperson takes a somewhat different set of skills compared to the straight business mainstream. Several major cities have a "Rainbow" Chamber of Commerce through which GLBT-owned and GLBT-friendly businesses can network (we have one here in Indianapolis), but these groups have problems of their own --- let's face it, some of us are natural networkers, and some of us aren't, and the native networkers tend to form an "in-crowd" that a sizable periphery find impenetrable. And networking aside, some of us are simply better businessmen and businesswomen than others. A system that develops business skills no matter where the potential GLBT entrepreneur is starting from would serve our communities better.

(3) A footnote: I have found no area of small-business/work-from-home to be more GLBT-blind and GLBT-unfriendly than multi-level marketing ("MLM") --- in these companies, one usually gets instructed to "tell your prospects about your wife and kids so they can relate to you being just like them" ... totally in denial of the fact that either the rep or the customer or both might be GLBT. This effect, plus the fact that MLM is good at attracting right-wingers who are willing to preach the Bible, heteronormative family values, and MLM all in the same breath, makes us almost totally invisible. I have found that there is no such thing as a GLBT network marketing organization or community, nor have I been successful at gathering a critical mass needed in forming one.

Y'know, this really underscores why trans inclusion in ENDA is so important. As someone who's currently 45, if this bill passes next year without us and the averages hold true, I'll be just a few years short of Social Security age by the time my rights in the workplace are protected.

Before we can hope to have a really effective solution for this problem in place, we have to clean house in DC and make sure the political gameplaying going on with people's lives and livelihoods finally comes to an end.

ALSO not making it to the airwaves yesterday - George w. Bush touched down in Tel Aviv yesterday for a state visit with Israel FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER!!!!

Yes, you read that right. Bush spent SEVEN years in the White House and never visited Israel. They must be the Chosen People to have avoided W for such a long time.