Alex Blaze

There are no homophobes in America, just homophobia

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 11, 2010 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: employment discrimination, LGBT

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal this week discussed whether employers should out themselves in interviews:

But others point to instances of recruits abruptly quitting after learning they were working for a gay-owned establishment. As a result, they say they wasted time and money in hiring those people, and may have benefitted by outing themselves at the start.

During the eight years that Tim Ramsey has co-owned Lost River Grill & Motel LLC, a small hospitality business in Lost River, W. Va., he says a handful of employees have quit after just a few days on the job. He suspects they may have done so because they discovered he's gay and were uncomfortable with that.

"I have hired people who I thought were going to be an asset and all of a sudden they stopped coming in," says Mr. Ramsey, whose business partner, Kevin Willmer, is also gay and his life partner.

Mr. Ramsey admits he isn't sure why those workers left. He doesn't make a point of mentioning his sexual orientation in job interviews because, he says, "I'm a business owner first." Still, some job candidates have inquired about his sexuality, he says, and then explained that they wouldn't work for him because of his sexual orientation.

Obviously, this isn't covered by employment discrimination legislation since people can't be forced to work where they don't want to work (legally, anyway). But I'm surprised to find out that there are homophobes out there now asking about a prospective employer's sexual orientation and then turning down a job because of it.

It might just be easier for people to mention that they're gay instead of waiting for someone to quit if that's going to be a real problem for them. While the employer is materially impacted by having to train someone who's just going to quit right away, in this economy it really just seems like the straight person is punishing themselves.

Speaking of the other side of the equation, there was an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this week about a guy who thinks he can't be hired because he's gay, saying that he's been to a number of job interviews and hasn't been hired and has obviously gay mannerisms (or so he told the paper).

I have no idea if that's why he can't be hired or not, and reality would probably include a mix of factors like experience, the fact that he might move out of town soon, as well as sexual orientation. Given the fact that gay people tend to make less money and are more likely to be unemployed than straight people, there's definitely employment discrimination going on against gay people somewhere.

The Post-Dispatch makes sure that the "gay employment discrimination doesn't exist" message gets in there:

Then there's this: With 5.5 applicants for every job that comes available, companies can more than ever afford to be choosy when it comes to bringing in new talent.

Frustrated and desperate, the unemployed who don't make the cut tend to look for a reason why they still aren't working.

So they blame middle age. Or youth. Or ethnicity. Or race. Or gender. Or physical appearance. Or, in the case of Kevin, sexual orientation.

Longtime area human resources specialist Victoria Wors argues the vast majority of area businesses couldn't care less about how Kevin identifies himself sexually.

His orientation might perhaps cause a stir, Wors said, if Kevin were to walk into an interview "flaming." But she compares that kind behavior to a candidate who "actualize their self-identity" with an alarming number of body piercings.

Employers who do deny employment based on someone's perceived sexuality or fire someone because of their known sexuality aren't going to spell it out, and even the quoted "human resources specialist" understands that employers do discriminate against perceived sexual orientation. She uses the language of gender expression to justify sexual orientation discrimination, as if the two could be separated or that means that discrimination couldn't be occurring.

It's impressive the way people don't want to accept the fact that job discrimination happens and just blame the individual themselves (visit the link above and read the comments to see that - one person goes so far as to say that, gay or straight, if you mention anything about your sexual orientation you will/should be discriminated against. I'm guessing that person is straight), as if we live in a society that has completely eliminated homophobia.

More importantly, with the unemployment rate so high right now, there are lots of people who are out of work who shouldn't be. To me, an ideal economic system would have everyone who's able working, increasing everyone's wealth. But with around 10% of the working population unemployed, lots of people are out of work and those who are tend to be society's undesirables.

Even if the man in the Post-Dispatch article isn't being discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and he's just got a rotten personality, that isn't a reason for him to be terminally unemployed.


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Interesting.

There's a blatant aspect of homophobia right in the article itself -- and quoted by the particular HR Rep.

If a particular person walked into a job "flaming", I'm led to see that they wouldn't be hired on that basis, and that it would be justified in the mind of that particular HR Rep.

Well, what's "flaming"? Is it acting in a manner that isn't in line with one's expected gender role and expression?

You know -- feminine for a man?

Strange that.

Insofar as someone walking out because their employer is gay -- well, the cost of training and hiring a new employee is not exactly low. So it's actually a much more subtle form of discrimination.

However, an interesting note is that the same thing happens to all groups -- people have quit because their boss is a woman, their boss isn't white, and so forth.

Personally, Once I get my biz up and running, I'll be blunt and direct. And if they have a problem, they can get over it on their terms, not on my clock.

Or the people could be quitting because they like drawing unemployement and his being gay is a convenient excuse for them to not keep the job. I wonder if the UI office accepts that as a valid reason?

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | April 11, 2010 6:20 PM

"Even if the man in the Post-Dispatch article isn't being discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and he's just got a rotten personality, that isn't a reason for him to be terminally unemployed."

Huh? Am I missing something here? Assuming that "rotten personality" negatively impacts bona fide job performance criteria, and is not otherwise discriminatorily with respect to race, etc., why would it not cause the individual to be "terminally unemployed"?

"that isn't a reason" should read like "that shouldn't be a reason." Sorry.

A. J. Lopp | April 12, 2010 2:21 PM

Even if we read it as "that shouldn't be a reason" I'm still not sure I agree.

You are right in that a "rotten personality" can be modified, by choice, concentration and self-awareness, into an at-least-tolerable personality (unless there is bona fide mental illness involved) ... and it is the individual's responsibility to correct such personal problems; it's not the responsibility of the employer or the labor market to find a job where a "rotten personality" can be tolerated. There are a lot of intolerable possibilities present in an ambiguous phrase such as "rotten personality."

By the way, there is no definable line where "rotten personality" ends and "mental illness" begins. I know of people whose "rotten personality" was/is so problematic that even an SSI panel agreed that they are/were virtually unemployable, and approved them for receiving SSI under the finding that they are "mentally, psychologically or emotionally disabled".

She uses the language of gender expression to justify sexual orientation discrimination, as if the two could be separated or that means that discrimination couldn't be occurring.

Yep.

I have a gay male friend who does "straighten up" for work...drops the gay effeminate mannerisms, talks more masculine and doesn't use hand gestures. It's so bizarre to me because I don't know how to do that all day, 5 days a week. I could never pull off acting more feminine for more than a couple hours before I just felt exhausted.

"Obviously, this isn't covered by employment discrimination legislation since people can't be forced to work where they don't want to work (legally, anyway)."

That depends on which country you're in. In the UK, unemployment benefits are withheld from claimants for six months if they leave or turn down a job without good reason - and disliking your employer's sexual orientation is not good reason! So while in theory they can choose not to work there, in practice the decision can cost them a huge amount of money.