The Pronoun Game And the Very Real Lack of Workplace Protections
Photo from SB701 House Subcommittee Meeting: Delegates Farrell, Peace, Gilbert
The Pronoun Game. Most LGBT folks that I know have played it. For example: “Yes, my spouse and I went to the river this weekend and met up with their family there.” An LGBT person working at a company that doesn’t protect against employment discrimination based on sexuality has limited options when their boss casually asks “What did you do this weekend?”
The employee can choose to A) avoid the subject, B) play the Pronoun Game, C) lie or D) be completely honest and risk being fired or discriminated against. At the very least, an LGBT person at work in a non-protected environment could face ridicule and disrespect with no support from their company.
When starting my past two or three jobs, I agonized over a game plan about how I would answer questions about my personal life.
My plan didn’t work as I endured blatant discriminatory actions and comments. About a month before I married my wife, I nervously started telling people at work who I was marrying. It was terrifying. No one rejected me to my face, instead, they joked behind my back about me calling another woman my “fiancée.”
At a more recent job, my coworkers professed support and acceptance of who I was. However, in an attempt to gain my trust some of the women would joke about taking another female coworker home after a Christmas party in front me then look to see how I reacted.
And there was that one administrative meeting when my boss’ boss made a blanket statement to the entire room that “if you want to know about people having illegal sex in public bathrooms—just ask gay men.” Mortified and humiliated, I could say nothing because this woman had the full power to fire me if I defended her abhorrent use of stereotypes against those in my community.
My stories aren’t unique. The New York Times just wrote an article relaying several stories of people who were fired for being gay. The article points out that the focus has been so much on gaining marriage equality that people have overlooked the fact that it is perfectly legal in most states to be fired simply because of being gay or transgender.
It goes on to say: “That means even if the Supreme Court were to declare that the law that denies same-sex married couples federal benefits was unconstitutional …such a decision could have a perverse effect: workers who may be permitted to add a same-sex spouse to a pension or a health plan, for instance, would be forced to expose their sexuality in a potentially hostile workplace to receive those benefits.”
Here in Virginia, SB701, a proposed bill that would protect members of the LGBT people from workplace discrimination was killed in a house subcommittee. You can watch the video of the subcommittee’s discussion below:
You can also read Delegate Todd Gilbert advocate for the bill to be dropped because no sufficient examples of discrimination could be presented and because, as he put it: ”The examples we’ve heard from today have actually reaffirmed that people are interested in coming to Virginia and engaging in careers here and are thriving in the process of engaging in those careers.”
Could it be that no one came forward with examples because they feared retaliation by the state government? Workplace discrimination can be as blatant as the example above or as subtle as a scoff or eye roll when someone refers to their same sex partner as their spouse.
There’s a big difference when these things happen in the workplace. That person rolling their eyes could be your boss and would be fully within in their rights to fire you. It’s an abuse of power that has existed and has gone on for way too long.
People often lump workplace discrimination into their crusades against same sex marriage (as they did with hate crime legislation) saying that to give LGBT people “special recognition” validates their erroneous perception of themselves as a minority group deserving of protection. This is where I take major issue with those furthering this agenda.
You may not believe in same sex marriage but LGBT people DO exist. We are working beside you in your cubicle and looking at you across your board room table. Denying that discrimination exists or that people are undeserving of protection in the workplace is the highest form of ignorance. It makes a huge difference for me where working at a company where diversity is embraced and protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation is written into office policy.
It is special to be recognized. But it’s even more special to be at peace and to be able to talk freely, without having to choose pronouns carefully, so that I can answer my boss’ question about the weekend and then go back to contributing to my company. That’s all the LGBT community wants. That’s not asking too much, is it?
Apryl Prentiss is a right wing dropout. Born and raised in Virginia Beach, VA and heavily involved in the evangelical Christian community for her entire life. She lives in Richmond, VA with her partner, Adrian, and enjoys trying to dialogue with those in the evangelical community about sexuality.
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