48% of LGBT workers aren’t out at the office

According to this study (PDF), only 52% of LGBT workers are out at the office. Of note from the study:

  • LGBT employees who are not out reported significantly greater feelings of being stalled in their careers and greater dissatisfaction with their rates of promotion and advancement.
  • LGBT employees who are not out are 40 percent less likely to trust their employer than those who are out.
  • Employees who remain closeted and isolated are 73 percent more likely to leave their companies within the next three years.

This is sad. Like I blogged about just three days ago for National Coming Out Day, I’m fully out at the office and have been for about a decade.

I remember what it’s like to not be out in some areas though – it’s like living a double life. In your ‘out’ life you can be yourself. You don’t filter what you say or how it’s phrased. Your attention is on the task at had, be it work or play.

In your ‘not out’ life, you’re constantly filtering everything you say. You play “pronoun search and replace” in all verbal and written communication. If you’re seeing someone you might even change their name to the opposite gender in some circles. You abstain from work parties where spouses are welcome. Oh, and through all of this you’re also suppose to focus on your work tasks and be productive. Sound like a lot of work? It is.

And before someone helpfully chimes in that “everyone should just leave their personal life at home — there’s no need for them to bring it up at the office”, let me call it: bull shit. I challenge anyone to go through a week at the office without somehow bringing up your friends, your family, or outside-of-work activities that somehow indicates what team you play for. It won’t happen.

In addition to the social aspect of coming out at the office (“how will my coworkers treat me”) there’s the more serious issue: in 29 states it’s perfecty legal to be fired just because you’re gay. (Yet another reason why I’ll never move back to Texas — as if I needed another.)

All of us gays who work for supportive companies owe it to ourselves and our community to be out at the office. We have no excuse. To those who are out in the 29 states who don’t work for supportive companies: thank you for being brave.

And maybe most importantly, to all the straight allies who make it easy to be out at the office: thank you for making who you go home to a non-issue in the workplace.

Closets are for clothes, even at the office

Today is National Coming Out Day. Last year I blogged about the humorous story of coming out to some of my IBM coworkers shortly after I came out to myself. This year I wanted to talk about being out in the workplace.

I’m very fortunate to work in the tech industry which is one of the most accepting industries of LGBT individuals. Virtually all of the major tech employers have LGBT anti-discrimination policies and domestic partner benefits. Most of them have LGBT diversity groups as well. Many of them also support LGBT organizations like HRC and PFLAG.

IBM is a global leader in this field — they score 100 on the HRC Corporate Equality Index. EMC, as an entity, isn’t that far behind — they score 95. Granted, when I accepted the job at Isilon, they weren’t yet EMC.

Being out at the office is very important to me so I was up-front with HR and my hiring manager when talking about the offer to come work at Isilon. Because I was married, domestic partner benefits were very important to me and was an easy way to “break the ice” about the topic. I was also sure to poll my friends who already worked there (Zach, Matt, and Adam) to see if they felt it was an inclusive work environment, and they thought it was. As I hoped, no one has batted an eye with it comes up in conversation. Before B and I separated, I brought him to the office to give him a tour and introduced him to my coworkers as my husband. Together he and I attended the company holiday party and felt like we fit right in (or at least we fit right in as someone who had only worked there for 4 weeks could fit right in). Had I gotten an inkling that Isilon would not have been an accepting place to work, I wouldn’t have taken the job. Period.

Why is it important to be out at the office? Because it’s exhausting to filter everything you say. Simple questions like “what did you do this weekend” can turn into a mental minefield as you evaluate what the person knows about you and what you want to reveal. John Martin’s Will and Ned’s Excellent Adventure poster sums it up nicely.

I don’t wear my pink boa to the office (and truthfully I don’t own one) but I’d have no problems doing so at Isilon should I be so inclined.

Grandmothers get it

While talking with a friend tonight I remembered, and referenced, the letter my grandmother sent me after I came out to her. I distinctly remember posting it in a blog entry but a search for it tonight turned out to be a slog because the entry was locked and thus not indexed.

Turns out that, not surprisingly, I locked several entries between April and July in 2009 — that one included. Tonight I unlocked most, but not all, of them. In particular I unlocked the August 4th entry containing the letter from my grandmother – which I’m reproducing here because it’s just that good:

Dearest Casey,

It was so good to hear from you. The news you told me was no surprise to me – I had suspected the situation for a long time. I know you didn’t wake up one day and decide to be gay – it is an inborn thing and is natural to you but the average person views it as unnatural, because it doesn’t follow the norm. They need to stop and evaluate all the couples who co-habitate. In my opinion there is not much difference.

Of course I had looked forward to your children to love, but my love for you has never changed and never will. You are a part of me and Papa and we have always been proud of you. Just be happy and people will learn to accept the situation. I wish you every happiness.

I love you –
Granny

Two years later and I still tear up reading it.

“No, you’re not [gay]. Trust me, I would know if you were.”

Today is National Coming Out Day and I thought I’d share one of my funnier coming out stories.

About 8 9 or so years ago I was in an internal tools team within Tivoli. My friend and teammate Jenny was most insistent about setting me up with her best friend Jan. She thought we would be a perfect match and kept after me to ask Jan out on a date. I always declined saying that while Jan was a wonderful woman, I just wasn’t interested in dating right now.

One day after work Jenny, Heath (another teammate), and myself were having drinks at Trudy’s North (well, they were having drinks and I was having a Roy Rogers). We were sitting there at the table when Jenny once again goes into her spiel about how I should ask Jan out for a date. Fed up with things, the following conversation ensues:

Me: Jenny, I’m not interested in dating Jan. I’m gay.
Jenny: <laughter> No you’re not. Trust me, I would know if you were.
Me: No, really – I’m gay.
Jenny: <looks at Heath, grinning> Can you believe this guy?
Heath: <serious face>
Jenny: <looks back at me> Really?
Me: <serious face>
Jenny: <suddenly gets it> Oh my god. Oh my god! You’re serious!
Me: <nod>
Jenny: <short pause> So, any cute guys at the office you have your eye on? Anyone I should set up you up with?

She went from trying to set me up with Jan, to disbelief, acceptance, and then trying to set me up with a guy in about 60 seconds flat. And true to form, neither Jenny or Heath ever did blink at me being gay — it was entirely a non-issue for them.

Obviously I never did date Jan, but she and I did become fast friends after all.

Youth Suicide: It Gets Better when We Give a Damn

Growing up I never could figure out why anyone would attempt suicide. What could possibly be so bad that you’d end your life? The concept itself was competely foreign to me.

Flash forward to sometime in 2000 when I was struggling with accepting who I was. At the time I felt like my very soul was being torn apart. I grew up knowing that gay people were bad, evil even, and obviously outside God’s will. Yet I knew I was undeniably gay and it wasn’t something I had chosen. I was crushed between two contradictory facts, each of which I believed in my core. I felt very alone. I was terrified of telling anyone I loved for fear of getting pushed farther away — knowing that such rejection might result in me doing something stupid. It was at that very lowest point of my life that I understood why some people consider suicide. I’d like to think that it was the realization of where I was, the meta-cognitition of why some people kill themselves, rather than any self-destructive thoughts of my own, that forced me to turn the corner — but perhaps that’s splitting hairs.

Regardless, the very next day I went to my doctor, told him what I was struggling with, and he started me on anti-depressants. He was the first person I ever told I was gay. Eventually I started telling the people I loved starting with my friend Meg. I still recall the day I told her — and receiving her immediate acceptance and unequivical support. Over the next few months I told others — waiting for the right moment before putting that little bit of myself out there and hoping for the best. To my surprise, most everyone was supportive. Sure there were a few that weren’t so supportive, my parents among them, but some of them have come around in time.

To anyone who is struggling with being gay: it gets better. Others have been through it before and there are people who can help you where you’re at. Don’t go through it alone and don’t give up.

To everyone else: lets all give a damn.

Heterocentric lyrical tendencies

On the way home from the gym today I was listening, again, to Adam Lambert’s What Do You Want From Me. It’s been getting a lot of airtime on the radio recently. I find the tune catchy and the lyrics decent. What got my mind reeling after I really stopped to think about it wasn’t the lyrics themselves, but what I had been reading into the lyrics the entire time: that it was being sung to a woman.

As I’m sure you’re aware, Adam Lambert is gay. So there’s no reason that the song couldn’t be sung to a guy. Thinking that perhaps there was some line in the song that triggered this assumption I took a gander at the lyrics. Nope – no mention of gender anywhere in there.

Which means it’s all in my head. For whatever reason I have hetrocentric lyrical tendencies. And frankly that bothers me.

Hospital visitation for gays

Mid-February I posted about about my concerns regarding hospital visitation rights for Benjamin and I should something occur. Obama must have read my blog post, because yesterday, only 2 months later, he instructed his health secretary to make it happen. The new rules will only apply to hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid which is most of them according to the NY Times. I suppose any hospital who decides they don’t want to comply can just stop participating in those programs (and good riddance if they close because of it).

My family sincerely thanks you Mr. President.

Census redux

Three weeks ago we received our 2010 Census form in the mail. The very next day I sat down with Benjamin and we filled it out (after I explained to him what it was, why we had to fill it out, and why we should want to fill it out — the need to do that has some interesting implications, more on that later). The day after we filled it out, it went out in the mail.

Imagine my surprise and frustration, when I received a second form in the mail yesterday saying, essentially “we haven’t received your census form, please fill it out”. What!? It includes this helpful note that “if you’ve already filled it out, no need to do so again”. It isn’t as though the two crossed in the mail, I mailed  the first one three weeks ago! If they hadn’t received it yet, they probably weren’t going to get it (thanks US Postal Service)1. And because I really want us to be counted, I filled it out again last night and it’ll go out in the mail today.2

Back to the discussion with Benjamin about the census form. Given his lack of knowledge about the census, including what it was, why we do it, and what the data is used for, it’s no surprise that the Census Bureau is having a hard time getting some people to respond. I think part of the challenge was that he’s never filled out a form before. 10 years ago he was still living at home. I on the other hand filled out my first census form during the 2000 census while I was at A&M. I suspect that the 18-30 year olds who weren’t paying close attention in civics class and aren’t active news readers will have a low mail-in response rate.

And what’s the deal with questions 8 and 9? Just for reference, they are:

8. Is Person X of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?
9. What is Person X’s race?

Question 8 I get. The responses for question 9, however, seems mutually exclusive for people who mark any “Yes” response for question 8. It took Benjamin and I, two college educated individuals, several minutes of head scratching to figure out what the heck we were suppose to put down on question 9 for him. In the end we threw up our hands, marked “Some other race”, filled in “Latino”, and moved on. If question 9’s instructions hadn’t been “Mark one or more boxes” we would have left it blank for him altogether. I bet that the data gathered from question 9 for people who responded “Yes” to question 8 is going to be complete garbage since the question was complete garbage in that context. I can only assume that a bunch of white people formulated the question’s wording.

1 Interestingly, I received the second form yesterday (March 31st) but the document was dated April 1st. While the US Post Office is unable to deliver my first form from me to the Census Bureau within three weeks, they were able to deliver the second one to me back in time.

2 I’m not worried about being double counted as I’m more than certain the census database’s primary key is our address and they’ll presumably kick out one or the other. There are only two downsides to me sending in the second form, one actual and one potential. The actual downside is that I just cost the government another $0.42, and even that “actual” downside is only theoretical as if they didn’t receive the first form the postal service may not have charged them for it to begin with. The potential downside is that if, for whatever reason, I didn’t fill out the second form exactly the same as the first form (specifically Question 9 about your race confused the hell out of Benjamin and I for him) and they end up getting both forms, are they likely to toss out both results and thus we’ll not be counted at all? After weighing that potential downside I decided that if I were in their situation and that were to occur I’d use some deterministic algorithm to accept one or the other forms (eg: keep the first and toss the second), hence me filling and sending in the second one.

Why I want to get legally married – part 2

In part 1 I focused on the financials. This time I’ll focus on the medical side of things – specifically hospital visitation.

After getting our Colorado Designated Beneficiary Agreement (DBA) executed two weeks ago I decided it would be a good idea to verify that our Medical Power of Attorney documents included a hospital visitation directive. To my surprise, and panic, they did not. If you’ll recall the DBA allows you to specifically designate the other person with the authority to visit you in the hospital but that document only applies to Colorado. After discovering we did not have any such document for outside Colorado I had them drawn up.

For the uninitiated, most hospital critical care units (ERs, etc) limit visitors to “family members”, with “family” being defined by whomever nurse is the gatekeeper at that particular moment. If you do not meet the arbitrary definition of “family” required by the gatekeeper – you don’t get access. A Hospital Visitation Authorization document is simply a document that codifies your wishes for who should be able to visit you in such a situation.

But lets step back and evaluate the reality of the situation: if you’re needing access to your spouse who is in the ER and unable to voice their desire for your presence, you’re at the mercy of the nurse and their definition of “family”. Waving a legal document in their face might get you past them, but it might not. They could easily just route you to the hospital’s legal department. What would constitute “family” to the average person? Residing at the same address? Maybe – although any two people could be roommates and not be family. My guess is the average person is going to associate two people having the same last name as “family”: either they are married or they are otherwise related.

I think this has implications for any married couple, regardless of their sexual orientation, who do not have the same last name. I’ll point out that not only did our thought exercise not favor access via legal document too highly – reality doesn’t either. It is, however, another tool in the arsenal.

Perhaps it’s time to more seriously revisit making our last names the same (the current winner for that is Parc – no relation to PARC or PARC though).

Further bet hedging: Designated Beneficiary Agreement executed

Last year on July 1st the Colorado Designated Beneficiaries Law went into effect. This law enables any two legal adults to enter into a Designated Beneficiary Agreement (herein referred to as a DBA). The agreement consists of 16 separate rights which can be granted individually between the two people. These rights include things like hospital visitation, transfer of property upon death, ability to sue for wrongful death, etc – many of the things that a Will and/or Power of Attorney would cover. The law specifically indicates that other legal documents, such as Wills and Power of Attorneys, supersede the DBA.

Today Benjamin and I filled out the two page agreement that had been sitting in our kitchen To Do pile for literally 7 months, took it by UMB bank to be notarized, and then drove it down to the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s office to have it recorded. Total due: $15.50 for the recording that included 3 certified copies — UMB notarized it for free.

The Reason
I’m sure you’re asking why, if we already have Wills and Durable & Medical Power of Attorneys that supercede large parts of the DBA, did we bother with it at all. The answer is simple: we’re just further hedging our bets should something go wrong. The DBA is one more layer to validate what our wishes are if the Will goes into probate or if one of us is having challenges accessing the other person in a medical situation. $15.50 + $4 parking and an hour of our time was a small price to pay for further peace of mind.

The Experience
The entire experience was oddly easy and yet slightly insulting. The Denver Clerk and Recorder’s office is in the beautiful Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building in downtown. After an early lunch Benjamin and I drove downtown, parked two blocks away, and walked to the Webb building. We conveniently walked into the entrance that was immediately adjacent to the Clerk and Recorder’s office. That was the easy part.

The Recorder’s office was empty — we were two of only a handful of people in the office. It was also pleasantly well labeled as the row of clerks closest to the door had a sign above them labeled “Marriage Licenses” or something very similar. Instinctively I knew that while were in the right office, the women behind the desk were not going to be able to help me with my DBA. Despite that I walked up to an available clerk and inquired as to where I should go to have my DBA recorded. She cheerfully instructed me to go down the hall to the second desk on the right where they could help me. What was the sign above the clerk who was able to assist with my DBA? “Real Estate Records”. That was rather insulting: in order to get almost-domestic-partner-level rights in Colorado I had to walk past the Marriage Licenses desk in the front of the Recorder’s office, down a hallway to a woman behind a Real Estate Records desk.

The woman who helped us was, while not rude, not overly friendly although she did faithfully record our document and kept a kind demeanor despite her office equipment not cooperating.

As we walked out of the Webb building I commented to Benjamin that the DBA is the closest thing to Marriage that we currently have and are able to obtain within Colorado. I’m grateful that we have the option of a DBA in Colorado but the experience reinforces my feeling of a second-class citizen.