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The black queer community is no stranger to discrimination. And while every form of it is unacceptable, there’s something very unsettling about discrimination that affects a person’s ability to support themselves. And our community is disproportionately affected by this kind of intolerance; statistically, 42% of black queer individuals have faced workplace discrimination, and because we’re low earners compared to other demographics, in deeper debt, and underserved in our local communities, threatening our job security is especially problematic.
Though the data is concerning, there have been strides in the fight to protect the LGBTQIA+ community from discrimination at work. Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (June 2020) is an important one because the ruling in this case determined that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and transgender status violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This should safeguard workplace protection for black queer womxn, because it also prohibits racial discrimination at work. Unfortunately, white heteronormativity dominates board rooms and offices, shaping a professional standard of appearance and lifestyle that black, masculine-presenting queer womxn can’t live up to. Many of us are fired from our jobs, denied employment and promotions, and disrespected with inappropriate comments all because of how we identify and present themselves. Out of fear, some of us resort to uncomfortable, destabilizing measures like wearing feminine attire and going back in the closet to avoid conflict at work.
So how do you fight it? What should you do if you believe you’re experiencing workplace discrimination or harassment?
DOCUMENT THE DISCRIMINATION. Should you decide to report incidents of workplace discrimination or seek legal assistance, you’ll need detailed accounts of what happened. Keep a log of the dates, times, individuals involved, witnesses, and events that occurred so you’ll have information to share with pertinent parties. Collect emails, texts, photos, and any other physical evidence you’ll need to support your case.
SPEAK UP! This is probably the hardest part of the process. Many black queer womxn don’t report the homophobia and discrimination they experience because they don’t want to risk losing the jobs and suffering financial hardship. But your best chance at advocating for your well-being and protection under the law is to report discrimination to people that can help. Whether it’s HR or a manager, telling someone who’s legally obligated to assist you will help get the situation under control and hopefully stop any further harassment. Make sure to do so in writing so that there’s a paper trail you can track.
SEEK LEGAL REPRESENTATION. For complex workplace discrimination issues that can’t be resolved in the office, you may need to find legal representation to hold guilty parties accountable for their actions. Contact your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office or do research for attorneys that specialize in workplace discrimination and LGBTQIA+ advocacy and provide them with all the information needed to build a solid case.
TALK TO SOMEONE. Working long hours in an environment that pressures you to suppress your identity, endure harassment, and fight workplace biases can take a mental and emotional toll on you. Seeking out counseling from a mental health professional can help you work through the trauma you may be experiencing and manage your emotions during this difficult process.
No matter what, know that you don’t have to tolerate workplace discrimination. No employer or coworker should make you feel like your gender expression and sexual identity are hindrances to your professional prosperity. From the Human Rights Campaign to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there are resources you can access to learn about your rights and how to advocate for yourself in an unsupportive work environment. Whether you choose to take action or not, always remember that you deserve to work in peace, and that you can thrive professionally exactly as you are.
Written By: Eden Carswell (@locs_on_the_rocks, IG)