Working Out: Being LGBTQ in the Workplace

Davidson alumni discuss their experiences coming and being "out" in the workplace.

Those in the LGBTQ community have to overcome many hurdles when interacting in social settings, especially the workplace. Times have certainly changed in 20, 10, and even 5 years – President Obama made history this year by mentioning the issue of gay rights for the first time in a presidential, inaugural speech. However, when it comes to job searching and day-to-day life on the job, sexual identity is still a touchy subject, and many students do not know how best to handle tricky situations that may arise.

Last Wednesday evening at the Multicultural House, Career Services and GSAND (the Gay-Straight Alumni Network of Davidson) brought in three alums, Ross Fenimore (’02), Peter Varney (’96), and Lyman Collins (’79), to share their experiences and advice to LGBTQ students. All three expressed that recently there has been a noticeable trend towards acceptance and support for LGBTQ persons in the professional world – as seen through more welcoming employers, recruiting geared towards the LGBTQ community, and companies that provide benefits for gay partners. The key points of their advice were:

1. Tell employers of your sexuality when you feel comfortable. Mr. Collins suggested not mentioning it during the interview process. This would help avoid any sort of discrimination that may stem from exposing such details. However, he advised, upon receiving an offer, you should be honest with an employer about your sexuality so you can find out if the workplace will be an accepting and enjoyable environment. If your potential boss has doubts about the openness of the workplace, this may be a sign you should not be pursuing employment there. Your safety should be more important than a job.

2. Research employers. Find out if an employer will be a good fit. Look at the HR policies and seek out diversity initiatives. Mr. Varney also recommended looking at the company’s sponsorships – support of certain LGBTQ organizations or national events is a great sign!

3. Find a support group! Have friends and mentors who can help guide you through tough situations – both personally and professional. Seek out help especially if you feel you are in a hostile work environment.

4. Network! Mr. Fenimore stressed the exceptional Davidson alumni network – whether LGBTQ or not – that is ready to help students find post-Davidson success.

Thanks to our alumni panelists as well as all of the students who attended this talk!  We look forward to holding similar events in the future.

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