Hiding in the office closet is stressful

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Imagine coming to work every day and having to pretend to be someone else. Imagine you’re Joe Smith from Indianapolis, but you have to remember to be John Sales from Boston. You’ve got to do the accent, to have a whole back story, cover up the inevitable slips.

Stressful, right? That’s what closeted gay workers say they experience every day, says a new study by Belle Rose Ragins and Romila Singh of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and John M. Cornwell of Rice University. The article, “Making the Invisible Visible: Fear and Disclosure of Sexual Orientation at Work,” was published in The Journal of Applied Psychology.

A questionnaire study of more than 500 gay, lesbian and bisexual employees across the U.S. has found that “fears about disclosing a gay identity at work had an overwhelmingly negative relationship with their career and workplace experiences and with their psychological well-being.”

The toll the deception takes on the workers is serious. The researchers say those who “feared more negative consequences to disclosure” reported more trouble in these areas than their counterparts who weren’t afraid of being found out:

• job satisfaction
• organizational commitment
• satisfaction with opportunities for promotion
• career commitment
• organization-based self-esteem
• greater turnover intentions.

Among their concerns:

• more (job) role ambiguity
• more (job) role conflict
• less workplace participation.


Psychological strain was described as stress-related symptoms experienced on the job, work-related depression, and work-related irritation.

So the answer is just to come on out. Right? Lordy, no. The researchers concluded that deciding whether to come out is an “exceptionally difficult career challenge facing lesbian/gay employees that typically goes unnoticed by employers” (bolds mine):

However, the threats to employment security are real. There are no laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 31 states, and such discrimination remains “widespread” in practice. For example, previous research indicated that between 25 and 66 percent of lesbian or gay workers had experienced discrimination. Of the participants in this study, 37 percent said they had faced discrimination because others suspected or assumed they were gay or lesbian. More than 10 percent said they had been physically harassed. More than 22 percent said they had been verbally harassed. Nearly 31 percent said they had resigned from a job, had been fired from a job or had left a job because of discrimination.

Jeepers. Gaining, holding and performing a job for which one is qualified seems to me a basic American right. Yet nearly a third of gay workers had to leave a job because of their sexual orientation. Come on, folks. Surely there’s a petition we can sign or a legislator we can bug to assure gay Americans the right to work unharrassed.

Thanks to TIME news director Howard Chua-Eoan for point out this story:

…the House Rules Committee voted early in the evening on November 5 to advance the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the floor for a vote, and to permit consideration of three amendments, including Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin’s proposal to restore transgender protections to the bill. The Baldwin amendment will get ten minutes for debate. The floor vote had been been tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, but late morning that day, lead sponsor Barney Frank’s office told Gay City News that it had been put off until Wednesday.