Half of LGBTQ Workers Are in the Closet, Citing Fears of Discrimination

Nearly half of LGBTQ workers say they are closeted at work in fear of being discriminated against.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released survey findings on Monday indicating that the number of LGBTQ people who are out in the workplace has remained relatively unchanged in the past decade. In “A Workplace Divided: Understanding the Climate for LGBTQ Workers Nationwide,” the national advocacy group reports that 46 percent of queer and trans individuals haven’t disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity to coworkers. In 2008, 50 percent of respondents said the same.

In a survey of 1,615 employees across the U.S., the HRC found that these fears are based on pervasive discrimination and everyday microaggressions LGBTQ individuals experience in the workplace.

A majority of queer and trans workers (53 percent) say they regularly hear jokes about LGBTQ people in their office environment. One in five individuals surveyed said that a supervisor had advised them to dress in a more appropriately masculine or feminine way in the workplace. Approximately a quarter of LGBTQ folks claimed these experiences had increased in the past year.

These seemingly mundane experiences can have severe negative impacts on employees when they accumulate over time. Nearly a third of LGBTQ workers (31 percent) reported that their job makes them feel “unhappy or depressed.”

While a majority of Fortune 500 companies have diversity initiatives in the workplace, advocates say these findings show businesses have a lot of work to do.

“While LGBTQ-inclusive corporate policies are becoming the norm, LGBTQ workers too often face a climate of bias in their workplace,” claimed Deena Fidas, director of HRC’s Workplace Equality Program, in a statement. “LGBTQ employees are still avoiding making personal and professional connections at work because they fear coming out—and that hurts not only that employee, but the company as a whole.”

“Even the best-of-the-best private sector employers with top-rated policies and practices must do more to nurture a climate of inclusion for all,” Fidas added.

But the survey, which also polled heterosexual and cisgender workers in the U.S., also provided a glimpse into many of the biases harbored by non-LGBTQ people even as acceptance of queer and trans identities has grown dramatically in recent years. A 2016 report from Pew Research Center found that two-thirds of Americans believe that society should accept homosexuality.

Nonetheless, a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” attitude persists in the workplace.

Almost three-fifths of non-LGBTQ respondents claimed it was “unprofessional” to discuss subjects like sexual orientation and gender identity in an office environment. Thirty-six percent of that same population said they would be uncomfortable if they heard a queer or trans colleague discuss their dating life. In addition, half of cisgender and straight people reported there were no openly LGBTQ people in their office.

These results may be a byproduct of the lack of “basic federal protections” in the U.S. for LGBTQ workers, as Fidas claimed.

Just 20 states (and D.C.) have fully inclusive non-discrimination laws on the books banning bias in the workplace on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. An inclusive civil rights bill—known as the Equality Act—has received the backing of more than 200 Congresspeople but is unlikely to become law under an administration which has backed federal legislation allowing sweeping anti-LGBTQ discrimination on the basis of religion.

But a majority of people in the U.S. not only support workplace protections for LGBTQ people—they believe these laws are already in place.

According to the HRC, 77 percent of Americans believe that it should be illegal to discriminate against queer and trans employees based on their identity. Nine in 10 people already think such treatment is outlawed by state and federal civil rights legislation.

Read the full report here.

Image via Getty


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.

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