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Realities of Gays and Lesbians in the Workplace

August 1, 1995
Related Topics: Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, Diversity, Featured Article
Because sexual orientation is a topic that stirs debate, it's important at the outset to look at what we know with certainty about the issue.

If you're in an organization of any size, statistically speaking, at least 3% to 12% of the people in your organization are gay, lesbian or bisexual. This is a conservative estimate, as various studies of sexual orientation use different definitions.

Homosexuality and bisexuality are distributed across the population. This means women and men of every background, race, ethnicity, religion, class and so on, are homosexual and bisexual in roughly the same proportions. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals exist in every country and virtually every culture around the world—and always have.

While certain identifiable trends, fashions, styles and modes of expression exist in every culture, there's no valid set of criteria by which one can be certain that a person is straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual. What people say they are is what we should always take as the most important indicator of their sexual orientation.

Addressing sexual-orientation issues is both a personal and an organizational responsibility. Whereas, the feelings and fears of individuals tend to work their way into company policy, company policy tends to form the attitudes and behaviors of individuals. Using this cycle to make your company user friendly for everybody requires a combination of personal effort and changes in organizational policy and culture.

Unlike other targeted minority groups, gay, lesbian and bisexual people aren't currently protected against discrimination in employment by federal law, although some states and municipalities have extended them these basic rights.

SOURCE: Excerpted from "Sexual Orientation in the Workplace: Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Heterosexuals Working Together." By Amy J. Zuckerman and George F. Simons. 1994.

Personnel Journal, August 1995, Vol. 74, No. 8, p. 50.

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