The “Coming Out” Challenge

African American lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender professionals are trying to gain more ground in corporate America, but unchecked discrimination still exists.

For African Americans, the tribulations they have to face are not only in the workplace but in their communities as well. “The daily experience for the African American LGBT has unique challenges and often deals with additional social pressures in the workplace. We are minorities in our community because of sexual orientation. We are minorities in the workplace because of sex, race, and gender. In the LGBT community, we are minorities because of race,” which O’Neale explains, results in “isolation and loneliness.” Though it is recommended that LGBTs join their company’s employee resource group, even this can be challenging because the employee is forced to choose between two groups that may not fully accept them.

For an organization to create an authentic and safe environment for LGBT employees, Out & Equal offers 20 steps at http://outandequal.org/steps-to-equal-workplace.

Berry suggests that corporate recruitment efforts must be engaging in a variety of areas such as sponsoring events that target the black LGBT community, like Black Pride events, and establishing relationships with LGBT student organizations at historically black colleges and universities. To retain LGBT employees, company leaders must offer diversity training to its entire workforce and establish strictly enforced nondiscrimination policies. They should conduct surveys that allow LGBT employees to self-identify and help companies better understand the experiences of their LGBT employees.

Berry admits that LGBT diversity training can be extremely useful and is set in the context of broader diversity issues: “They often start by describing the terminology that pertains to the LGBT community, educating about the issues that affect them, sharing stories and experiences of LGBT employees, and studying business cases about offering LGBT employees equality in the workplace.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

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