Black and Gay in Corporate America

Black and Gay in Corporate America

A survey commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign found that out of 761 LGBT participants, only 25% of African Americans revealed their sexual orientation on the job. African American LGBT employees have unique challenges and experiences associated with being a minority because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Coming out in the workplace is an ongoing process especially when you are in high-level positions, says Yvette C. Burton, Ph.D., CEO of the Arcus Foundation, an LGBT social justice organization. “Business is driven by relationships, where it is quite natural for people to want to get to know you; it relates to how trustworthy you are as a professional. Whether it is a new job opportunity around the world, a new team, or a new boss, it requires a new set of conversations about who you are,” she adds.

Many African Americans that are part of the LGBT community don’t live in the closet but tend to live in private, maintains Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, executive director and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering the African American LGBT population. There are graduated levels of “being out,” she says, so even if many don’t deny being LGBT they choose not to call attention to their sexual orientation. Says Lettman-Hicks: “They don’t desire to open themselves up to public scrutiny.”

There’s also the fear factor. Racial discrimination in the workplace is prohibited by a number of federal and state laws, but gay rights activists say anxiety around denied promotions, dismissal, discrimination, and harassment for being gay is all too real since there’s no federal law that protects LGBT individuals on the job except in the federal workplace. According to the Human Rights Campaign, on the state level it is legal in 29 states to discriminate based on sexual orientation and in 37 states to do so based on gender identity or expression. (If the employer is in a city or state whose laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, then that employer must adhere to those laws.)