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Op-ed: I Stay Closeted to Put Food on the Table

Op-ed: I Stay Closeted to Put Food on the Table

“It has come to light that you are a member of what is considered at [Christian-centered higher education institution] to be an alternate lifestyle. While I respect your right to be part of a lesbian community, it is not accepted as part of the Community Expectations at (Christian-centered higher education institution).”

I had heard of same-gender-loving individuals having to conceal their sexual orientation at their place of employment, but I never thought it would happen to me. The above statement was sent via email a few days before I was scheduled to begin teaching a college writing course by the same faculty recruiter who hired me.

She didn’t know this message could not have come at a worse time. My best friend’s mother passed a week earlier and we were immersed in planning her homegoing service. Later that night, I read the message and my heart sank. I felt utterly defeated and lost as to what to do next.

The roller-coaster ride of job-searching in America had made me dizzy and I was ready to get off. After helping the family finalize funeral arrangements, I drove home in a state of shock.

What was I going to do? I wasn’t sure at that moment, so upon arriving home, I dragged out my notebook and logged in.

Should I deny my sexual identity? Would I feel comfortable hiding that part of me in order to start working? The answer did not come easily, but in the end, I chose to say, “Yes, I was once a part of the gay community, but I left the lifestyle a few years ago after recommitting my life to Christ.”

And, just like that, my newly cemented adjunct college instructor position was no longer in jeopardy.

Why did I feel like a cop-out?

Like many people, I found myself extremely unhappy in a dead-end job and I ached for something different. I was in my 30th year in the social services/developmental disabilities field, but had grown extremely unhappy with my job as a qualified mental retardation professional because of the hostile and unsupportive work environment.

One of the last things my out-of-town supervisor did was send my annual pay rate via a shared office fax machine unbeknownst to me. After speaking with her about the confidentiality violation, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I just assumed you were there.”

She assumed I was there?! Who does that? It took everything in me not to walk out the door that very same day.

The blessing came in October 2008. A good friend from my church learned about the Indiana Librarians Leading in Diversity MLS Fellowship Project and shared the information with me. Developed by the Indiana State Library's Diversity Advisory Council, its purpose was to “increase diversity in libraries with the goal that library staff more closely reflects the communities they serve.”

While I’d never considered becoming a librarian, the desire to attend graduate school spurred me to apply.

To me, this information was God’s way of saying: “I have something better planned for you.” Inshallah! God is able; this I know for sure.

Upon learning of my acceptance into the library science program at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, I gladly wrote my resignation letter that included my last day of employment: Wednesday, December 24, 2008. Classes began the following month. To say I was elated would be an understatement.

The diversity fellowship provided me the chance to attend graduate school tuition-free and receive a monthly stipend. Additionally, I received a scholarship that financed my trip to the American Library Association/Spectrum Leadership Institute’s REACH21: Preparing the Next Generation of Librarians for Leadership conference in Chicago, and a three-day diversity conference at Princeton University. Lastly, I participated in two distinct internships. The Chris Gonzalez Library and Archives is a special library dedicated to preserving LGBT culture and history in the Indianapolis area. During my last semester, I interned in the special collections department at Butler University.

With completed internships and graduate degree in hand, I concluded my future as a librarian was secure and the sky was the limit!

Um, not so much, I quickly learned.

I tried to find employment, thinking it would be a cinch because “I had a graduate degree!” and I was hungry to begin my new career in librarianship. In January 2011, I began applying for positions, but to no avail. I may as well had tried to work as a molecular scientist because I could barely get an interview, much less a job offer. In spite of having a library science degree and internship experience, I did not possess professional experience as a librarian.

Tragedy struck in March 2011. My father had a stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side of his body. Since my parents are no longer together, I found myself having to step up as his primary contact upon his hospital admission, then, a short time later, his admission to a nursing home. I put my employment search on hold while I tended to my dad.

After mulling over my next move, I decided to pursue a second graduate degree. I chose an online program in higher education, specializing in leadership for student success. As an advocate for education and lifelong learner, I wanted to help guide other adult learners on their academic journey, ideally as an academic advisor or student affairs practitioner.

I completed the program in summer 2013 with a 4.0 grade point average. Surely, opportunities would be bountiful, right?

No. 

A few more months went by before the offer came from the Christian-centered university. I was overjoyed to finally have the platform to engage college students. As a writing instructor, I take pride in fostering a supportive environment, encouraging collaboration, swapping favorite quotes and stories, and most importantly, ensuring that true learning takes place in my classroom.

Since being hired by the institution in July 2013, I have not been called upon to work as much as I initially expected. However, I choose to stay focused and trust in God to lead my steps just as I did when I resigned my full-time position in order to attend graduate school seven years ago.

For the first time ever in my life, I had to deny a part of who I am in order to work. In doing so, I felt humiliated, furious, and ultimately sad because even though we live in a world that is seemingly affirming for individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, my experience has taught me that the fight for fundamental rights such as employment remains questionable for far too many same-gender-loving individuals. 

MICHELLE LUVDESTINI, MLS, MS, is a writer and educator. She writes using a pen name.

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