Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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The Last Labor Day When LGBTQ Workers Have Rights?

gay at work

There was a time, not too long ago, when you had to give the appearance of being straight for job interviews, dancing around the questions of children, spouses, and “What do you like to do in your off hours?” Then, once in your job, maintain that straightness by continuing to avoid conversations about your personal life, joining colleagues or clients for drinks and force involvement in conversations about kids, hot women or men, and sports or fashion. Personally, I spent a few nights with clients in strip clubs (and hating every minute of it), while they slammed down drinks and rated the women. I very begrundingly went along. Oh, the performance art of acting straight on the job.

Most of us, likely, aren’t required to do that anymore. Some of us still do because we’re not out of the closet, or afraid that while interviewers and co-workers might accept us, there’s that chance we could be treated just a bit different. Or, in worst cases, shunned, laid off, or not hired for a job we want because not everyone is as open-minded as we think. Thankfully, laws have been put in place in most cases, and in some states, to prevent discrimination, but could this be the last Labor Day where LGBTQ workers have those protections and aren’t forced to act straight or cisgender again?

Next month, the Supreme Court will hear cases involving discrimination of LGBTQ people, and the Trump administration’s Justice Department recently filed a brief saying that it’s ok to have bias against them and to justify that bias to fire them. And last month, the Labor Department offered a new proposal that helps give religious employers who seek federal contracts freedom to hire and fire workers and contractors. Remember the antigay baker in Colorado? Well now, the possible domino effect of this can be pretty jarring and widespread since the government is the largest employer and contractor in the United States. You could be the very best at what you do, or the most economically feasible, but be discarded simply because you may have a picture of you and your partner’s wedding as your Facebook profile image. These new Trump initiatives have absolutely nothing to do with professionalism, talent or work ethic.

Labor Day is defined as the celebration of working people. And at the moment, we in the LGBTQ community can be grateful that Fortune 500 companies, and other businesses, are celebrating LGBTQ workers, improving on their diversity programs and aiming to do a better job of recognizing our community. This year’s HRC annual Corporate Equality Index gave a perfect score to 571 businesses including a record number who offer expanded support programs for transgender people. In this era, when the Trump administration goes backward, many companies march forward. This is great news, except for those who are entrepreneurs, work for smaller businesses, own mom and pop shops, or are contractors who might feel the burn of the Labor Department’s cruel rule or the adverse effects of a heartless Supreme Court ruling.

Will these folks have to revert to the old days of shielding their personal lives to save their jobs or businesses? Will they have to play it straight when bidding on government contracts or positions? Will they reluctantly reach back to the darkness of the past and censor themselves? Pull down their social media platforms to rid evidence of homosexuality? Deny their personal selves so that they are not denied professionally? Force themselves to make crucifix cakes and hide their “sins” in order to make a living? Or on the other end, go to strip clubs? Dance around the questions of children, spouses and lifestyle? Will these folks feel that this Labor Day might be their last one to celebrate? Will they be forced to leave their professions or instead turn their worlds upside down to make ends meet?

This is a tumultuous time for all workers, gay, bi, trans, or straight. Trump’s bizarre tariff negotiations with China and others, his lackadaisical stewardship over the economy and impulsive behavior and meaningless edicts to companies (I hereby order you to leave China!) and our allies, have put tremendous pressure on businesses from Fortune 500, to farmers, to suppliers who work for all of them. Without getting too wonky, there’s a huge trickle-down effect when cost cutting measures are enacted by a large company or local employer. Everyone from suppliers to local retailers, restaurants to service shops shutter. And now, Trump wants to add further burdens to all this mess by adding the needless, callous, and dangerous laws of discrimination. If these regulations against our community succeed, it will affect jobs, livelihoods, and communities. There will inevitably be another damaging trickle-down effect.

So, let’s hope that this year’s worrisome Labor Day for our community is short-lived, and that by Labor Day 2020 we see hope on the horizon, perhaps a Democratic presidential nominee, 30 points ahead in the polls, who supports full and complete employment rights for LGBTQ workers? If Labor Day is about celebrating working people, then the proposition is that it’s meant to celebrate all working people, not just white ones, white collar ones, straight ones, or cisgender ones. We need to ensure that just like the 571 companies who are working toward more inclusiveness, that our workforce in the U.S. remains diverse. That a government that establishes a Labor Day, preaches justice for all, and creates rules prohibiting discrimination continues to do the right things. And let’s hope this Labor Day is the last one we have without the anxiety of conceivably having to force ourselves, in the future, to be straight again to earn a paycheck.

John Casey is public and media relations professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City. As a contributing columnist his articles have appeared in The New York Daily News, Pittsburgh Magazine, The Advocate, Ladders, and IndieWire

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