September 29, 2014

Queer Issue: Moral Dilemma: Would You Work For a Homophobic or Transphobic Employer?

Recently, my partner and myself moved from Pennsylvania to Minnesota, due to a job my partner was offered teaching Corrections for Minnesota State University. My partner is from the mid-west, so the cultural shock is not quiet so great for him, but I personally don't think that I will ever get used to hearing "soda" referred to as "pop". Also, I'm used to there always being hills or tall buildings around, so the wide open sky is a little off-putting for me. As it is, one reason for the lack of posts recently, is that I have been getting used to the area and am still trying to figure my way around a new location.

Otherwise, I'm doing fine and am finishing up my B.A. degree in Criminology for Wilkes University. I ended up having to take incompletes in two classes in the spring semester, so I'm finishing up my work for those while I search for a job here in Minnesota. I also am in the application process for a job at a local newspaper writing as a freelancer.

However, I am still looking elsewhere for work and recently came across an add for a staff position at a homeless shelter. At first glance the position looked good. The hours for the shifts they were hiring for were a little inconvenient, the pay was not great, but I figured it would be a good chance to obtain valuable experience working for a cause I believe is important. Plus I already have a lot of work and volunteer experience that would make me appear to be an ideal candidate for the position. Everything seemed set. Then I looked up the address in the ad.

As it turns out, the organization in question is one that has a history of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. The name of the organization isn't relevant, but for the record, this organization has both turned away homeless LGBTQ people seeking their services and there is at least one documented case of an employee being fired after coming out as LGBTQ that I am aware of. Also, at one point there was a link on their website to a virulently homophobic organization.

It is perhaps also worth pointing out that the link was taken down when it was pointed out to the organization and I could (if I wanted to name the organization in question) point to several news articles talking about the organization claiming they would mend their ways. However, a brief search turned up no news articles about the organization actually creating concrete policies to eliminate discrimination against the LGBTQ community, so it seems unlikely that such change has occurred.

Which brings me to my dilemma, it is possible that the local chapter does not discriminate against LGBTQ people and if the local head honcho was open minded, I might be able to get hired. But if I was hired by this organization, what would the implications be?

There are more than a few ways of looking at this issue. For example, the field of law enforcement and the criminal justice system have a reputation for being particularly homophobic and transphobic (in addition to engaging in other forms of prejudice) and thus one might reasonably question why an LGBTQ person would seek employment as a police officer or other wise within the criminal justice system. But the reputation of law enforcement officers in this case might be misleading that homophobia and transphobia (in addition to other forms of prejudice) are prevalent (or at least present) in just about every other career field imaginable, from science and medicine, to higher education, to politics and government.

One of the key features of systemic forms of discrimination and prejudice is that they are, well... systemic, and in general, it would be virtually impossible to find a career in which they would not be present.

But can a career choice be compared to working for a specific employer? This is the question that gives me pause. There are further complications here as well, namely that as far as I can tell, this organization runs the only homeless shelter for a long way around and thus an argument could be made that it would be better to have me working for this organization than not, as hypothetically, I could potentially work from within to make the local chapter more queer friendly so to speak. This latter choice is definitely a gamble though.

But at the end of the day, I simply do not like being put in this position in the first place. I want to work and put the skills that I have gathered during my life to good use. The choice of having to let them go to waste (if I am unable to find steady work elsewhere) or putting them to a use in a situation that might potentially increase homophobia and transphobia in our society is not a choice I look forward to making.