VOX 1: Being out at work feels like negotiating a tightrope between professionalism and trying to be open, and also quite honest.
VOX 2: I'm trans so you know they made a big announcement to the entire floor which was not comfortable or great, really. And people still misgender me fairly frequently you know cuz my voice doesn't pass apparently? Um but at least I'm allowed to use the men's room so that's pretty cool.
VOX 3: It's a constant decision of whether to jokingly correct them or to make a serious statement, and to make a more serious statement really is to put yourself on your own, facing lots of different people who may not quite understand.
VOX 4: Just having this kind of little tiny job that I think of kind of just being a bill-paying kind of thing, it's nothing really fancy, but nonetheless it's like I'm not going to leave the job because this is a kind of freedom that I cannot imagine having in other jobs.
VOX 5: Now I have like an incredible queer support group that I would have never have found had I not started working for this company. And I'm really thankful for that.
VOX 6: From WNYC Studios this is Nancy.
VOX 7: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC IN]
KATHY: We have a very special guest in the studio today.
TOBIN: We do! Matt Collette, hello.
MATT: Oh I thought it was like a real guest, I was like what didn't I prepare for? [KATHY & TOBIN LAUGH] [MUSIC IN] It's just me.
KATHY: Superstar producer Matt Collette back in the studio.
TOBIN: Hi Matt.
MATT: Happy to be here on this side of the glass.
TOBIN: So you may be wondering, what's this third wheel doing here? I'm just kidding [TOBIN & KATHY LAUGH] But for real, we have been doing this big project called Out at Work, you may have heard about it. It is all about being queer in the workplace. And part of that has been asking for your stories. And you all have come through in a way we didn't even expect.
KATHY: Oh yeah, a big thank you to all the Nancy listeners who have already shared a story. More than 1700 responses so far, and we’re STILL hearing from you every day. And Matt has been helping us sort through all of them. What have you noticed so far, Matt?
MATT: Well we've gotten a ton of incredibly moving stories from people all over the country, and even outside the country like folks who work at international schools or in the Peace Corps. So we asked, are you out at work? And one surprise for me has been that it's rarely all that cut and dry. There are a lot of people who like wanna be out but feel like they can't be, and at the same time, feel torn like maybe they ought to be? And one group where this tension is really playing out is teachers.
BERIT: While I am completely out to my colleagues and administrators, I generally don’t say anything to my students and their parents. I just fly under the radar and pass, and I feel bad about that.
MATT: This is an elementary school teacher near Philadelphia who says she'd really like to be out...
BERIT: So this year when I’m starting at a new school, I’m thinking well maybe this will be the year that I’m brave, and maybe when somebody says something about my husband I’ll correct them and say “my wife.” But I worry that it’ll distract from the kids’ education, that it’ll make it about me or make it a big deal or that I’ll even lose my job, so it is definitely a worry.
TOBIN: I wonder all the time what it would have been like to have a teacher even just mention in passing that they had a same-sex partner or were queer and what that would have changed for me.
KATHY: Totally! I would have finally had my ring of keys moment.
TOBIN: Your Miss Frizzle moment, if you will.
KATHY: Sure, sure.
TOBIN: Get on the magic school bus Kathy!
KATHY: Okay, okay. [TOBIN LAUGHS]
MATT: Yeah this point exactly is something I heard from a lot of teachers, this idea that they wanted to be the role model they never had themselves. Like, this is Annie Kelly, she's a public school teacher here in New York:
ANNIE: I made the decision very early on that I had to be as overtly open as possible because I realized how transformational it could have been for me as a teenager to see someone visibly queer in the classroom who owned that they were queer.
MATT: Annie teaches social studies and works to bring queer themes front and center into her classroom.
ANNIE: My big move this year was to create my queer wall. By my desk is this slew of pictures of queers through history from the ancient world to the modern world. Already so early in the year, I’ve had students come in and just stare at it and wonder. One student even suggested that she belonged up there herself and it felt like an epiphany and a secret that she was sharing with me.
TOBIN: A queer wall! I love this so much.
KATHY: Finally a wall we can get behind. [MATT & TOBIN LAUGH]
[OUT AT WORK MUSIC STARTS]
TOBIN: Okay, okay, so before we get too political, I wanna zoom out for a second. Matt, what other stories are people telling us about being out at work, like across the board?
MATT: We've heard a lot of stories that really show that being out at work isn't as simple as just telling the people you work with and then that's it. A lot of people will do this thing where they'll wait and see if their coworkers seem like they'd be open and accepting before coming out to them. And sometimes people are out in one aspect of their queerness, say maybe their gender identity, but keep other things to themselves, like maybe the specifics of their sexuality.
KATHY: That makes sense.
MATT: The other thing that really stood is that like lots of bisexual people wrote in about feeling totally invisible. Especially if they're like presently in opposite-sex relationships. Because then people often just assume they're straight, even if they aren't actually. But like, bringing up being bi makes them feel like maybe they're inviting these bi stereotypes they want to avoid.
KATHY: Like, being seen as promiscuous or like quote unquote greedy. I just wanna say, we see you bi folks, we see you.
MATT: So we are still collecting data and looking for stories from our listeners. You can take that survey over at nancypodcast.org/work. If you’ve already taken it, thank you! Now maybe send it to a friend! We'll share the results in a couple weeks. Also, important question: have you two taken the survey yet?
TOBIN: Ya know...
KATHY: I wasn't told to take the-
TOBIN: It's been a busy time-
KATHY: To take the survey, I thought I would skew the results-
TOBIN: I have a lot on my plate-
KATHY: There's just a lot goin on.
KATHY: I will take it right now!
TOBIN: We'll take it, I'm sorry. [KATHY LAUGHS]
[OUT AT WORK MUSIC FADES BACK IN]
TOBIN: Thanks Matt.
MATT: Thanks guys.
KATHY: Bye Matt thank you I love you don't leave.
MATT: I'm already gone.
[OUT AT WORK MUSIC ENDS]
KATHY: So we've been listening through voice memos from folks who have sent in their stories of being out at work.
TOBIN: I know I love it so much!
KATHY: But we haven't talked about one of the biggest parts of work...
TOBIN: Oh what's that?
KATHY: Dollars, Tobin! Money!
TOBIN: Ahhhhhh mmhmmm...
KATHY: And something we've seen very recently is that when states try to pass laws that take away rights from queer people, it can mean millions, even billions of dollars in consequences in local business.
RICH: So for instance, Indiana in 2015 passed a religious exemption law saying that private corporations could exempt themselves from federal regulations on the basis of religious belief.
KATHY: This is Rich Bellis, he’s an associate editor at Fast Company.
RICH: So under then-governor Mike Pence, Indiana passed this law and there was this big public outcry. It was actually only on the books for a matter of weeks, I think one to two weeks, before the pushback was so, so powerful that the governor ended up signing sort of a revision to that law but in that really brief period there was subsequent research saying that the state already lost like 60 million dollars, which is pretty significant, right?
RICH: So a dozen businesses more-or-less hold out just because the outcry was so strong at that period. More recently, this past July, when Texas was considering a trans bathroom bill, they were able to point not just to Indiana but to North Carolina the year prior, which had a bathroom bill on the books for around a year, a little over a year, and in that period they lost it was estimated around 630 million dollars before it was repealed. So Texas businesses were able to say hey you know this is gonna be pretty significant for us and they were able to sort of look at that data from North Carolina and say you know, forecasting this estimate forward, we're looking at 5.6 billion dollars over ten years. So that was pretty significant and you know ultimately I think it was largely due to the business community in Texas that that measure kind of died.
KATHY: Yeah. Are you seeing companies become more involved with LGBT policy issues?
RICH: I think there has been an uptick, yeah, and I think when same-sex marriage was legalized that sort of telegraphed to the private sector you know a pretty powerful message that okay here this is the direction that public opinion is going. So as a result, companies kind of had to get involved and felt as though the risks of not getting involved were higher than otherwise. Because listen I mean corporations, they're around primarily, their main interests are to protect their bottom line and the interests of their shareholders, right? So I think it became politically acceptable to take a progressive stance on queer issues. One interesting point of comparison is if you look back 20, 25 years, you know when DOMA was signed, when Don't Ask Don't Tell was enforced, you didn't see this huge public outcry. You know, 20 years later where the landscape has changed politically, I think it becomes more of a liability not to step into the fray on a lot of these issues.
KATHY: Yeah, yeah.
TOBIN: I'm curious what that actually looks like, like what does it actually mean for a company to have pro-LGBT policies?
RICH: What's interesting is that it doesn't actually take really outlandish dramatic policies and creative thinking to sort of just be good on queer issues. You know on one hand you just need sort of that basic nondiscrimination language right: we're an equal opportunity employer and that includes gender identity and sexual orientation. Right, you also have other things too like you know health coverage. Do you know does our health package include coverage for the medical costs associated with transitioning. And then there are some other little things too like policies against you know the corporation contributing to charities that discriminate. So these are all things that kind of go into like a queer friendly package for companies that are interested in this. I was speaking to somebody recently who is the head of an advocacy organization on LGBT workplace issues. And you know by her research anyway she was saying you know in 1996, four percent of the Fortune 500 had you know somewhat basic language regarding sort of H.R. issues and nondiscrimination in their internal policies and now that ratio is flipped. She goes, 20 years later, by 2016 you have 96 percent of the Fortune 500. So there really aren't one or two standouts and that's a pretty dramatic change in a fairly short period of time.
[THEME MUSIC IN]
TOBIN: Rich Bellis, associate editor at Fast Company. Thank you so much for coming on Nancy.
RICH: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me. It's a pleasure.
TOBIN: I also just wanna say, you said "the total queer package" at one point...
RICH: Ahhh did I?
TOBIN: When you were referencing a company and I was like well...
RICH: Please don't cut that.
VOX: Don't you worry, Nancy will be back in a minute.
[THEME MUSIC OUT]
KATHY: Tobin, I want to read you this passage from this personal essay, it’s from an old issue of Essence magazine and I can’t get it out of my head.
KATHY: “I fear, in sum, that the monster of conformity will rear its angry head and devour me. But I’m weary of playing games and of hiding and being afraid. I refuse to be trapped in a half-life of worry and anxiety, wondering how to explain to others that my lover is a woman.”
[THEME MUSIC IN]
TOBIN: Ooh, that is very good.
KATHY: So good. So this is from an essay published in 1979. And it’s called “I am a Lesbian”, written by Chirlane McCray. She’s now the first lady of New York City and married to Mayor Bill de Blasio, but this essay is all about her experience falling in love with a woman in college, and making the choice to come out so that other lesbian women of color could feel seen.
TOBIN: The thing I love about it is that in a lot of ways, it feels like it could have been written today.
KATHY: Totally! It's totally still relevant today. And it’s so interesting that this was published when she was 24. And then later she fell in love with, and married, a man.
TOBIN: This is something that she talked about very candidly during Bill de Blasio's campaign in 2013 when the article resurfaced, and at the time she was quoted as saying “I am more than just a label.”
KATHY: So good.
TOBIN: So good!
KATHY: So good.
TOBIN: So we got to go uptown recently to Gracie Mansion, where she lives, to talk all about that, and also the work she’s doing with LGBT kids in New York City right now.
KATHY: Gracie Mansion, really beautiful, we got to record in a room with a baseball that was signed by Joe DiMaggio!
TOBIN: [LAUGHING] That's what you're gonna call out right now?
KATHY: The Joe DiMaggio room, very exciting.
TOBIN: Okay that's not what it's called folks, not what it's called.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
TOBIN: I just want the chance to say: First lady of New York City Chirlane McCray, thank you for having us!
KATHY: Oh thank you so much for having us.
CHIRLANE: You're very welcome. Thank you for inviting me to talk with you.
KATHY: We can just keep doing this!
TOBIN: Yes we'll just do thank-yous forever.
KATHY: Thank you!
CHIRLANE: No, it's you, it's you!
KATHY: So during your husband Bill de Blasio's 2013 campaign for mayor, this essay you wrote for Essence resurfaced and we love the essay-
TOBIN: It's a beautiful essay-
KATHY: We just read it recently because, it's so relevant even now. Yeah. What was it like to revisit the essay like decades after you published it?
CHIRLANE: Oh my goodness. Well you know it's always hard to read your own writing.
[TOBIN AND KATHY LAUGH IN AGREEMENT]
CHIRLANE: Just because it's like, oh did I really say that, did I really use that word and that name, so it was a little painful to tell you the truth. But I, you know it really brought me back because of how great the need was. You know, first of all for Essence to publish a piece, like that was groundbreaking. I mean it hadn't, it had never been done. There was a lot of talk among among themselves, the editors about whether they should do it or not. Whether it was relevant to the readership. And then you know should I publish my own name or not. I mean it was, it was a very big deal. And I did show the piece to people like Barbara Smith and Audre Lorde and you know my mentors to get their feedback on it. First of all, Black lesbians were like invisible just totally invisible even though we, you know we honor people like like Audre now, it was within a very small community of people back then. And she was nowhere to be seen on a larger scene. And I just thought you know where are our voices? It changes the world when you see someone who steps up and becomes visible and strong and doing well. It just opens up a world of possibilities and our young people didn't have that. And I said, why can't I be one of those people who really opens a door for others?
KATHY: And like, taking up space.
KATHY: Because I feel like sometimes we don’t get the opportunity to be ourselves and take up space.
CHIRLANE: Mhmmm, that’s right.
TOBIN: I personally need time to recover from you just dropping that Audre Lord was your mentor. Woo! That's so cool.
TOBIN: Well so, I was wondering, this is just a thing I’m personally curious about. In the essay, the one we were talking about with Essence you came out very proudly as a lesbian, and in more recent interviews you sort of have evolved to say that you're not really into labels. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your journey about how you've come to understand yourself.
CHIRLANE: Well let's just say I've come to understand myself.
KATHY: That’s a great answer.
CHIRLANE: When Bill, when my husband was campaigning for mayor, of course, you know not, not all members of the media are as understanding or well-intended as, as people like you. And I thought that it was, it was important for them to know that, that ... how to put this ... that I think I actually used this: I said you know labels put people in boxes and boxes are like coffins, right? You can't move, right? And I believe people can grow and change and that's very hard for people to understand. And so I have shied away from labels. I think it's constraining.
TOBIN: It's interesting because I feel myself going back and forth where sometimes labels are really helpful and sometimes they're not. Have you have you found, especially with I feel like, not to label us but millennials -- let's just name it: millennials...
TOBIN: ...who are sometimes all about the label. How do you sort of broach that conversation?
CHIRLANE: I think you know part of the good the good part of labels I mean the positive part is like it helps you find community, right? Like when you're looking for people who think like you, who look at the world in a similar way that you know they're helpful. Without a doubt. You know, I’m a little bit older [CHUCKLES], so I was a little puzzled when it became, well it went from gay, to then lesbian gay, to then the LGBTQ to now I and A. I’m like, wait a minute, what are we doing here? [ALL LAUGH] Why don’t we just use people’s names? But there is something to to naming something or someone in terms of becoming visible. If you don't have, if you don't name something it is almost like it doesn't exist. And that it's been such an important part of this movement to become visible, become understood. And so I understand it. I just don't want to be constrained by it.
KATHY: Yeah, yeah that's fair. I get that.
TOBIN: So we're going to talk about this new initiative for LGBT youth in the city. It's called the Unity Project. And I'm wondering you've written so beautifully before about your experience growing up as a young Black woman, the experience of coming out to your father. I wonder if you could connect the dots for your personal experience to this project.
CHIRLANE: Well, although our world has changed dramatically from when I was a young person in the 70s and coming out. It's tough, it's really tough. And I know from my personal experience, you know, of young people who didn't make it, right? And it could have been prevented. I think that we have a moral obligation to make things better. We want all of our young people to thrive in New York City. And we have the tools to do that. And we should, we should just do that. And I have a platform so I am going to use it as much as I can to the best of my ability because I've walked in those shoes. I haven't walked in everybody's shoes, but I remember my shoes. [ALL LAUGH] And I'm a good listener. So I'm hoping that I can make the world a little better place for our young people.
KATHY: Yeah. One of the things that we're focusing on this season is employment and how people navigate being out at work. And I'm curious how is the Unity Project going to help young LGBT New Yorkers work, get to work, find work, all of the above?
CHIRLANE: Well, you know there's no silver bullet, there's so many pieces to that. I think one of the things that we want to do is just expose LGBT young people to the different kinds of jobs they can have. We had a job fair for our transgender population, that’s something we’re looking to repeat. And we’re even creating a manual for employers about how to be culturally sensitive, how to make your workplace welcoming and warm for people who have...for the LGBTQ community. I think it's up to us in government to smooth those connections and make help make those pathways so that is not so awkward, and so that these jobs are more accessible and more young people know about them.
TOBIN: I’m wondering if you’ve ever had the experience of being in a workplace that wasn’t accepting?
CHIRLANE: Well, I've had a mix of experiences, I certainly had the experience of being just totally in the closet, right was like in the 70's like early 80's, like forget it. It was not even something that I would consider broaching. I kind of lived in two different worlds, right? And then later on, you know, when people became more accepting, there was the, well you know you could talk to some people about this but you're not going to maybe talk to your boss or you know you're not going to bring your girlfriend to the social gathering of the year, the Christmas party or whatever it is. Things have changed over the years. Society has changed tremendously, but not enough.
TOBIN: New York is kind of an outlier in that it's it's a little more of a liberal place, I think it's safe to say. [LAUGHS]
CHIRLANE: Oh yes. A little more? A lot more! [ALL LAUGH]
TOBIN: So I'm wondering like there is something about like maybe this is a friendlier city to launch something like this project. And I'm wondering what you feel other cities could learn from New York sort of kicking this off?
CHIRLANE: Well, New York is just, I mean this is the birthplace of the LGBTQ movement. I mean we're, we’re a haven for so many young people, old people, everybody, right? I think we were hoping that with this blueprint that we have a document, a plan, a strategy that the other cities can model their own efforts on. They can take pieces of it, whether it's the employment piece or the piece where we're training 500 physicians by the end of next summer to be culturally competent with the whole you know LGBTQ community, that's like so important. Anyone can do this. It really requires just having the will, and with the blueprint, we show them the way. [LAUGHS]
[THEME MUSIC STARTS]
TOBIN: Chirlane McCray is the first lady of New York City and the initiative we talked about is called The Unity Project, and it’s aimed specifically at helping queer youth in the city. You can see us hanging out at Gracie Mansion at nancypodcast.org.
KATHY: Okay it’s credits time.
TOBIN: Social media, we are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, @nancypodcast all those places.
KATHY: And if you want to contribute to our Out At Work Project, please go to nancypodcast.org/work.
TOBIN: Okay, producer...
KATHY: Matt Collette!
TOBIN: Sound designer...
KATHY: Jeremy Bloom!
KATHY: Jenny Lawton!
TOBIN: Executive Producer...
KATHY: Paula Szuchman! Special thanks this week to Matt Boynton.
TOBIN: I'm Tobin Low!
KATHY: I'm Kathy Tu!
TOBIN: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
KATHY: Should we do that one more time just in case? So we have it?
TOBIN: Just in case but I thought that was a good take!
KATHY: Yeah? Okay...
TOBIN: It felt good, it felt like it was grooving, ya know?
KATHY: Okay, let's just do one more!
TOBIN: Let's make magic again!
TOBIN: I hate us. I hate us-
KATHY: [LAUGHING] That should be the kicker...
TOBIN: I hate us so much. I. HATE. US.