TOBIN: So Kathy.
KATHY: Yes Tobin.
TOBIN: The other day, I decided to go on a little walk…
KATHY: Did you now?
TOBIN: Gonna go bug people at the office...
TOBIN: Can you show me around your desk a little bit? What do you have here?
NANCY: Sure, well there’s the garbage from my afternoon snack.
AMBER: There’s some nice plants in the window.
NANCY: There’s the garbage from my lunch and my dirty dishes.
ALLIE: These are two llamas that my colleague brought me from her vacation in Peru.
AMBER: Photos of friends and my wife is up there.
NANCY: Well that’s my wife, Becky, and our two kids, Sasha and Laslow.
DAVID: Do you like the picture of my boyfriend?
TOBIN: Where’s the picture?
DAVID: There is none!
DAVID: So what are we looking at here? Is it a particularly gay desk to you? I don’t think so.
TOBIN: I don’t even know what that means.
DAVID: I don’t know what it does either, but wasn’t that what you were checking out?
KATHY: TOBIN! Were you literally asking people to show you how queer their desk is?
TOBIN: No! No, I promise there’s a point. Stick with me.
TOBIN: How do you think about being out in the workplace? And how has that changed over time?
DAVID: Oh absolutely it’s changed. When I came here to WNYC I was very out at that point, and made a conscious decision to remain that. I was not that way when I worked back at corporate banks...it was selectively being out, where I felt safe or who I trusted.
NANCY: My first job was in a small town at a really small newspaper, and it was very conservative and I was very alone. So it’s probably one of the only times in my life I’ve really been in the closet.
ALLIE: I’ve been in someone’s conference room with another employee...They were both older than me, and they were both sort of making fun of bisexuality. And they weren’t really taking it as a serious thing, and so that was sort of my signal to not talk about it.
KAI: I was initially professionally gay. You will relate to that, you are professionally gay now.
TOBIN: I am professionally gay.
KAI: That’s actually how I started my reporting career. My whole career I’ve been very explicit about being both openly gay, and openly Black, which is a thing you can be. Because nobody else, like think of, try to make it through a day, as intimately we work, and not do something to acknowledge your sexuality. That’s work. I challenge anybody listening to do that. To pull it off.
[THEME MUSIC IN]
VOX 1: From WNYC Studios this is Nancy.
VOX 2: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC OUT]
TOBIN: So. Work. Let’s talk about it.
KATHY: Tobin, you know we’re technically working right now, don’t you?
TOBIN: Yeah I do know that. What I mean is, we spend SO much of lives at work.
KATHY: I spend more time in this studio than in my apartment.
TOBIN: But you know what, you and I, we’re lucky. We can be ourselves here. For a lot of people that isn’t the case. Being queer at work can be scary...Because you know, we want to be accepted for who we are, wherever we are. And that doesn’t always happen.
KATHY: Quite literally, at this moment, in this country, the rights we do have are under attack.
[NEWS CLIP] The Justice Department says flatly that federal civil rights law does not ban discrimination against gays and lesbians.
KATHY: That is a problem.
TOBIN: So right now, there are cases winding their way through the courts arguing the opposite here. And on the state level, we do have workplace protections in 22 states, like right here in New York. Also places like California, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota.
KATHY: But in the other 28 states, nothing. Zero protections. We can get married, that’s awesome -- thank you Supreme Court. But if your boss isn’t down with you being married -- or even just being gay in the first place -- you could be out of a job.
TOBIN: It’s bonkers. And we’re just talking about sexual orientation here. If you’re trans for example, your rights are even murkier state to state.
KATHY: Jobs. They’re everything. They’re how we pay our bills, put a roof over our heads. And for a lot of us, jobs give our lives meaning and purpose.
TOBIN: So, today we’re launching a project we’re calling Out at Work. We’re gonna be telling stories about real people and how being queer affects their jobs.
KATHY: And we’re starting with a guy in North Carolina named Lonnie Billard.
TOBIN: We sent Nancy producer Matt Collette down there to meet him.
MATT: Hello, how are you?
LONNIE: You must be the radio guy, I’m Lonnie.
MATT: Nice to meet you. Thanks so much for having me.
LONNIE: Come in, come in come in come in.
MATT: Lonnie is 70 and lives on a quiet suburban street on the edge of Charlotte. He taught English and drama at Charlotte Catholic High School for 12 years, then retired, but basically kept working full-time as the school’s go-to sub.
MATT: This whole time, what degree are you out in any way at work?
LONNIE: Well, I think you have to break that down in two ways. First of all, with the students, I never discussed my living arrangements, I never discussed a gay way of life, I didn't think that that was my role. Now as far as the people I worked with, Rich was my partner. The principal actually would be, "Be sure to bring your...friend" not sure what word to use at that point. And I finally said "You mean my partner," and he said "Well I didn't know if I could say that." I would get questions like "What are you guys doing for the holidays," "Are you guys going on vacation?" "What is Rich up to, does he like his new job?"
MATT: And that’s more or less how things went. At least until the fall of 2014...
[NEWS CLIP] Just after 5 o’clock this evening a federal judge in Asheville ruled Amendment 1, when defines marriage as between one man and one woman, is unconstitutional.
[NEWS CLIP] Needless to say no matter where you stand on this issue, this might go down as the most significant federal court ruling in North Carolina in a generation.
LONNIE: When the marriage ban was repealed, he and I were actually sitting on the porch and talking about it and we thought, "You know what, we can do this." And we decided to do it. And I then posted on Facebook for my friends a silly little thing - there’s an old song from back in the 60's, "Going to the Chapel and you're..." I posted it with that kind of thing.
[MUSIC IN: “Going to the Chapel” by the Dixie Cups]
LONNIE: And we began the process of figuring out how to go put together a wedding.
MATT: This story isn’t exactly “Married on Sunday, fired on Monday,” but unfortunately, it is pretty close… Because a couple weeks later, on Christmas Day actually, a coworker confides to Lonnie that she heard he wasn’t being asked back to sub. So Lonnie sends a text to the assistant principal and asks “Hey, what’s going on?”.
LONNIE: And he called and told me that I wouldn't, because of my Facebook post, that I would not be allowed to come back. He said he was sorry, he said it was not his decision, that the decision had come from uptown -- meaning uptown is where the Diocese headquarters is. And that was that.
LONNIE: I'm a teacher. And to not be able to teach for a reason that has nothing to do with my ability to teach, has nothing to do with my ability to connect with students, to make a difference in those students' lives, to be shut out of your identity is devastating. It's more hurtful than when in the past I have been called a faggot. That hurts, but basically that pisses you off. This was my worth, this was who I am, it is how I see myself. And to be denied that, for a totally arbitrary reason, was just devastating to me.
MATT: Charlotte Catholic High School referred me to the Diocese, but they haven't returned my requests to comment. But when the story first broke... here’s what their spokesman David Hains told local media.
HAINS: Well the Catholic Church opposes same-sex unions. Marriage can only be between one man and one woman. He’s not being picked on because he’s gay. He lost his job as a substitute teacher because he broke a promise, because he chose to oppose church teaching, something he promised he would not do.
MATT: There was a clause in Lonnie’s contract that says teachers have to live in accordance with quote, “the tenets and morals of the Catholic church” -- and Lonnie signed it. But his lawyers at the ACLU told me they think it shouldn’t matter that Lonnie signed something like that. They argue that your employer shouldn’t be allowed to ask that of you in the first place. And they’re like: if everyone knew Lonnie was gay the whole time, why didn't they do anything about it until he said he was getting married?
KATHY: OK so lawyers are involved -- what happens now?
MATT: So the ACLU sued the Catholic Church in Charlotte under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which says you can’t be fired on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
TOBIN: That’s the part Jeff Sessions has said shouldn’t apply to gay people. And what it all comes down to is one word: sex.
KATHY: That’s coming up in a minute. You’re listening to Nancy.
KATHY: Hey Nancy listeners! We want to hear from you. How out are you at work?
PAIGE: Wow, I am way out. If I was any more out I would be falling off the ledge of our high-rise building there. [LAUGHS]
TOBIN: That’s a trans woman named Paige Dula who Matt met in Charlotte. She runs trainings call Trans 101 at her job at Bank of America’s corporate office, and says those have totally changed how she interacts with her coworkers.
PAIGE: I'm naturally introverted so it's a little disconcerting for me to some extent. But it's actually been a boon to my career. I've had opportunities to meet people at pretty high levels in the bank that I would never had the opportunity to meet if I had just been Keep Your Head Down, Do Your Work, and Not Be Out.
KATHY: So we want you to tell us about your experience. To what degree are you out at work? How do you figure out who you tell? Go to nancypodcast.org/work and fill out our short survey. We’ll share what we learn in a future episode of our “Out at Work” series.
TOBIN: That’s nancypodcast.org/work.
[THEME MUSIC IN]
KATHY: And we’re back. Talking about Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act.
TOBIN: Specifically, ONE word in Title 7. SEX.
KATHY: So much of this mess depends on that one little word. Take the story of Donald Zarda.
TOBIN: He was a skydiving instructor for a company in Long Island. And back in 2010, he was called into a meeting with his boss Ray Maynard.
RAY: Alright after a week of me thinking about the entire situation…
TOBIN: This is tape from their meeting that Don secretly recorded. The situation was that Don had been suspended following a jump he had taken with a straight couple...Don was assigned to be the instructor for the girl in the couple, which meant they were strapped together. It seemed like the whole thing went fine, but they later called the company to complain. Don gets suspended. And then comes this meeting.
RAY: I’m gonna let you go because this just isn’t working.
DON: What’s not working, Ray?
RAY: It’s not working.
DON: Well what is it?
RAY: That’s all I have to say.
TOBIN: They keep going back and forth — Don asking what Ray means, Ray gets evasive. Eventually, Don gets the message. He’s getting fired. And of course, his next question is...why?
DON: Ray, you haven’t told me what I’ve been accused of.
RAY: Let me put it this way, it’s not working. And that’s all I’m gonna say. It’s not working for me for you to be here.
TOBIN: Ray finally admits that the reason Don’s getting fired is because of something he said to the girl before they jumped.
RAY: You putting your head on her shoulder, whispering in her ear, and talking about “Don’t worry about me, I’m gay.” Under canopy and everything else.
TOBIN: This is actually something Don used to say to his female clients all the time. Like “Hey, don’t worry, I’m gay, don’t feel awkward that we’re strapped together.” But Ray isn’t having it. He shuts down the conversation, won’t say anymore. Don’s been fired. End of discussion.
TOBIN: I talked to Ray’s lawyer, Saul Zabell, and he told me that he agrees that employers shouldn’t be able to fire anyone just because they’re gay. But Saul argued that’s just not what happened here. He says Don was out at work — he introduced himself at his interview as “gay Don.” And he also says that the female client’s complaints were about the way Don interacted with her...his jokiness, the way he physically touched her...so while he may believe that there needs to be protections in place for gay workers, he says the facts of this case are just too murky.
TOBIN: Did he talk to you after he was fired from Altitude Express?
KIM: Oh yeah. Usually late at night for like several hours. No, he was really upset. He was very, very upset.
TOBIN: This is Kim Zarda.
KIM: Don’s my little brother.
TOBIN: Kim says Don took his job very seriously. He loved skydiving, and he respected what it meant to have someone else’s life in his hands.
KIM: Taking a person on a tandem jump is intimate. You’re strapped very tightly to them. And not only that, but like the whole time, if you have a good tandem master, you know they’re constantly checking your straps and my brother was no exception to that. Acceptable was never enough for him.
TOBIN: Which is why Don was so frustrated with what happened.
KIM: You know, he just wanted to set her mind at ease. That’s when he made the comment, you know, don’t worry about him, he’s gay. To me that demonstrates a great act of compassion.
TOBIN: So Don decided to sue, and his case has spent the last couple years making its way through the court. Now it’s at the second circuit, which covers New York, Vermont, and Connecticut. Some people think that it could make it all the way to the Supreme Court. But if it does, it will be without Don.
KIM: It was a difficult jump. I think he impacted, I think it was like 4.5 seconds after he exited. And that's about it.
TOBIN: He died in a solo base jump.
KIM: Yeah. The official day that he passed was October 4th of 2014...yeah, I’ll never forget that day.
KIM: If this case is something that could set a precedent, you know, or at least put a big dent in that for anyone in that situation, then I think that would be his ultimate for that, you know.
TOBIN: Don’s job was on Long Island, meaning he was covered by New York state law. And New York has protections for gay people if they’re fired for being gay. But the case wasn’t successful at the state level. It wound up getting bumped up to the federal court, and that’s where it’s gaining traction now. And it all comes down to Title VII.
MARK: What is Title VII? Not a question you can answer easily actually.
TOBIN: This is Mark Joseph Stern.
MARK: I cover the law and LGBTQ issues for Slate.
TOBIN: And he says to understand Title VII, and why it could be so important for LGBT folks, you have to go back to 1964. Back to when Congress was drafting the Civil Rights Act. It was meant to take on several big problems, one of the biggest being racial discrimination in the workplace.
MARK: This was the result of the civil rights movement, and Lyndon Johnson, the president at the time, wanted this to be part of his legacy that he would protect Black Americans in the workplace.
TOBIN: So while Congress is drafting up the law, making sure to include wording about how you can’t discriminate about race or color, suddenly, these white feminist groups are like...hold up.
MARK: Listen, if this bill passes, then Black women will enjoy more protection in the workplace by virtue of their race than white women will. And also, of course, Black men will receive more protection in the workplace than white women.
TOBIN: So in the eleventh hour, Congress adds an additional word to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to make them happy. And that word, for our purposes, ends up being kind of crucial.
MARK: What it says is that no employer can mistreat, fire, refuse to hire, discriminate against an employee on the basis of a few different characteristics including race, color, and sex.
TOBIN: So now women were able to bring cases of workplace discrimination under Title VII. Like, if a woman couldn’t get hired for a job because she had kids, Title VII says not okay. Or if a woman gets demoted for taking maternity leave, Title VII says no. And then, in 1982, comes kind of a game-changer case...
OYEZ: Price Waterhouse v. Ann B. Hopkins.
TOBIN: 1982, Ann Hopkins, an employee at Price Waterhouse, is up for partner, but she gets denied, even though...
MARK: By all accounts, she’d secured like a $25 million dollar government contract. She really should have been partner. But she was not made partner, and the reason why was that apparently her superiors found her to be overly masculine.
THURGOOD: Price Waterhouse would consider her better if she had her hair done.
MARK: She was perceived to be, we’d say today, too butch. And she was told that to fix this problem...
HELLER: There is that comment about dressing more femininely, walking more femininely, talking more femininely.
MARK: Wear makeup, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry.
TOBIN: The court finds in her favor. And in their decision, they introduce a whole new concept to Title VII: sex-stereotyping.
KATHY: Yup, I remember this from law school. That whole expecting men and women to act a certain way because of their gender.
TOBIN: Kathy Tu, in-house attorney.
KATHY: Nope, nope, not a lawyer. Just went to law school.
TOBIN: Anyway, after the Hopkins case ...the Supreme Court says, “Hey, not okay. And Title VII says so.” And then LGBT activists are suddenly like, “Hey...wait a minute.”
MARK: If that applies to a straight woman, that it seems that if an employer discriminates against a lesbian for being overly butch, overly masculine quote-unquote, that that is exactly the kind of discrimination that Ann Hopkins suffered, and so she too should be allowed to bring a claim under Title VII.
TOBIN: Which you would think would be a big moment for queer rights. But there’s a catch.
MARK: You have this weird period following Price Waterhouse where the courts say yes, if an effeminate gay man is discriminated against or a butch lesbian is discriminated against in the workplace, then they can sue under Title VII, because that is sex stereotyping. But if a masculine gay man, or a feminine lesbian is discriminated against in the workplace, they cannot sue under Title VII, because they have not suffered from sex-stereotyping. They are not like Ann Hopkins.
TOBIN: So this is the limbo LGBT folks are in right now. The word “sex” in Title VII...it only goes so far. Mark says that for trans folks, lower courts seem to be willing to recognize that discriminating against a trans person is sex-stereotyping, but that’s still not explicit protection. So what we’re waiting around for is another case that could allow the Supreme Court to say “Yes. The word ‘sex’ in Title VII is also meant to protect LGBT folks.” And at least for gay people, that's where Don Zarda, the skydiver, comes in. His lawyers are arguing that discrimination based on sexual orientation is discrimination based on sex -- no matter if they're masculine or feminine acting or whatever. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it’s illegal.
KATHY: Wait, Matt...
KATHY: What happened to Lonnie, the teacher?
MATT: After the Facebook post and the firing and all that, he got married.
[MUSIC FADE IN “Going to the Chapel"]
LONNIE: It was a beautiful day It was a small wedding - we had it at a public park that has a wedding arbor on the point of a lake.
MATT: Lonnie’s son officiated. He and Rich were joined by family, friends, and a bunch of Lonnie’s old coworkers.
LONNIE: ...a lot of my teacher buddies, administration from Charlotte Catholic. Even though I was fired, they still came to my wedding. And that, that was really cool.
[THEME MUSIC IN]
KATHY: We’re gonna keep exploring these topics through our Out at Work reporting. And we want to hear how you balance all this. Take our survey at nancypodcast.org/work. Special thanks to our colleagues at the top of today’s episode: Amber Hall, Nancy Solomon, Kai Wright, Allie Pinel, and friend of the show, David Gebel.
TOBIN: Social media you know the drill, you can find us on all the things: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, we're @nancypodcast.
KATHY: Matt Collette!
TOBIN: Sound designer...
KATHY: Jeremy Bloom!
KATHY: Jenny Lawton!
KATHY: Caleb Codding!
TOBIN: Executive producer...
KATHY: Paula Szuchman!
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
[THEME MUSIC OUT]
TOBIN: I feel like I said "cood" [KATHY LAUGHS] Like, they cood make it all the way to the Supreme Court, what's that aboot?