JILL: Will I wind up taking a less prestigious position or a worse paid position in order to be in a place with a queer community?
KATHY: And do you feel frustrated that you might ultimately have to choose between your career and having, like, a sense of community like you want.
JILL: I guess so I hadn't even thought about it. I just accepted it as how things were. Um...is that sad?
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VOX 1: From WNYC Studios, this is Nancy.
VOX 2: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
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KATHY: This is Queer Money Matters… All week long, we’re talking about why reaching financial milestones can be harder for queer people… and how we get around those challenges.
TOBIN: On this episode, we’re gonna talk about one of the most defining parts of our financial lives: our careers.
KATHY: At the top of the show, we heard from Jill, a Nancy listener, about how she feels limited. Tobin, do you feel like your career has been limited somehow because you’re queer?
TOBIN: Well, right now we’re sitting in a studio, recording a queer podcast
TOBIN: So, no, not in this moment.
KATHY: Kay, fine.
TOBIN: But...I actually identity a lot with Jill because I felt the same way in my previous life when I was a cellist wanting to be in an orchestra.
KATHY: When you were a professional musician.
TOBIN: Yes, back in the day, I was a professional musician and when you are a professional musician starting out you tend to want to get your foot in the door with these smaller orchestras...but those smaller orchestras tend to be in conservative places.
TOBIN: And so I would see these job openings that would theoretically be something I'd be interested in but they would be in cities that I wasn't sure how safe I would be as a queer person.
TOBIN: And I should add I feel very lucky because I found a way to stay in places that I felt safe and was able to do that financially, but it was a consideration.
K: Right, but finding a place where you feel comfortable is only one of the challenges. There are lots of other ways queer people run into barriers in the workplace… and to that point, Tobin, there’s someone I want you to meet.
JOSIAH: My name is Josiah Colon. I am a trans man, my pronouns are he and him.
KATHY: Josiah is 26 years old...
JOSIAH: I'm living in Central Florida right now, kind of close to Disney.
KATHY: The day we spoke, his AC had broken, it was 95 degrees in his home, and his dog was going a little wild.
JOSIAH: Please, nobody's out there bothering you. I know, you just want to play with all the kids.
KATHY: Last year was tough for Josiah. And more than broken-AC-in-Florida tough. He spent a lot of it looking for a job. Josiah used to work at an insurance company, but he wanted to do something people-facing. So he quit. And he also came out around that time.
JOSIAH: I find, at least in my own experience, it's proven to be a lot more difficult to find work than before I was presenting as male.
KATHY: At one point, he got really close to a job as a receptionist. He had an offer and was planning to accept the position.
JOSIAH: And they offered for me to come in and kind of do some job shadowing for the day to see what a normal shift would look like. Everybody introduced themselves. They seemed very nice and the first conversation was about politics and our president. And the subject matter was very much against the LGBT community and I was not dishonest when I turned down the position at the end of the shift. I explained to them, you know, this is what's going on. It was with HR and it was privately but I told them pretty straightforwardly, I cannot work with a company or get behind our product run by a company who does not support people like myself or my kind. They respected the decision and kind of just ended it there, but there was no apology, there was no, like, you know, we'll get to the bottom of it. They really just didn't seem to care.
JOSIAH: I kind of fulfilled my duties as an American person, you know, you go to school for 13 years, you get that high school diploma, and then you go to college for four and then you're expected to go and you get a great job and you'll be able to live great except for the fact that I'm trans. So...society kind of says we don't count.
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JENNICA: There's no federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
KATHY: This is Jennica Webster. She’s an associate professor at Marquette University and she studies how people are treated at work. Jennica says one of the biggest obstacles queer people face in the workplace is the laws — or really, the lack of laws. Josiah’s home state of Florida has no explicit protections for queer and trans people.
JENNICA: So right now there's about 20 states that have public and private protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And other states might have protections but only for public employees or only protections for based on sexual orientation. So it really varies. And then if you really dive a little deeper at a more local level there are many cities and counties in states that don't have protections where those local governments have passed nondiscrimination laws. States I would avoid would be Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina. They passed a law making it illegal for local governments to pass nondiscrimination laws for LGBT people.
KATHY: But regardless of the laws where you live, deliberate workplace discrimination is the reality for many queer people.
JENNICA: We find that at least one in five LGBT people experience this type of formal discrimination at work. And if we look at just transgender employees that number goes up to 30 percent.
JENNICA: So yeah. And then if you start really diving in and you start looking at the other different types of discrimination I mean that can even get even worse. You know discrimination where people may not necessarily direct a comment towards you but it's about your identity in general and it can kind of create this hostile environment for you.
KATHY: I wanted to ask a little bit more specifically about your research on something called cognitive paranoia which I find fascinating.
KATHY: Can you tell me about what that is and what you learned?
JENNICA: Sure, so we asked transgender employees whether they felt like they were forced to act in a traditionally gendered way or whether they were denied access to the appropriate bathrooms at work or if they were misgendered by co-workers and what we found was that those transgender employees who reported higher levels of this treatment adopted a type of mindset referred to, like you said, as cognitive paranoia and this is where they reported feeling three different things. So they reported feeling more hyper vigilant in their work environment, so you're just being a little more on edge you just can't really relax. They also were more likely to ruminate and have these repetitive thoughts about those interactions that they were just experiencing with co-workers.
KATHY: Uh huh.
JENNICA: And then they were also more likely to assume that the intentions of their co-workers were more malevolent and sinister.
KATHY: I’m not going to lie this sounds quite familiar to me personally. It almost seems like a response to aggressions or microaggressions at work.
JENNICA: Yeah! That’s exactly what that is. There is a legitimate reason for you to feel like this.
KATHY: And does that affect their overall career path?
JENNICA: So it definitely makes you feel less satisfied with your work. They reported higher levels of emotional exhaustion and they were much more likely to quit.
KATHY: This is part of the reason queer people make less money and have higher unemployment than straight people.
JENNICA: The real effect I think is cumulative over time. So we know that career interruptions regardless of what they are but for LGBT people, it's more prevalent because it's caused by firing or having to leave a place because of extreme harassment on the job. This can really lead to a real wage loss over time. And so it's kind of like a lifetime LGBTQ tax or penalty
KATHY: God, I haven't thought of it as, like, a tax before you put it that way.
KATHY: It’s even worse than I thought!
KATHY: But Jennica doesn’t just study what’s wrong. She and her colleagues also try to figure out how to make the workplace better for queer people. They found that mindfulness exercises can help...
JENNICA: And I think it's important that you know the policies of your organization and you want to invoke them. And here I definitely need to say, I don't mean to suggest that the burden of dealing with mistreatment should ever rest on the victim.
KATHY: Jennica says straight and cis allies need to step up and address discrimination when they see it in the workplace.
JENNICA: And so just to give you you know one of the stories that we heard from a trans woman which I found compelling which was she said that there was a super conservative Marine in her department and he'd been on four tours to Afghanistan and didn't understand at all how people could just be transgender, just couldn't understand it. But when she came out as trans, he walked up to her shook her hand and said if anyone messes with you, you let me know.
JENNICA: Yes! And then he went around glaring and calling out anybody who tried to give her trouble.
JENNICA: Yeah. And this just had such a profound effect on her. And what we found was that transgender people who witnessed these acts by others really felt more valued at work and really felt more hopeful.
KATHY: Coming up — after his bad experience, Josiah changes his job search strategy.
TOBIN: When we asked you to share your queer money fears… you had a lot to say:
JOHNNY: How can we afford the ceremony that we want? How can we afford the honeymoon that we want? How can we afford the children that we want? And the space to live in for children and for pets and for a life...
KATHY: All week long, over in our private Facebook group... we’re talking about your queer money fears.
TOBIN: Today, we want to hear from you about career obstacles you’ve faced as a queer person. Is it something you’re dealing with now? Or something you’ve dealt with in the past? Tell us your stories — and share your advice — over in the Friends of Nancy Facebook group.
KATHY: Find it at nancypodcast.org/facebook.
KATHY: When we left Josiah, he was unemployed and had turned down the receptionist job.
JOSIAH: I was not very confident in the fact that I would either be questioned or they were there would be a assumptions made and then you know, there would kind of be a target on my back.
KATHY: After that experience, Josiah started doing more research into companies before even applying.
JOSIAH: I would actually call and ask to speak with the HR department which kind of seems a little weird at first, because I mean who who asked to speak to HR before even applying but, you know, it was important for me to just outright ask the questions like, are you LGBT-friendly? If I got it, yes, and you know, I would ask a couple more questions, you know, like should the situation arise, that I got into an altercation that was based on my gender, my appearance, how would you be able to help me? And based on those answers, I would choose to go ahead with an application. Not every employer were was willing to answer those questions and unfortunately, you know, I couldn't apply because I couldn't risk it.
KATHY: Josiah did this for months while he was looking for his next job. Then he saw a post on Facebook that said Starbucks was a great place to work for trans people.
JOSIAH: That's what initially made me look in to see if they were even hiring in my area and to my luck they were.
KATHY: Josiah was impressed from the beginning of the application process with how respectful everyone was about his identity. And he ended up getting the job.
KATHY: Starbucks pays about nine dollars an hour, five dollars less than the job he turned down, but there are benefits. Like when he hits six months, if he’s worked enough hours, the company’s health insurance will cover any costs related to his transition, including procedures that are considered cosmetic. But for Josiah, one of the best things about his new job is his coworkers.
JOSIAH: My district manager is absolutely amazing. She is a cis. heterosexual woman, but she is probably one of the best allies and advocates I've ever met in person. And, I told her what the deal was, you know, I'm trans and everything like that and she was like, you know. I'm proud of you. Now, this is someone I've never met, you know, I was a little intimidated at first...it's your first day of work, meeting the district manager, and she just says, you know, I'm proud of you and I'm happy for you and I have so much love for you. Just knowing that you're trans because every day is a fight, so many people hide themselves and you have the ability to speak out and be yourself. So when she told me that I kind of like choked back the tears a little bit but she was amazing and even to this day if there's ever a question, she's there to answer it.
KATHY: Josiah did what Jennica Webster, the professor, recommends. Do your research, find an ally, and figure out a work environment where you feel protected. It wasn’t easy. And he’s still frustrated by the tradeoffs he had to make. But now, he feels like those eight months were worth it.
JOSIAH: I could see myself as a manager. I could see myself potentially as a little bit higher than a manager. Maybe a district manager. I've always had the ambition to grow. One of the things I look for in an employer or anywhere really is the opportunity to grow.
KATHY: Josiah knows of at least half a dozen other trans people who have moved up the ranks at Starbucks in his area… and while he’s not sure that’s what he wants to do, it’s comforting to know that it’s an option.
KATHY: Have you made trade offs in your career because of your queerness? We want to hear from you — Head to nancypodcast.org/money and tell us your story.
TOBIN: And next time on Queer Money Matters...Marriage equality brought financial gains to many queer couples but, what if you don’t fit in that box?
VOICE: Like maybe I’ll find someone else who’s ace or aro spectrum and has like similar interests, but...yeah, odds are...I will be solo and then just have friends. But, like, friends don’t help pay rent or anything like that. [LAUGHS]
KATHY: That’s coming up next time on Nancy.
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[CREDITS MUSIC STARTS]
TOBIN: Alright, credits time!
KATHY: Our producers...
TOBIN: Isabel Angell and Alice Wilder!
KATHY: Production fellow…
TOBIN: Temi Fagbenle!
TOBIN: Stephanie Joyce!
KATHY: Sound designer…
TOBIN: Jeremy Bloom and Jared Paul!
KATHY: Executive Producer…
TOBIN: Paula Szuchman!
KATHY: Special thanks to Tigue who contributed music to this episode.
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
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