Today my staff meeting made me so proud to work for the place that I do. This organization is such a breath of fresh air in comparison to my last job. A coworker of mine, who is incredibly inspirational and who I am in awe of, shared a research project that she has been a part of since last December. The research centered on how identification as a member of the LGBTQ community is related to risk of suicidality in youth. The study researched kids in NYC public schools. The statistics she shared were staggering, although as she stated, not surprising. 7.6% of youth who identify as straight reported having suicidal ideation in comparison to 26% of youth who identify as gay. This study outlines that suicide is the culmination of a series of complex interactions involving socio-cultural, bio-psychosocial, and environmental components, often called risk factors. It looked specifically at sexual orientation/Youth who identify as GLBT, and bullying as additional factors for risk of suicide.
We began to talk about our different experiences working with youth who self-identify and/or the conflict they are having in identifying as LGBTQ. The conversation led to each of us sharing stories of the cultural and societal pressures that prevent students from identifying and the fear of being harassed, isolated, or hurt for coming out. It is really something amazing to be able to sit with a group of people who can have an enlightened conversation about these realities. A conversation where they not only acknowledge what the student experiences, but also what they experience as therapists in relation to those students and their own experiences growing up. It is beautiful to be able to do this. I stayed pretty quiet throughout the conversation and just listened to them expressing what comes up for them in these sessions, how they want to help these students, and groups they want to start in their schools to support them. It was really just an amazing conversation especially in comparison to the place that I used to work.
One of my main reasons for leaving my last job was feeling unaccepted and harassed by a number of my coworkers. Numerous comments were being made and people began to give me dirty looks as well as cut communication with me upon learning that I identify as lesbian. I tried to ask my manager for a training for our program on microagressions and the LGBTQ community because technically it was a “safe space” and these comments were beginning to really get to me. When she asked me why I gave her several examples of things that people have said to me and other behaviors that I had been experiencing in the office. My manager made one complaint to HR. The complaint that she made had nothing to do with me, it was an example of a conversation I overheard about a coworkers feelings about the transgender community. When I asked her why I was not interviewed about the complaints she said because I was not involved in that conversation. When I asked her why she did not report the other numerous instances that I was personally made to feel inferior, separate, and otherized she said, “Because I did not think they were significant.” A few days later I decided to report my manger to HR. She was violating the anti-harassment policy by neglecting to report all complaints made to her by an employee. It came down to the simple fact that she does not have the right to determine what is significant or not to me. And also, believe me, when you have a coworker that qualifies compliments to other female staff when you are around by gesturing toward you and saying, “Not in that way” on a daily basis, its fucking significant.
The complaint I made against my manager was not taken seriously for even one minute. The head of HR actually said, “Well maybe it is my age, but when I hear the term girlfriend I think about close friends not dating.” They literally laughed at me in the HR department and my program became intolerable. It was truly a hostile work environment. My manager completely overwhelmed my case load and then accused me of not logging enough therapy hours in my 6 month review which happened just a week after HR closed the complaint due to lack of support of my claim (see the investigation consisted of an interview of me where I was repeatedly laughed at and my experiences were minimized and an interview of my manager…I guess that seniority wins). Even when I proved otherwise and that I was actually way over the average number of hours required per therapist they kept me on probation. I knew they were trying to push me out, but, by that time I was already planning my exit.
For me, coming from such an incredibly hostile work environment, that was anything but a safe space, to one where I can find support, care, intelligent, ethical, and forward-minded coworkers is a blessing. I was lucky to have one person at my old job that I still consider a dear friend who helped me survive that horrible place day to day, but here I have several people who respect me as an individual and do not judge me or offend me for who I am. I genuinely feel so fortunate to be working with people who accept me as I am. People who support both my personal and professional happiness and well being.I was lucky and the harassment and heartache I suffered in my last job brought me to a place of happiness and support.
We need more of these places in the world. We need to help lower the statistics of LGBT youth, and all youth, all people, who contemplate suicide because of a cultural and societal hate toward who they are as people whether that is based on race, sexual orientation, gender, religious beliefs, ethnicity, or ability, etc. Tolerance is not a difficult concept. We can coexist, we must learn how to coexist.
Visibility and support are a huge part of making change for this community and lowering the instances of suicide for our youth. We can help make a change.