The Supreme Court Rules In Favor of LGBTQ+ Workplace Rights
Could this milestone ruling influence LGBTQ+ mental health?
Posted Jun 15, 2020
On June 15th, 2020 the Supreme Court ruled that gender identity or sexual orientation are protected characteristics under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The President of the Human Rights Campaign, Alphonso David, referred to this ruling as a, “landmark victory for LGBTQ equality.” In addition to improving workplace rights, could this historical event also help to improve LGBTQ+ mental wellness?
Gender and sexual minorities are more than twice as likely to experience a serious mental health concern. Ilan Meyer highlighted that a key reasoning for this disparity is due to minority stress. All individuals experience stress, however, minorities experience a specific addition of stress due to being a part of a marginalized group. To date, the lack of federal workplace discrimination protection is just one example of how LGBTQ+ individuals experience oppression. According to the Minority Stress Model, individuals do not need to directly experience prejudice to experience the impact of stress. For example, one does not need to experience being let go on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation to experience related stress. Instead, knowing of the possibility, such as the previous gray area as to whether being terminated on this basis is legal, can prompt an increase of stress. This consideration often whirls LGBTQ+ individuals into the realm of coming-out stress.
identity disclosure, and subsequent stressors, arise is at the workplace.
Before even considering disclosing to an employer, unhelpful messages from society may create a foundation for stress. Internalized prejudice occurs when external bias becomes absorbed in the individual. Let’s imagine that an LGBTQ+ person is applying for an exciting new job position. While this individual may feel confident in terms of occupational skills and experiences, years of exposure to condescending, marginalizing remarks can cause the individual to doubt how their qualifications hold up to their identity in the eyes of their interviewer. With this recent ruling, it is possible that an LGBTQ+ individual may experience an increase of assurance that they cannot be disqualified for the position on the mere basis of their identity.
Coming out may not be a topic of concern at the time of hiring, however, an individual may still deal with the pressure of disclosure in the days following. When determining whether or not to come out at the workplace common fears include:
Will my employer judge me?
Will my employer accept me for who I am?
Will I be treated fairly?
Will this expose me to insults?
Will I be ostracized?
Will I be safe?
Will I lose my job?
These fears may cause individuals to defer to visibility management to avoid disclosing identity and experiencing consequences such as harassment and unemployment. In an HRC study designed to explore the climate of LGBTQ+ workers nationwide, almost half of the respondents shared that they hide their identities at work.
While we may hope that LGBTQ+ bullying fades in the maturity of adulthood and It Gets Better, this isn’t always the case. In a Manchester School study, researchers found that one third of LGB adults who were bullied in school experience similar bullying at their workplace. Moreover, it’s important to note that the consequences of bullying may not be temporary. Mental health consequences chronic discrimination can create long-lasting mental health problems such as major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Further, stressors about being out (and discriminated against) at the workplace do not only affect the individual. In a study of over 2,000 couples it was found that when a partner experiences discrimination at work, a spillover effect can occur for their partner’s well-being as well. In addition, when an individual suppresses identity at work they experience dissatisfaction, which often prompts an increase in the turnover rate. Therefore, LGBTQ+ workplace discrimination affects the individual and permeates into the circles that they belong to as well.
With the new ruling, it is possible that the answer to the final question in the list above may now be more comforting compared to the past. Nevertheless, recognizing the inability to lose your job due to your identity is not necessarily the same as feeling supported. Not to mention, the news of this milestone in history could also elicit discriminatory backlash. A key factor in promoting LGBTQ+ occupation wellness pertains to workplace culture. Support is critical in creating an affirming atmosphere, and feeling supported at work is linked to improved well-being.
When an LGBTQ+ individual receives support, levels of anxiety, depression, and emotional distress decrease while levels of coping, self-esteem, and satisfaction with life tend to increase. While it is too early to understand the effect of the recent ruling on LGBTQ+ mental health, based on the reports explored in this article, we can hope that the landmark decision may help to reduce feelings of isolation and suppression at the workplace and promote an affirming atmosphere. The ruling can serve as a sign of progress, and perhaps this national-level change may trickle down and prompt employers to consider how to create a healthy working environment how allies can help to build supportive working relationships.
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