LGBTQ professionals share their struggles in the workplace

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People everywhere face discrimination for various reasons, and for some people the discrimination is based on their sexual orientation.

Around 20 states provide some sort of protection against sexual orientation discrimination, but according to a study done by FindLaw there is no federal statute that prohibits private sector sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

In celebration of LGBTQ history month, Baruch College’s Gender Love and Sexuality Spectrum club hosted a four-person panel discussion that touched on being queer in the workplace.

The event — held on Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. in collaboration with the Starr Career Development Center, Hillel, the Baruch Student Veterans Organization and the Office of Alumni Relations and Volunteer Engagement — was centered around a diverse group of people who detailed their experiences of being LGBTQ in their respective workplaces.

The four panelists were Shawn Ramsingh, James Fitzgerald, Brandon Peck and Erika Karp, who were introduced by William Lin, the president of G.L.A.S.S.

The panelists started off by introducing themselves and talking about their backgrounds and some of the hardships they faced. They then shared the biggest obstacles they encountered in the workplace and in their careers.

"A lot of companies get diversity right, but don’t get inclusion right," Ramsingh said when introducing himself.

Fitzgerald detailed his experience of being a person of color, gay and part of the military. His time in the military was difficult until he started coming out to people who were close to him.

Fitzgerald explained that a lot of progress had been made as far as inclusivity in the military goes, especially during the Obama administration, when the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy was repealed. However, he admits that there is still a lot of change and progress that needs to be made.

President Donald Trump, for example, tried to place a ban on transgender people from joining the military, but the courts overruled him.

"The scariest place to live is in a straight man’s imagination," said Fitzgerald when detailing his experiences of dealing with misconceptions about people who are gay. "I continuously excelled because I knew if I faltered I would be finished."

Fitzgerald had to cope with people’s preconceived notions; he learned to force himself to be the best of the best. This mindset allowed him to rise through the ranks, but it also led him down a path of repression. It wasn’t until he started to practice self-love and self-acceptance that he began to live freely and fully.

Karp also reinforced the idea of having to be the best of the best. She had poignant words to share about being a woman and also being queer in the workplace.

Karp elaborated on the internal conflict she had when deciding to come out. She said she expected and had nightmares of facing outright resentment and being called a slew of derogatory terms by her colleagues.

However, much to Karp’s surprise, when she finally did come out, she was met with indifference. Most people weren’t concerned about her sexual preference.

Coming out to them was a decision that she never regretted because it helped her feel empowered and more creative and productive at her investment firm, Cornerstone Capital Inc.

The four panelists also expanded on the challenges they faced and gave advice on how to overcome them and how to bring about real change.

"Knowing how fast to go in pushing progress is tricky," Karp said. She continued by saying that the solution to shifting the status quo is "making them just the right amount of uncomfortable."

To close the panel, Karp reiterated a quote said by Rabbi Hillel: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?"

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