LGBTQ college students are not waiting to graduate before entering the workforce, even as the state of Georgia offers them no protection against discrimination in employment. Georgia Voice interviewed three undergraduates attending college in the Atlanta area about their experiences working while studying for their degrees.
Viktor Prince is a 22-year-old transgender man working as a test proctor while studying for a degree in communications at Georgia Perimeter College. He asked to be identified by a pseudonym because he isn’t out as a transgender man at work and could face discrimination if he were outed.
There are no laws protecting LGBTQ workers against employment discrimination statewide, and the most recent attempt to pass legislation protecting LGBTQ Georgians from employment discrimination stalled in the state house. “There are many at the state capitol who do not believe that our diverse transgender community and gender-non-conforming community deserves the same protections as all other communities,” according to representative Park Cannon.
Despite the lack of protections on the state level, many cities throughout Georgia have passed laws protecting LGBTQ employees from discrimination. In Atlanta, it is illegal for employers to fire workers on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. The lack of statewide protections, however, means that many employees in other parts of the state face the threat of open discrimination from their employers.
In Athens where Viktor works, employees are only protected from discrimination if they work for the city. This means Viktor could be fired from his job if his transgender status were revealed to his employer.
In order to protect themselves from employment discrimination, many transgender people “go stealth,” or let their employer assume they are cisgender when applying for jobs and while at work. Although going stealth can help transgender people avoid discrimination, it puts pressure on them to keep their transgender status a secret, since being outed could lead to harassment, denied promotions, or even termination.
While Viktor isn’t too worried about being outed at work, he does find it at times challenging to be a black transgender man in a predominantly straight, white male working environment. He has had to adjust to societal perceptions of black men and says he is concerned about being perceived as threatening, even though his friends know him as a sensitive and soft-spoken person. At his work, Viktor has to conduct “security checks” to make sure test takers are not trying to cheat on their exams. He says he “never [wants] to come off as intimidating, but can’t help how someone would perceive [him].”
Viktor’s concern for how people perceive him underscores the very real danger faced by black transgender people. Nationally, black transgender people are twenty-seven times more likely to be murdered than white transgender people who are not Hispanic
In Atlanta, LGBTQ college students feel less pressured to pass for straight at work. Ray is a 20-year-old student at Georgia Perimeter College, where she is studying to become an archivist. She identifies as asexual but is questioning her sexuality and thinks she might be bi-sexual. She asked to be identified by a pseudonym to protect her privacy.
Ray works at a dollar general in metro Atlanta, and when asked if she felt the workplace environment was accepting of LGBTQ people, she said yes and that “the manager of the store is a lesbian.” She says she has not faced discrimination from her employer.
LGBTQ students who intend to remain in academia also say they tend to face less risk of discrimination. Mary Mangual is a 21-year-old English major at Emory University and former writer for the Georgia Voice. She works as a tutor and hopes to go on to work professionally in academia. She is a lesbian and is worried about how gender non-conforming women are treated in graduate schools at the major northern universities she hopes to attend. Nonetheless, she says the culture at Emory is very accepting, especially in contrast to the isolated towns she grew up in.
But even small towns are becoming more welcoming to LGBTQ people. At the end of the interview, Mary told the story of a conversation between a student she tutored in her hometown and his mother. When the student’s mother asked him if Mary’s gender non-conformity bothered him, he shrugged it off as a non-issue.