Skip to main content

Dangerous Disclosures

Abstract

Increasingly, policies at the local and state level protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBTs) from employment discrimination. This policy advancement has been instrumental for increasing the numbers who “come out” about their sexual identity on the job. At the same time, we know that homophobic and heterosexist workplace environments often hinder coming out. This article extends our understanding of the role of policy in the coming out process by asking: Under what conditions do policy protections enable gay and lesbian employees to come out? Through a qualitative analysis of the experiences of a particularly vulnerable category of gay and lesbian workers—that of teachers and primary/secondary education professionals—this article provides insight into the on-the-ground realities that such employees contend with when making decisions about coming out at work. Specifically, this article compares teachers in California, a gay-friendly policy context, with teachers in Texas, a gay-hostile policy context, to ascertain when and how policy protections matter for teachers considering coming out. The findings indicate that policy does matter, but it interacts with school cultures in ways that complicate the decision-making process. This has implications for improving and strengthening policy protections by considering the interplay between policy, local culture, and individuals.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Acker, J. (2006). Inequality regimes: Gender, class, and race in organizations. Gender and Society, 20(4), 441–464.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Biegel, S. (2010). The right to be out: Sexual orientation and gender identity in America’s public schools. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2011). May 2010 National occupational employment and age Statistics. Retrieved June 25, 2011 from http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#%281%29.

  • Burgess, C. A. (1997). The impact of lesbian/gay sensitive policies on the behavior and health of lesbians in the workplace. In W. Swan (Ed.), Gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender public policy issues (pp. 35–48). London: Hayworth.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cass, V. C. (1979). Homosexual identity formation: A theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality, 4(3), 219–235.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cass, V. C. (1984). Homosexual identity formation: Testing a theoretical model. The Journal of Sex Research, 20, 143–167.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cavanagh, S. (2007). Sexing the teacher: School sex scandals and queer pedagogies. Ontario: University of British Columbia Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, K., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (1996). Developmental perspectives on coming out to self and others. In K. Cohen & R. C. Savin-Williams (Eds.), The lives of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals: Children to adults (pp. 113–151). Orlando: Harcourt-Brace.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coleman, E. (1981/1982). Developmental stages of the coming-out process. Journal of Homosexuality, 7, 313.

    Google Scholar 

  • Colvin, R. (2000). Improving state policies that prohibit public employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 20(2), 5–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Connell, C. (2010). Doing, undoing, or redoing gender?: Learning from the workplace experiences of transpeople. Gender and Society, 24(1), 31–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • D’Emilio, J. (1998). Sexual politics, sexual communities (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dank, B. M. (1971). Coming out in the gay world. Psychiatry, 34, 180–197.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Davis, J. C. (1973). Teacher dismissals on ground of immorality. Clearing House, 46(7), 418–423.

    Google Scholar 

  • Day, N., & Schoenrade, P. (2000). The relationship among perceived public knowledge of homosexuality, anti-discrimination policies, top management support and work attitudes of gay and lesbian employees. Personnel Review, 29(3), 346–363.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dellinger, K., & Williams, C. W. (1997). Makeup at work: Negotiating appearance rules in the workplace. Gender and Society, 11(2), 151–177.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Evans, K. (2002). Negotiating the self: Identity, sexuality, and emotion in learning to teach. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Goffman, E. (1986). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harbeck, K. M. (1997). Gay and lesbian educators: Personal freedoms, public constraints. Malden: Amethyst Press and Productions.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hencken, J., & O’Dowd, W. T. (1997). Coming out as an aspect of identity formation. Gai Saber, 1, 18–22.

    Google Scholar 

  • Human Rights. Campaign. (2011). Corporate equality index: Ranking American workplaces on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality. Retrieved November 3 from http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/corporate-equality-index-2011.

  • Jackson, J. M. (2007). Unmasking identities: An exploration of the lives of gay and lesbian teachers. Lanham: Lexington.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jennings, K. (1994). One teacher in 10: Gay and lesbian educators tell their stories. Boston: Alyson.

    Google Scholar 

  • Khayatt, D. (1992). Lesbian teachers: An invisible presence. New York: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Langdridge, D. (2008). Are you angry or are you heterosexual? A queer critique of lesbian and gay models of identity development. In L. Moone (Ed.), Feeling queer or queer feelings?: Radical approaches to counselling sex, sexualities and genders (pp. 23–35). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Morris, J. F. (1997). Coming out as a multidimensional process. Journal of Homosexuality, 33(2), 1–22.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Phelan, S. (1993). (Be)coming out: Lesbian identity and politics. Signs, 18(4), 765–790.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Riggle, E. D. B., Rostosky, S. S., & Horne, S. G. (2010). Does it matter where you live? State non-discrimination laws and the perceptions of LGB residents. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 7, 168–172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rofes, E. (2000). Bound and gagged: Sexual silences, gender conformity, and the gay male teacher. Sexualities, 3, 439–462.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rofes, E. (2005). A radical rethinking of sexuality and schools: Status quo or status queer? New York: Rowan & Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rotosky, S. S., & Riggle, E. D. B. (2002). “Out” at work: The relation of actor and worker workplace policy and internalized homophobia to disclosure status. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 49, 411–419.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Russ, T. L., Simonds, C. J., & Hunt, S. K. (2002). Coming out in the classroom…An occupational hazard: The influence of sexual orientation on teacher credibility and perceived student learning. Communication Education, 51(3), 311–324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rust, P. (1993). “Coming out” in the age of social constructionsim: Sexual identity formation among lesbians and bisexual women. Gender and Society, 7(1), 50–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sanlo, R. L. (1999). Unheard voices: The effects of silence on lesbian and gay educators. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

  • Schneider, B. (1986). Coming out at work: Bridging the public/private gap. Work and Occupations, 13(4), 463–487.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sedgwick, E. (1991). Epistemology of the closet. Berkeley: Centennial Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Seidman, S. (2004). Beyond the closet: The transformation of gay and lesbian life. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Troiden, R. (1989). The formation of homosexual identities. In G. Herdt (Ed.), Gay and lesbian youth (pp. 43–73). New York: Harrington Park.

    Google Scholar 

  • Troiden, R., & Goode, E. (1980). Variables related to the acquisition of a gay identity. Journal of Homosexuality, 5, 383–392.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Walters, A. S., & Hayes, D. M. (1998). Homophobia within schools: Challenging the culturally sanctioned dismissal of gay students and colleagues. Journal of Homosexuality, 35(2), 1–23.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williams, C., Giuffre, P., & Dellinger, K. (2009). The gay-friendly closet. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 6(1), 29–45.

    Google Scholar 

  • Woods, S. E., & Harbeck, K. M. (1992). Living in two worlds: The identity management strategies used by lesbian physical educators. Journal of Homosexuality, 22(3–4), 141–166.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Dr. Jeffrey Parsons and the anonymous reviewers for the invaluable feedback on this manuscript. Additional thanks are due to Christine Williams, Emily Barman, Corrine Reczek, Megan Reid, Angela Stroud, and the BU Junior Faculty Reading Group for their suggestions and encouragement.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Catherine Connell.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Connell, C. Dangerous Disclosures. Sex Res Soc Policy 9, 168–177 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-011-0076-8

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-011-0076-8

Keywords

  • Nondiscrimination law and policy
  • Teachers
  • Coming out
  • Culture