The gay-friendly closet

  • Christine L. WilliamsEmail author
  • Patti A. Giuffre
  • Kirsten Dellinger
Special Issue Article


In recent decades, U.S. popular opinion has become more accepting of homosexuality, a shift apparent in the workplace, where gay-friendly policies increasingly are in effect. These changes in attitudes and organizational practices have led some scholars to question the relevance of the closet for describing the contemporary lives of lesbians and gay men. The authors investigated this claim by analyzing in-depth interviews with lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals who were out at work and who described their workplaces as gay friendly. Despite the clear benefits they associated with these organizations, some respondents faced a paradox: They either were compelled to downplay their homosexuality at work or were constrained by stereotypes about how LGB people were expected to look, act, and work. Thus, just as in the era of the closet, the workplace—even contexts that LGB employees define as gay friendly—may involve forced choices between acceptance and visibility.

Key words

workplaces homosexuality normalization gay visibility LGB 


  1. Adkins, L. (2000). Mobile desire: Aesthetics, sexuality and the “lesbian” at work.Sexualities, 3, 201–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armstrong, E. (2002).Forging gay identities: Organizing sexuality in San Francisco, 1950–1994. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bech, H. (1999). After the closet.Sexualities, 2, 343–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bernstein, M. (2003). Nothing ventured, nothing gained? Conceptualizing social movement “success” in the lesbian and gay movement.Sociological Perspectives, 46, 353–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burrell, G., & Hearn, J. (1989). The sexuality of organization. In J. Hearn, D. L. Sheppard, P. Tancred-Sherriff, & G. Burrell (Eds.),The sexuality of organization (pp. 1–28). London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  6. Connell, R. W. (1992). A very straight gay: Masculinity, homosexual experience and the dynamics of gender.American Sociological Review, 57, 735–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Davison, E. L., & Rouse, J. (2004). Exploring domestic partnership benefits policies in corporate America.Journal of Homosexuality, 48(2), 21–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dellinger, K. A., & Williams, C. (1997). Makeup at work: Negotiating appearance rules in the workplace.Gender & Society, 11, 151–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dunne, G. A. (1997).Lesbian lifestyles: Women’s work and the politics of sexuality. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  10. Epstein, S. (1994). A queer encounter: Sociology and the study of sexuality.Sociological Theory, 12, 188–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Foucault, M. (1980).The history of sexuality: An introduction (vol. 1). New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  12. Gamson, J. (1995). Must identity movements self-destruct? A queer dilemma.Social Problems, 42, 390–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gamson, J., & Moon, D. (2004). The sociology of sexualities: Queer and beyond.Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 47–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Giuffre, P. A., & Williams, C. L. (1994). Boundary lines: Sexual harassment in restaurants.Gender & Society, 8, 378–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Giuffre, P., Dellinger, K., & Williams, C. (2008). “No retribution for being gay?” Inequality in gay-friendly workplaces.Sociological Spectrum, 28, 254–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hall, M.. (1986). The lesbian corporate experience.Journal of Homosexuality, 12(3/4), 59–75.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Hall, M. (1989). Private experiences in the public domain: Lesbians in organizations. In J. Hearn, D. L. Sheppard, P. Tancred-Sherriff, & G. Burrell (Eds.),The sexuality of organization (pp. 125–138). London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  18. Hearn, J., & Parkin, W. (1987).“Sex” at “work”: The power and paradox of organisation sexuality. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hearn, J., & Parkin, W. (1995).“Sex” at “work”: The power and paradox of organisation sexuality (revised edition). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  20. Herek, G. (2004). Beyond “homophobia”: Thinking about sexual prejudice and stigma in the twenty-first century.Sexuality Research & Social Policy: Journal of NSRC, 1(2), 6–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hicks, G. R., & Lee, T. (2006). Public attitudes toward gays and lesbians: Trends and predictors.Journal of Homosexuality, 51(2), 57–77.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Human Rights Campaign Foundation. (2007).The corporate equality index 2008: A report card on gay,lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality in corporate America. Retrieved October 4, 2007, from Equality_Index_2008.pdf Google Scholar
  23. Jenness, V. (1995). Social movement growth, domain expansion, and framing processes: The gay/lesbian movement and violence against gays and lesbians as a social problem.Social Problems, 42, 145–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lerum, K. (2004). Sexuality, power, and camaraderie in service work.Gender & Society, 18, 756–776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Levine, M., & Leonard, R. (1984). Discrimination against lesbians in the work force.Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 9, 700–710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lichtenstein, N. (2006).Wal-Mart: The face of twenty-first century capitalism. New York: New Press.Google Scholar
  27. Miller, S. L., Forest, K. B., & Jurik, N. C. (2003). Diversity in blue: Lesbian and gay police officers in a masculine occupation.Men and Masculinities, 5, 355–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Plummer, K. (1982). Symbolic interactionism and social conduct: An emergent perspective. In M. Brake (Ed.),Human sexual relations (pp. 223–244). New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  29. Plummer, K. (2003). Queers, bodies and postmodern sexualities: A note on revisiting the “sexual” in symbolic interactionism.Qualitative Sociology, 26, 515–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pringle, R. (1989).Secretaries talk: Sexuality, power and work, London: Verso.Google Scholar
  31. Raeburn, N. (2004).Changing corporate America from the inside out: Lesbian and gay workplace rights. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  32. Rofes, E. (2000). Bound and gagged: Sexual silences, gender conformity and the gay male teacher.Sexualities, 3, 439–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Schilt, K. (2006). Just one of the guys? How transmen make gender visible at work.Gender & Society, 20, 465–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sedgwick, E. K. (1990).Epistemology of the closet. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  35. Seidman, S. (2002).Beyond the closet: The transformation of gay and lesbian life. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Seidman, S., Meeks, C., & Traschen, F. (1999). Beyond the closet? The changing social meaning of homosexuality in the United States.Sexualities, 2, 9–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sender, K. (2004).Business, not politics: The making of the gay market. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Skidmore, P. (2004). A legal perspective on sexuality and organization: A lesbian and gay case study.Gender, Work, & Organization, 11, 229–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stacey, J. (1996).In the name of the family: Rethinking family values in apostmodern age. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  40. Stein, A. (1989). Three models of sexuality: Drives, identities and practices.Sociological Theory, 7, 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stein, A. (1997). Sexand sensibility: Stories of a lesbian generation. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  42. Taylor, V., & Raeburn, N. (1995). Identity politics as high-risk activism: Career consequences for lesbian, gay, and bisexual sociologists.Social Problems, 42, 252–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Valocchi, S. (2005). “Not yet queer enough”: The lessons of queer theory for the sociology of gender and sexuality.Gender & Society, 19, 750–770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Walters, S. D. (2001).All the rage: The story of gay visibility in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  45. Ward, J. (2004). “Not all differences are created equal”: Multiple jeopardy in a gendered organization.Gender & Society, 18, 82–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Warner, M. (1999).The trouble with normal: Sex, politics, and the ethics of queer life. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  47. Werum, R., & Winders, B. (2001). Who’s “in” and who’s “out”: State fragmentation and the struggle over gay rights, 1974–1999.Social Problems, 48, 386–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender.Gender & Society, 1, 125–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Woods, J. D., & Lucas, J. H. (1993).The corporate closet: The professional lives of gay men in America. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  50. Yoshino, K. (2006).Covering: The hidden assault on our civil rights. New York: Random House.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine L. Williams
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patti A. Giuffre
    • 2
  • Kirsten Dellinger
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of TexasAustin
  2. 2.Department of SociologyTexas State University-San MarcosSan Marcos
  3. 3.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyUniversity of Mississippi

Personalised recommendations