LGBTQ staff members find commonalities, celebrate differences

The LGBTQ Staff Affinity Group hosted a panel discussion and conversation about the intersection of personal and professional identities as an employee of Yale. The panel, titled “Identity and Lived Experience at Yale,” consisted of staffers representing a range of professional backgrounds and experiences, including some long-time Yale employees and some who just arrived in New Haven this fall.

While all of the speakers had two things in common — being connected to the LGBTQ community, and working at Yale — the event organizers were careful to include a diversity of identities on the panel, including ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, and generation.

The panelists were Gai Doran, director of research, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies; Raymond Firmalino, assistant director, Asian-American Cultural Center; Tracy MacMath, user interface programmer, University Libraries; Pierre Morton, assistant director of Human Resources and Administration, Yale Young Global Scholars Program; Roger Ngim, associate director of communications & marketing, Information Technology Services; and Seth Wallace, project Coordinator, Yale LGBTQ Resource Center. The moderator was Andrew Hickner, web services librarian, Medical Library.

The conversation initially centered on the speakers’ intersecting identities and how that has made their workplace experiences unique.

Several speakers talked about the need for departments and student programs to overtly express an inclusive attitude, rather than assuming it will be perceived. Staff whose duties involve working with students said they have received students’ gratitude for adding language to their websites that is expressly LGBTQ inclusive and for allowing program applicants to identify as transgender.

In describing interactions with their peers and superiors, many expressed encountering openness, a “willingness to learn,” and a readiness to face implicit biases. One panelist contrasted Yale with other universities by saying, “You come to Yale for the community. So in order to become a member of the community, it’s important to own and confront our biases and work through them.”

Panelists discussed communication tactics in the workplace and the desire to get to know their colleagues organically, rather than being pressured to come out. As one person stated, “I don’t want to get up in front of a room and tell everyone what my body looks like, or who I have sexual relationships with, or any of the other ways you can objectify me — because no one else feels obligated to do that.” Many talked about their personal identities as creating additional dimensions of professional strengths, and said that by conveying authenticity, others are also freed up to be more open and “more themselves.”

The discussion also revealed a range of supports on campus specifically for staff. Besides the LGBTQ Affinity Group, the Parents of LBGTQ Children Lunch Group has formed to provide support and community for families (not limited to parents), and a support group is being planned for staff who identify as gender non-binary, based on the successes of a student group.

The LGBTQ Affinity Group was formed in 2008 and is one of eight staff Affinity Groups at Yale supported by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion  (ODI). ODI recently gave an overview of the Affinity Groups, and on November 4, will host a discussion of stereotypes and bias in the workplace.