Young queer workers are quick to identify workplaces as accepting or hostile to their sexuality by behaviour rather than gay-friendly policies, a University of Tasmania study has found.
Male participants described feeling detached from highly masculinised environments where watercooler chat sometimes included mention of casual sexual liaisons and the sexual objectification of women.
Moskoe, a 23-year-old sports store worker, said he faced a barrage of questions from his co-workers about his gay identity that signalled his otherness to the rest of the workplace.
They didn’t understand me being gay, Moskoe said.
At first I was a bit upset about these jock guys that knew nothing about being gay and were just drilling me as if I was a [pause] not a freak, but just abnormal. -˜Why do this? Why do that?’ things like that.
Others had unmistakably hostile experiences such as being called a pussy licker, faggot and pedophile by their manager.
The 2006-2008 study by Paul Willis involved interviews with 34 young people identifying as non-heterosexual. Three participants said they were unfairly dismissed in part because of their sexuality.
Franky, 20, said being labelled an incompetent and dispensable office worker by his evangelical Christian manager was a mask for anti-gay prejudice.
He made things very difficult. E.g. would not let me leave work, had a -˜gay’ chair for me and everyone else used a normal office chair… It was truly horrible.
Willis said co-workers sometimes provided support in the face of adversity which broke the sense of isolation.
Micro-practices of inclusion could also involve witnessing co-workers and people in senior positions take a stand against homophobic expressions.
Anti-discrimination policies alone were often dismissed as ineffectual, as one participant pointed out.
[We] had all those policies, procedures, harassment things, and all those policies, but it comes down to what is the policy worth? retail worker Michael, 20, asked after hearing a manager refer to him under his breath as a fucking faggot.
It’s one thing for someone in the head office to write something on a piece of paper that says harassment is not tolerated; it’s another thing for a person in that situation to go and mention it to someone.
Willis’s findings were first presented to a social work conference in Sydney late last year and were recently published in his PhD thesis.

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