Journal of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Identity, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1996 193-211


Gay Men in the Workplace: Issues for Mental Health Counselors


Todd Sussman


The author looks at major issues that affect gay men who are deciding on, competing for, and working in the jobs and careers available in today's changing job market, and the implications for mental health counsellors who may serve them.  Included is an in-depth review of the current academic counseling literature on gay men in the workplace, highlighted by reports from the national gay press.


KEY WORDS: careers; discrimination; gay men; occupations; workplace; counseling.



                When one thinks of gay men in the workplace, a variety of questions may come to mind.  What kinds of jobs do they have?  How are they treated?  How do they react?  Are they protected by employment laws?  And how much progress have they made in their struggle to be accepted, supported, and respected in the workplace?

                In this article, I look at the major issues affecting gay men deciding on, competing for, and working in the jobs available in today's changing job market.  I review the current academic counseling literature, and highlight reports from the national gay press.  I also include comments from my interviews with a prominent psychologist who specialises in gay workplace-related issues, the director of the Human Rights Division in an Equal Opportunity Office, and an attorney who represents gay clients in workplace issues.

                Some of the ideas I resent come from my experience as a mental health counselor intern working in a private practice, which specialises in career issues for gay males.  Though I target my discussion to mental health counselors, the issues I address may also apply to career counselors, social workers, psychologists, school guidance counselors, family therapists, and other mental health practitioners.  I have found that the career issues of gay men are not solely the domain of those specialising in career counseling, so I have chosen to address the broader group, mental health counselors, who may work in private practices, community agencies, schools, hospitals, and other applicable settings.

                Although I concentrate on gay men in this article, many of the issues raised also have implications for lesbians as well as bisexual males and females.  As groups, they share many of the same experiences.  However, after working specifically with gay male counselees and their career issues, and because differences in the career development processes of gay males and lesbians have been documented (Etringer, Hillerbrand, & Hetherington, 1990), 1 have chosen to focus on gay males here.  My intent is to avoid overgeneralisations.  However, one must keep in mind that gay males, lesbians, and bisexual males and females share a myriad of work-related experiences due to their sexual orientations.

                Getting an accurate picture of gay men in the workplace is an arduous task.  There is a paucity of research investigating how being gay affects one's career development process, and, until recently, there was a virtual absence of research focusing on career issues for gay clients (Hetherington, Hillerbrand, & Etringer, 1989).  However, there is an increasing amount of published writing on this topic, and some of the most recent literature will be cited in this article.

                Another factor that often makes it difficult to accurately assess gay related workplace issues is that, unlike in many "minority" groups, membership in the gay male minority is not visible unless the member chooses to "come out" (reveal his sexual orientation) to co-workers (Kronenberger, 1991).  Consequently, the numbers are unknown.  Stewart (1991) posits, "Odds are that there are almost as many gay employees in the work force as there are blacks, but most of them will be invisible" (p. 50).  However, the employment issues that gay men face continue to surface, on the job and in the courtroom, when oppressive actions and rules are challenged by dissatisfied, brave gay employees.

                Even though the exact numbers of gay men in the workplace are unknown, along with accurate knowledge regarding the extent of their struggles (and triumphs), mental health counselors must not contribute to this "invisibility." Indeed, all mental health professionals have a responsibility, both ethically and morally, to address gay and lesbian issues affirmatively and to facilitate the elimination of any form of oppression (Buhrke & Douce, 1991).

The "Code of Ethics for Mental Health Counselors," drafted in 1987, contains several standards alluding to affirmation of diverse groups (Herlihy & Golden, 1990).  Included among the standards: counselors give appropriate recognition to alternative viewpoints (Principle 1d); through awareness of the negative impact of both racial and sexual stereotyping and discrimination, counselors strive to ensure individual rights and personal dignity (Principle 2h); mental health counselors will be aware of diverse backgrounds (Principle 3b); and they will not condone practices which result in illegal or otherwise unjustifiable discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin in hiring, promotion or training (Principle 3d).

   Curiously, there is no specific mention of sexual orientation in the 1987 Code. The same omission applies to similar ethical standards,updated in 1988, from the American Counseling Association (Herlihy & Golden, 1990). Because of the slowly changing climate surrounding theacceptance               of gay people in all domains (employment, housing, religious affiliations, relationships), the inclusion of a specific reference to sexual orientation would seem to be an appropriate and long overdue addition. Of course, the ethical codes of mental health counselors happen to mirror current employment laws (which I discuss later) in their lack of a specific mention of sexual orientation.  Instead, those making claims must depend on the interpretation of the courts in reviewing laws regarding more general gender issues (instead of specific gay issues) and general disability issues (where specific AIDS issues are concerned).

                Although many gay male and lesbian issues overlap, as mentioned earlier, this paper will focus solely on gay men.  Elliot (1993) posits that gay men and lesbians are not homogeneous and should be not be "lumped together" (p. 220) in exploring or reviewing career development issues.

                Indeed, significant differences have been reported in gay male's and lesbian's career choices (Etringer et al., 1990), among other career development issues.  For example, the authors report that, in a study of lesbian, gay male, and heterosexual college students, lesbians demonstrated the least amount of uncertainty in choosing careers, whereas gay men demonstrated the most uncertainty among the three groups.  In addition, lesbians in the study were found to be the most satisfied with their choices, the opposite being true for gay males.  Of course, while the authors report on one sample of gay males as a group, there may be a wide range of variation in the career decision-making process among gay males as individuals.

                In a broader view, gender-role stereotyping of jobs has traditionally divided male-dominated and female-dominated occupations (Chusmir, 1990), which means that men and women have often entered the job market with different expectations of themselves and their co-workers.  In this respect, it seems that mental health counselors have two tasks: to provide fair service to all groups, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people (GLBT's), and to be aware of the sometimes clear-cut but often subtle distinctions in issues involving GLBT'S, and to support GLBT's in their efforts to break the gender-role career codes where they exist.





                Do gay men mostly enter the stereotypical "creative" or "service industry" occupations such as hairdressing, nursing, acting, or interior decorating?  Apparently not.  The career landscape for gay men, in actuality, seems very different.  In its December 16, 1991 cover story, Fortune magazine cites a Chicago-based market research company's study of 4,000 gay men and lesbians, which reports that "more homosexuals [male and female] work in science and engineering than in social services; 40% more are employed in finance and insurance than in entertainment and the arts; and ten times as many work in computers as in fashion" (Stewart, 1991, p. 43).

                In another view, Chusmir (1990) reports that more men (whose sexual orientation is not distinguished) are entering the traditionally female-dominated careers of social work, nursing, elementary school teaching, and office work, although many still face the negative effects of career gender-typing.  Men in these fields may experience others' misperceptions, including the erroneous thought that they are doing "women's work" (Robinson, Skeen, & Coleman, 1984) and assumptions about their sexual orientation (Marks, 1980).

                A review of the literature shows that there is very little quantitative data correlating occupations to gay men.  There is, however, more information - though still relatively sparse - regarding occupational stereotyping.  Several authors (Elliot, 1993; Hetherington et al., 1989; Hetherington & Orzek, 1989) cite a presentation by Botkin and Daily (1987), who studied 120 college students' attitudes regarding career interests and reported stereotypical responses.  The researchers asked respondents to indicate what jobs they believed were most interesting to homosexual and heterosexual men and women.  The top three stereotypical gay male professions were (1) photographer, (2) interior designer, and (3) nurse.  The indicated heterosexual male professions were (1) doctor, (2) photographer, and (3) engineer.

                Interestingly, none of the authors who cite this study note that "photographer" appears in both the homosexual and heterosexual listings.  One reason may be that this profession can be classified in more than one of Holland's occupational environments (Zunker, 1994), since it may be considered a "realistic" skilled trade or an "artistic" endeavour, which would respectively fit common society-held stereotypes of both orientations.

                Mickens (1994), who provides a guide to 100 gay-friendly companies and their policies, discusses some of the reasons for the traditional career stereotyping of gay men, including the pervasive idea that there is "something wrong" with gay people:

                "Take advertising, for example.  There seems to be an attitude that it's "okay to be gay" on the "creative" side of the business (where being gay might fall under the general stereotype of creatives being "flaky").  However, on the account management side, the opposite is true" (pp. 19-20).

                Surprisingly, the perception that it's "okay to be gay" on the creative side in advertising is not borne out in the research.  Baker, O'Brien Strub, and Henning (1995), in a study of U.S. corporations' anti-discrimination policies, found that the major advertising firms were, on the whole, not gay-friendly, as evidenced by their lack of anti-discrimination guarantees, domestic partner benefits, diversity training, and gay and lesbian support groups.

                Like the aforementioned authors who have reported on stereotypes regarding gays and jobs, Dr. Larry Harmon, director of a Florida-based career counseling practice, which specialises in gay issues, has observed that gay people may enter the more welcoming stereotypical jobs:

                "Gay men tend to gravitate towards occupations where they feel safe, or where being different is okay, such as hair cutting or being a waiter.  Also, gay people have been drawn to occupations which have provided the flexibility to have a social life, which traditionally meant going to bars and discos.  Being a waiter or haircutter meant not having to get up early, so a gay man could socialise with people who felt like family, where he felt like he belonged" (Harmon, 1994).

                However, Harmon also notes a shift away from the traditional stereotype: "Things are changing, and many gay people feel a greater freedom to be out in more traditional occupations, including banking, law enforcement, and medicine" (Harmon, 1994).

                Of course, gay men still encounter resistance in their entry into the non-stereotypical careers.  There is evidence that leaders in the traditionally male-dominated careers perpetuate strong anti-gay messages: "Railroads, oil companies, auto makers, and metal benders generally have a reputation for 'imposing heterosexuality'" (Stewart, 1991, p. 54).

                The messages and the expectations may partially account for the reported confusion among gay men when it comes to making a career choice.  Etringer et al. (1990), in a study of career decision-making processes, found that among 15 gay men, 18 lesbians, 16 heterosexual men, and 32 Heterosexual women - average age 20 - gay men showed the highest level of career choice uncertainty of all four groups, and they also reported higher levels of dissatisfaction with their career choices (along with heterosexual women) than heterosexual men and lesbians.  The authors caution about generalising these results to the larger population, but cite other studies, including a survey by Winkelpleck and Westefeld (1982), which report that career decisions for gay males may be particularly difficult.

                Milburn (1993) addresses the influence of homophobia at the career decision-making level in the case study of a 23-year-old gay white male battling negative stereotypes in an MBA program, his own parents' ambivalence regarding his sexual orientation, and society's messages about homosexuality.  Milburn states that the preceding factors "caused significant dissonance and prevented him from making a clear [career] decision" (1993, p. 196).

                What is clearly missing is systematic research and baseline data indicating where the occupational interests of gay men lie, both historically and currently.  Of course, one of the reasons for this lack of data is the already-mentioned difficulty in identifying the population of gay men.  However, as society's attitudes are changing and more gay men are coming out - both at work and in their lives outside of work - the opportunities for conducting this much needed research seem to be increasing.

                Belz (1993), citing Strong, Hansen, & Campbell, 1985, and Holland, 1985, suggests that counselors administer the Strong Interest Inventory and also provide explanations of Holland's personality and organizational types to facilitate clients' self-explorations and help enable them to compare occupational interests.  It could be argued that the same tests, as well as other quantitative instruments which are often helpful in linking careers to personalities, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Myers & Myers, 1993), could be systematically administered to a large, nation-wide sample of openly gay employees in all types of jobs.





      There are many challenges presented to gay men in the world of work.  Often, they are interrelated.  These include negative stereotypes held by employers and co-workers, the anxiety-producing decision of whether to be openly gay or not (and all of the in-between possibilities, i.e., coming out only to selected co-workers), and the subsequent consequences of any choice.  Furthermore, gay males in the workplace, as a group, have very few positive, successful, openly gay role models.


Attitudes and Stereotypes


                According to Newsweek, which conducted a poll on attitudes about gay rights, most Americans believe that gay people should have equal job opportunities (Ingrassia & Rossi, 1994).  In another poll (by the independent firm Mellman Lazarus Lake, Inc.), in a random sample of 800 voters, 70% said that gay people should not face any type of unfair job discrimination (Winfeld & Spielman, 1995).  However, when asked about specifics, in one poll, 46 percent of respondents stated that "homosexuals" should not be hired as elementary school teachers, and 52 percent stated that they should not be hired as members of the clergy (Newsweek, 1992).  These results seem to reflect the popular myth that "homosexuals" are child molesters and "promoters," and are immoral.  In addition, a closer look at company policies (as I will discuss later) reveals that many employers do not provide protection against discrimination for gay people.

                Furthermore, those in positions of power (to hire and fire) may act on their irrational beliefs.  O'Brien and Vest (1988) propose a scale based on perceptions cited in the counseling literature as well as focus group interviews with managers - to measure erroneous beliefs about the consequences of employing gays and lesbians (e.g., employing gay people will result in lost sales).  The authors posit that those who hold negative attitudes about gay people are more likely to reject gay job applicants and fire employees discovered to be gay.

                In contrast to the irrational belief that gay employees bring productivity down, the opposite is often true.  Woods and Lucas (1993) list several examples of how gay employees, fearing discrimination, may compensate by "overachieving" on the job.  They often become the hardest workers with the longest hours in order to help increase positive perceptions of their skills and loyalty and of themselves generally.

                Irrational fears of working with people with AIDS, many of whom happen to be gay, also contribute to negative stereotypes (Pave, 1985).  In the first national survey of HIV-related discrimination, conducted by tile American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) AIDS Project (1990), 260 legal and advocacy organisations reported receiving or referring an estimated 13,000 complaints of HIV-related discrimination in a 5-year period (from 1983 to 1988).

                The ACLU report cites ignorance about how HIV is transmitted, and as a consequence, irrational fear of infection, as the first of three primary reasons for discrimination (the other two are stigma/racial and anti-gay prejudice, and fear of economic loss).  The authors state, "Although no workplace transmission of the virus has ever been documented outside the health care setting . . . medically unjustified firings, evictions, and denials of service remain common" (p. 2).  It is apparent that irrational fears and anti-gay prejudices are still very much alive.


Being Openly Gay at Work


                There are several reports in the literature citing the advantages of "coming out" and the disadvantages of not coming out at work.  Kronenberger (1991) states: "People [who do not come out] must create elaborate defences to protect their private lives so they can fit into the heterosexual work setting.  Some play along when gay jokes are told, 'date' non-existent girlfriends . . . even invent a marriage that never occurred" (p. 42).  Hetherington et al. (1989) posit that gay employees who do not come out experience continuous stress, always fearful that their orientation will be discovered.

                There are no clear-cut answers to define the experience of coming out in the workplace because it is different for everyone.  Woods and Lucas (1993) divide gay employees into three categories: "integrators" (who express their sexuality on the job), "counterfeiters" (who pretend to be heterosexual on the job), and "avoiders" (who don't pretend or disclose, they just withhold).

                Griffin (1992) identifies a continuum of "degrees" of outness based on interviews and group discussions with gay and lesbian educators.  The continuum contains six strategies for concealing or revealing sexual identity at work: 1) being totally closeted (telling no one), 2) passing (leading others to believe one is heterosexual), 3) covering (omitting information), 4) implicitly coming out (sharing information without labelling one's identity), 5) explicitly coming out (directly disclosing one's sexual identity to chosen co-workers), and 6) publicly coming out (to the entire school community).  The benefits (including honesty and relish and risks (potential loss of job or credibility) change along the continuum, which, although derived from a study of gay teachers, seems applicable to many other occupations.

                Although there are very few systematic studies to help formulate generalisations on the process of coming out at work, descriptive and vivid portraits may be found in case studies or individual accounts of those who have disclosed their orientation on the job.

                Kronenberger (1991) quotes an openly gay real estate consultant who states, "I'm not interested in living a lie" (p. 40), which is a thought frequently mirrored in other individual accounts.  Mickens (1994) advocates being openly gay in the workplace: "Silence becomes tacit permission for discrimination . . . Communication is the only tool we have for correcting misinformation and misconceptions" (p. 3).  Powers (1993), the president of a firm that helps organisations work effectively with gay employees and customers, discusses his own experience in coming out on a former job: "The freedom I felt was exhilarating.  I blossomed, so did my creativity and productivity" (1993, p. 11).  These are just a few of the pro-coming out stories, which make up many of the case studies found in the mental health counseling literature.  However, they provide only one part of the picture.

                There is, indeed, another side to the story of coming out: "Interviews with a wide range of gay employees indicate that those who are out to their co-workers believe that being openly gay is almost always an obstacle to advancement to the highest levels" (Freiberg, 1992, pp. 34-35).  Woods and Lucas (1993) provide several accounts of negative effects experienced by employees who revealed their orientations, including loss of colleagues' respect, diminished professional interaction, loss of authority, and anti-gay remarks.

                Surprisingly, some gay-friendly researchers and authors do not always use descriptive language that respects the decisions of those who choose riot to disclose their orientations.  In one instance, Kronenberger (1991) refers to remaining quiet as "dysfunctional" (p. 42).  In another, Woods and Lucas (1993), in the aforementioned categories, use the term "counterfeiter" to describe those who choose not to come out, though the authors must be aware of the seriously negative side to coming out, as they provide several examples.  The terms "dysfunctional" and "counterfeiter" seem inappropriately judgmental, especially if targeted to mental health professionals who may use the otherwise well-researched and well-intended work of these authors to orient their own ways of thinking and apply it to gay clients.

                Until more is known about the long-term effects of revelation of sexual orientation in what is often called this "age of transition" (Zunker, 1994, p. 18) in the work-force, and until more case studies are provided showing the negative sides of coming out - especially on jobs in some areas of the country, such as the town of Lewiston, Maine, which by popular vote, on November 3, 1993 struck down an ordinance banning discrimination against gays (Leland, Rosenberg, & Miller, 1994) - it seems that every employee's individual choice should be respected.  In some cases, not coming out may prove very functional, especially for less-experienced gay workers who may need to build their experience and secure a paycheque.  In many cases, coming out means putting one's job on the line, and many gay people cannot afford to do that.


Lack of Role Models


                Due to the aforementioned issues, plus the often invisible nature of being gay, as well as the virtual historical absence of openly gay men in high-ranking positions in the top companies, it is evident that gay men in the work-force do not have many role models to provide examples and guidelines for success.  Hetherington et al. (1989) state that "exposure to diverse and competent role models is limited for many minority groups" (p. 453).  The authors also report that this is very limiting to the awareness of occupational choices.  In this respect, tile lack of role models can potentially do serious harm to gay men in their career developmental process, especially in the exploration stage.

                There are exceptions to this rule, but very few.  One of the richest and most powerful openly gay men in the United States is David Geffen, who was voted "Man of the Year" by editors of The Advocate (Lemon, 1992), a prominent national magazine, which covers gay issues.

                Geffen is considered a role model for gay people.  He is a leading Hollywood mogul who produces hit records, movies, and Broadway shows.  Recently, lie helped create the first new Hollywood movie studio in more than 50 years (Sloan, 1994). (Ironically, many gay recording artists and gay actors-including some who work for Geffen's companies-are reticent to come out due to a fear of alienating their audiences [Moerer, 1994].)

                Another high-profile gay man who became a role model was AIDS activist Pedro Zamora, who gained world-wide prominence on the MTV show "Real Lives" and who died in early November 1994 at the age of 22 of an AIDS-related infection.  With his commitment to HIV education to young people, he inspired the Dade County School Board in Florida to name its AIDS Awareness Week in his honour (Mailander, 1994).

                Nevertheless, openly gay role models who can provide practical guidelines for success in the world of work are difficult to find.  Currently, the best source of role models may be the networks of openly gay businessmen, or tile courtroom dockets containing the names of those gay employees fighting for their rights.  Buhrke and Douce (1991) suggest that counselors and educators invite openly gay professionals to lead seminars and guest lectures.  This seems like another effective strategy in making career role models more visible to gay men.


Gay Support Groups


                There are ways that gay men can seek out their own role models and support systems.  Recently, many gay employees have established workplace-related support groups and organisations similar to networks formed by African Americans, Latino/as, Asians, and other minorities to discuss advocacy of rights, benefits, and company policies (Kronenberger, 1991). (Kronenberger also provides a sample list of some of the corporations which support such networks: for example, Xerox, AT&T, Hewlett Packard, Levi Strauss, U.S. West Communications, and RAND Corporation.) The need for counselors to help clients access such networks is widely documented (Belz, 1993; Eldridge, 1987; Elliot, 1993; Hetherington et al., 1989).  Several authors, including Elliot (1993), also promote the notion that gay men must take the initiative in investigating professions and professional networks.  This is in keeping with the notion that all counselees, no matter what the issue is, take responsibility for change.


Additional Strategies for Change


                There is a growing list of innovative strategies for confronting discrimination in the workplace.  Following is a selected (and by no means exhaustive) sampling of citations that address such strategies.  According to Kronenberger (1991), recently, gay men have been "challenging employers to reconsider such issues as employee benefits" (p. 40).  The author lists health care benefits for domestic partners and "alternative families," bereavement leave for domestic partners, vacation leave transfer (where employees donate earned vacation time to help other employees who have AIDS), and parental leave benefits (when appropriate) among the benefits issues concerning gay men.

                Kronenberger (1991) also includes non-discrimination policies, which give all employees the same opportunity to enter, advance, and succeed in the organisation, as a concern of gay employees.  Furthermore, he recommends diversity training programs in the workplace, featuring a sexual orientation component, to dispel myths, encourage people to explore their feelings, and enhance communication between all co-workers.

                Winfeld and Spielman (1995) suggest that workers who have disclosed their sexual orientation at work and are comfortable in helping gay co-workers deal with on-the-job difficulties become "coming-out coaches" (p. 47).  It is likely that such coaches would help change the atmosphere of the workplace by helping to increase acceptance and facilitate communication.

                At the core of many workplace issues for gay men (including the question of health benefits) is the need for the family partner relationships of openly gay employees to be recognised by the workplace as are spousal relationships of heterosexual employees.  Several authors (including Friskopp & Silverstein, 1995; Woods & Lucas, 1993) document stories of employees who choose to (or choose not to) invite their lovers and boyfriends to company picnics and parties.  These decisions are, in many instances, non-issues for heterosexual employees.





                As we reach the late 1990s, overall, gay men are still not specifically protected by employment laws.  Furthermore, the few laws that explicitly apply to sexual orientation do not always guarantee justice.


Employment Laws Protecting Gay Men


Until fairly recently, gay men discriminated against by employers have received no legal protection (Hedgpeth, 1979/1980).  Currently, there is no federal law that prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, although various bills have been proposed to amend Title 7 of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which addresses employment practices (Tooks, 1994).  The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would specifically protect gay people, was introduced to Congress in 1994 but has still not been passed (Winfeld & Spielman, 1995).

                By the late 1980s, only eleven of our 50 states legislated some degree of employment protection for gays, as recognised by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (Schmitz, 1988).  As of year-end 1995, nineteen states had either civil rights legislation or governor's executive orders laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in public employment (Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. [Lambda], 1995).  Of those nineteen, only nine protect gay employees in the private employment sector as well.  They are: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin (Lambda, 1995).  In addition, by year-end 1995, local municipalities in thirty-eight states in our country had ordinances or policies providing some degree of employment protection (Lambda, 1995).

                Many states, unfortunately, do not protect against sexual orientation discrimination.  In the state of Florida, for example, the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 prohibits discrimination on the job based on biological sex.  However, similar to laws at the federal level, there is no specifically-worded mention of sexual orientation. (Tooks, 1994).

                Overall, "discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is still legal in much of the U.S." (Stewart, 1991, p. 44).  Furthermore, having the laws on the books does not always mean that they will be enforced.  According to Paul Hampton Crockett, an attorney who represents gay clients in workplace issues, other factors (including the high cost of litigation and potential . job loss) "make it difficult to bring the spirit of the law to life" (Crockett, 1996).  Indeed, Crockett sometimes tells his clients, "It's better to have a job than a lawsuit."

                Because there is no current federal law prohibiting anti-gay discrimination, gay employees who have been unfairly treated must challenge the system on a case-by-case basis.  Of course, there is one federal institution where openly gay men do not have any protection against discrimination: the U.S. military.  In July 1993, Congress passed the widely-publicised, controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue" policy, designed to keep gays who are in the military also in the closet.  The policy preserves the long-held notion and Defense Department Directive [No. 1332.141 which declares that "Homosexuality is incompatible with military service" and allows for discharges for homosexual conduct on and off base (Carlson, 1993, p. 40).  According to Mickens (1994), the military won its battle to show that gay people do not make suitable employees through "politics and gross manipulation of fear and ignorance" (p. 2).

                The pervasiveness and strength of anti-gay stereotypes cannot be denied.  The military mirrors the U.S. work-force in general; it utilises and profits from the contributions of gay men, yet it refuses to acknowledge their orientation or treat them equally.


Laws Protecting People with AIDS (PWAs)


                AIDS discrimination has been in force since news of its existence first hit the media.  AIDS discrimination in the workplace is no exception.  "With the increasing prevalence of AIDS and the fact that gay men are a high-risk group with regard to this disease, people may try to justify their anti-gay attitudes or discriminatory behaviour" (Hetherington et al., 1989, p. 453).

                Employment issues involving HIV and AIDS surface in a variety of areas on the job, including unjustified firings and, as Turner (1994) reports, withdrawal of health benefits from PWAs without notice (Turner, 1994).  A number of laws have been applied to these areas.

                The Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) has been used in cases of handicap discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, worker's compensation retaliation, defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Wing, 1986).  Another law often applied to cases involving PWAs is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which "protects all people with disabilities from discrimination on the part of the federal government and those entities which receive federal funds" (Blumenfeld, in press).  Due to their varied and developing nature, interpretation and application of the laws vary (Turner, 1994).

                There are no laws specifically prohibiting employees with AIDS from working.  By year-end 1994, thirty-three states had HIV/AIDS-related anti discrimination laws which applied to work site practices (Winfeld & Spielman, 1995).  In 1988, the U.S. Department of Justice released a legal memo stating that people with AIDS or HIV infection were protected under the heretofore mentioned Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (ACLU AIDS Project, 1990).

                In July 1992, the federal government passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which forbids employers' bias based on employees' disability (Norton & Buch, 1993).  This law covers AIDS and HIV.  However, because there are still no national laws specifically addressing AIDS and employment, those who face discrimination must depend on individual case interpretations, similar to the cases regarding gay employees, rights where AIDS is not an issue.


Companies' In-house Antibias Policies


                Besides looking for support and protection front the legal system, gay males should also look at the "laws" of the corporations they work for or are considering in their job searches.  Baker et al. (1995), who conducted a 1993 survey (in association with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force [NGLTF]) of 1,000 of America's largest publicly held companies (as listed by Fortune magazine), plus additional high-profile, privately-owned companies, as well as selected smaller companies, posit that the most basic indicator of where a company stands on treating gay and lesbian employees is whether its anti-discrimination policies specifically include the term "sexual orientation." The authors list only 132 companies (approximately 50% of the companies that responded to their survey) as having such a policy.

                In a separate study conducted by the NGLTF (1993), only 67 companies (approximately 70% of the Fortune 1,000 companies that responded) had non-discrimination policies that included sexual orientation, yet only five companies (approximately 5% of the responding participants) provided domestic partner benefits (NGLTF, 1993). (The NGLTF notes the disappointingly low number of companies that chose to respond to their survey and the need for greater sensitivity to the concerns of gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees.) Likewise, a 1993 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (as cited by McNaught, 1993) shows that 63% of respondents from the companies polled said they had anti-discrimination policies, though only 38% had actual written policies.

                While some in-house antibias policies also cover AIDS-related issues, irrational fears of contagion continue to plague people with AIDS or those who are HIV-positive.  In a recent poll of 610 working Americans conducted by the National Leadership Coalition on AIDS (1993), 78% believed their employers would treat an HIV-positive employee like any other employee who had a serious illness or disability.  Furthermore, 89% of those polled said employers should treat HIV-positive employees as they would employees with other illnesses.

                However, two-thirds of the same sample of respondents admitted that they would not feel comfortable working near someone who was HIV-positive, one-fourth said they should not feel comfortable, one-third said the HIV-positive employee would be dismissed or placed on disability at the first sign of illness, and one-fourth said that the employee should be dismissed.

                To combat such attitudes, some companies provide diversity training as well as programs designed to increase HIV/AIDS awareness.  Digital Equipment Corporation in Maynard, Massachusetts has been at the forefront in educating its employees and facilitating open communication between HIV-positive employees and their HIV-negative co-workers (Baker et al., 1995).  On a national level, the National Leadership Coalition on AIDS comprises many of the nation's leading businesses and labour unions (National Leadership Coalition on AIDS, 1993).  The Coalition helps develop effective workplace policies, education, benefits, and working conditions for those employees with HIV and their co-workers and managers.




                It is clear that employers, overall, have been slow to respond to the special needs of gay men.  However, mental health counselors can make a difference by providing the acceptance, support, and guidance that are all too often lacking in their clients' places of employment.

Etringer et al. (1990), in the previously mentioned study of gay, lesbian, and heterosexual undergraduate students, report that gay men felt the greatest need to gather information regarding career choices of all the groups questioned.  Mental health counselors could provide that information or help clients access it.  Several authors of recently published books on workplace issues for gay people (including Friskopp & Silverstein, 1995; McNaught, 1993) provide extensive lists of professional associations, organisations, and resources.

                Hetherington et al. (1989) suggest that career counselors provide specialised programs geared toward gay men, which may include interviewing skills, resume writing, job availability information, relationship and "lifestyle" counseling, geographic considerations, and stress management.  The authors also recommend that counselors create their own anti discrimination policies and make them highly visible for clients. (The authors' suggestions also apply to mental health counselors, who, as noted previously, encounter clients with career issues.)

                Mental health counselors must also be careful of the (often invisible) heterosexual bias found in the theories, models, and instruments they utilise.  Buhrke and Douce (1991) cite Harren's theory of career decision-making which defines interpersonal maturity as intimacy with the "opposite" sex, a task of "normal" development.  Gay men would (inaccurately) be considered immature according to this theory.  Similarly, prominent career developmental theorists such as Donald Super, Ginzberg and associates, and David Tiedeman (cited by Zunker, 1994) do not include gay identity issues in their models.  Therefore, mental health counselors who utilise the work of these theorists to orient their ways of thinking should also incorporate their own knowledge and experience in working with gay men's identity development issues into the models they use.

                Mental health counselors must also take extra care to protect the confidentiality surrounding the sexual orientation status of gay clients.  Buhrke and Douce (1991) warn that issues of confidentiality (including what to write on clients' insurance forms) and repercussions of breaches may be more serious for gay clients than heterosexual clients.  For example, clients who are considering careers in the military could potentially be harmed by a counselor's listing of sexual orientation issues as a reason for seeking counseling.

                Schmitz (1988) states that counselors must be careful not to impose their own values on clients, citing ethical standards involving clients' individual rights.  Eldridge (1987) cautions counselors against buying into the heterosexual bias that contributes to gender stereotyping of clients.  She also advocates using gender-neutral language in discussing relationship issues, unless a client reveals his sexual orientation.

                Croteau and Thiel (1993) recommend ways for counselors to signal their understanding and acceptance of a client's sexual orientation, even before the client discloses his orientation in a counseling session.  The authors suggest that counselors use gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language in their conversation with clients, and feature posters, books, and other visible signs of gay affirmation in their offices.




                As I have attempted to document, the world of work presents a mass of contradictions and uncertainties to gay men.  For example, where one author (Mickens, 1994) writes that it is "okay to be gay" (p. 19) in the field of advertising, others (Baker et al., 1995) refute that belief.  How an employer will treat an openly-gay or assumed-to-be-gay employee will vary in different places.  In addition, while society's attitudes often seem to be evolving, the lawmakers seem to be lagging.

                Given all the uncertainty, it is my position that mental health counsellors should ensure that, for any coming out experience that occurs within a therapy session, the client is positively rewarded with praise.  Because of the complex web of factors which underlie a gay man's decision to disclose his sexual orientation in any setting, and the wide range of possible reactions of the receiver (from non-judgmental acceptance to blatant discrimination), counselors should define such a disclosure as a gift from the client to himself (a possible landmark in the client's personal and professional growth) as well as a gift to the counselor (the gift being one of trust and rapport).  Counselors who do not recognise and emphasise that gift may deprive their clients of the kind of positive coming out experience that is never guaranteed in the workplace.

                For those mental health professionals who may be working on their own limitations in accepting and valuing gay clients, one possible (and ethical) solution would be to view the gay client's disclosure of his sexual orientation at the level of process rather than at the level of content. (The notion of levels and categories of communication has been described extensively by Bateson [1972].) The process of coming out can be considered an act of courage.  At the very least, a counselor could value (and comment on) the bravery often required to make such a disclosure.  It is one that heterosexual clients do not have to make.

                Besides accepting and valuing a gay male client and his decision to come out (or not come out) at work, mental health counselors should employ the same non-judgmental attitude when helping gay male clients deal with other work-related issues, including which occupations to pursue.  Although stereotypes die hard (such as the unsupported notion that gay men are mostly attracted to and populate certain occupations), the literature shows that they are indeed dying.  Mental health counselors must help make clients aware of all the possibilities and support any carefully thought-out choice.



Todd Sussman wishes to thank Warren J. Blumenfeld and the reviewers of this article for their helpful comments and suggestions, Maureen Duffy for her encouragement, and his parents, Howard and Sheila Sussman, for their never-ending support.



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