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Keeping Things Straight

You and your boss met early on in the campaign. You were thrilled when a political victory meant you were on your way to becoming their legislative director. The adjustment to life in the capital city was strange, but nothing unmanageable, and you could always go home on weekends.

Now you’re sitting in the back office, drinking coffee and catching up with each other before another day of back-to-back meetings begins. You’re excited about the apartment’s new furniture, a new haircut and a great Thai place opening near you. Their husband is great, but the two are fighting over whether or not a puppy is feasible with how much they both work. You tell her about your uncertainties regarding the girl you’ve been seeing, hoping for some advice on how to move forward when you live an hour-and-a-half apart.

In the morning described above, the level of discreetness the conversation needs to take is directly dependent on the gender you read yourself as. Making the assumption that the legislator is a woman and the LD is a man, this is fairly typical of a close office relationship. Assuming that the narrator is female, she is putting her career at risk in any state where the ultimate firing power does not reside with her boss, but someone higher up in legislative leadership.

Despite the Supreme Court victory for marriage equality, the battle for workplace protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation is far from over. In 28 states, you can be fired for being gay*. The number jumps to 30 when you identify as trans. This is indicative not only of a system that has yet to fully embrace the gay and trans community, but one that fails to view its members as entire human beings capable of performing the necessary work of the legislature.

Part of the issue stems from the fact that openly LGBTQA+ people are vastly underrepresented in state and country leadership. Four states have never had an openly gay member of the state legislature. Of the 46 that have, 25 have had fewer than five in their entire state’s history. The entirety of the U.S. Congress’s gay history can be summed up in one small table on Wikipedia. There has never been a trans person elected to either of our nation’s legislative bodies. (We’re also not counted in demographic metrics of legislative staffers, making it impossible to tell what the ratios look like compared to race and gender breakdowns.)

While a complicating factor in any career, working in politics makes this, as usual, a unique challenge to confront. Campaign relationships can be exceptionally close for being in a professional space. Whether its because you like each other or because you’re working 16-hour days in the same room consuming only coffee and snack packs of pretzels, intimate details about each others’ lives often come out. Sometimes this means knowing your boss will always want ice cream. Sometimes it means that if your boss accidentally outs you to a colleague, you could lose your job. I would never advocate not sharing things that are so fundamental to your personhood–I have been fortunate enough to trust those for whom I have worked. I would, however, advocate for working each day to change a system that allows this to go on.

For many members of the LGBTQA+ community, sexual, romantic and gender identities are as central to our concept of self as our names, our days of birth. There should be no reason we cannot divulge this piece of our lives without fear.

Many candidates in 2018 have said, “in our state, you can get married on Sunday and fired for that on Monday. That has to change.” I desperately hope that once you’re in power, you make good on that promise. Love is love, but beyond that, who you are is who you are, and no one should be concerned about losing their job based on the gender of the person they’re getting drinks with that night.

*In this article, gay is used as the umbrella term for people who do not identify as straight with respect to sexual orientation

Kelly Stec is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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