I Don’t Want To Work With a Gay Person!

Michael Sam’s announcement last week, becoming the first openly gay NFL player, rekindled some hot workplace topics.  His acknowledgement has talk shows buzzing about whether NFL players would be comfortable with a gay teammate in the locker room.  I think most people concentrated on one area of the locker room, the showers.  Would male NFL players be comfortable showering with a teammate who was homosexual?  So far, no NFL players have said they would not be.

I wonder what most HR professionals would tell an employee who did come to you and said “I don’t want to work with Tim, he’s gay, and I don’t agree with it.”

I’m assuming 99.9% of HR Pros would come up with something like this:

“You know Mr. Employee, we are an inclusive and diverse company, and that means we support all of our employees and don’t judge them based on things like sexual orientation, religion, etc.  If you feel uncomfortable working with Tim, maybe this isn’t the place for you to work.”

Seems about right, right?

Let’s add some real-life to this scenario.  What if, in your work environment, employees had to share a community, locker room type shower environment, as part of the job function.  Dirty, chemical filled, environment, employees shower after their shift as a normal course of their daily working environment.  Now what would you say?

Does it change what you might tell Mr. Employee?  You’re lying to yourself if you say it wouldn’t.  All of sudden you start trying to make concessions and talking about building individual showers, or asking Tim to shower in a private shower and locker room.  You start accommodating, like being ‘Gay’ is a disability.

What if it is your policy for employees of the same sex, when traveling, to share hotel rooms.  This is a common practice with many companies.  What do you tell Mr. or Mrs. Employee when they feel uncomfortable sharing a hotel room with a gay employee?  Do you make an accommodation for that employee to have their own hotel room?

What if your top sales person came to you and said they don’t want to work with a gay employee.  The sales person who controls and has your largest client in their back pocket – 60% of your current business.  Do you give them the same line above? “Go work someplace else!”  I’ll be honest with you, you won’t, because executives would have your job for letting that person walk from your company.  Oh, I’m sure you’re reading this saying “No, Tim, I would!” That’s great for you.  You have to know most people are unwilling to lose their job over something like this.  That’s real life HR in the trenches.

It seems simple.  So what, we have employees that are gay, who cares.  Until another employee cares.  Then HR has issues.  Being an inclusive employer doesn’t mean you just look for the gay employee, it means also you value the beliefs of the person who doesn’t agree with the gay lifestyle for what ever reason that might be.  That’s really, really hard to except for many of us.  I want to tell the gay-hating employee to go take a walk, but if I do that, I cease being ‘Inclusive’ and begin being ‘exclusive’.  It’s HRs job to make it ‘all’ work.

So, what would you do with an employee who has a problem working with a gay employee?

23 thoughts on “I Don’t Want To Work With a Gay Person!

  1. Well well well….isn’t this an interesting discussion.
    In 29 states it is legal to fire someone because they are LGBT. Really. So LGBT staff don’t have much leverage in many states.
    However, 88% of the F500 include sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, bisexual) in non-discrimination policies. Only 57% cover gender identity (transgender).

    Tim raises a real scenario of what to do when the squeaky wheels pipe up. This happened at a firm I worked at. The LGBT employee resource group had pride flags hung in June in all US office break rooms. At two sites a few staff complained officially to HR. Thankfully give that this was a F250 firm management (not just HR) told them the exit signs were illuminated for a reason….and they quit! It was in fact a morale building experience.

    However, what about when a client makes a fuss about getting service from your LGBT employees? This happened to me personally when I was working as a very high bill rate management consultant at a top 5 firm. The client kept making odd or derogatory remarks about my sexuality. I let it slide for a few days but finally told a colleague. We never involved HR but did tell the partner on the case. That’s tricky. Do we come down hard on the client that PAYS OUR BILLS? They could send us packing, which would mean lost revenue which impacts the P&L which drives partner bonuses…..
    The partner did have a gentle conversation with the client and the behavior stopped, so Tim’s point of these things being grey is real. The partner could have easily just moved me off the case (which could impact my utilization and tank my promotion likelihood). We had this in the Middle East when we staffed senior women to cases, which could bristle the traditional Arab clients. Was tricky.

    Laurie’s point that people with real problems don’t go to HR is half right. Its right in that they have many other ways to express their displeasure than just HR and are more likely to do so, but some do come to HR as well.

    When I worked on helping to get Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed the showers and shared living quarters were a huge issue by our opponents, but not our men and women in uniform. Yet it was constantly in the media as as issue and still festers with things like Michael Sam (Tim – I did write his 2nd father a letter btw, posted to FB). After DADT was repealed there were virtually zero incidents of sexual harassment from LGB soldiers to straight, this at the world’s largest employer with an estimated 65,000 active LGB employees.

    Tim- a challenge for you. If you really want to educate and provoke have a future post be about Transgender issues. Workplace transition is complex and things like bathrooms do matter and it is more relatable than shared hotel room travel policies (which in my experience are fairly rare, save for Wal-Mart). VERY few in HR are educated to understand the complexities of Transgender issues including workplace transition, and gender reassignment surgery (if the employee takes that step – few do). I have people you can speak with on the matter if you want background.

  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head here, Laurie. It’s not the bigoted high-performer who’s going to be coming to HR with a problem. It’s going to be the employee who’s being discriminated against – the one who has been the brunt of jokes and the victim of mean-spirited exclusion. By the time HR becomes aware of the problem, it’s going to be much bigger than a discussion around diversity and inclusion. By then, you’re dealing with a very serious discrimination issue.

    That’s what amazes me about the larger conversation in the pro sports community – and what concerns me with its appearance in professional communities: Suddenly heterosexuals feel THEY are at risk of sexual harassment. The fact that we’re giving that perspective any credence just sickens me. As a not-loud-but-very-proud gay professional, I pose this question: Where were you when *I* was being harassed? Where were you when *I* was afraid to share a room with someone?

    I appreciate the general intention of your post, Tim, but I think we need to seriously consider the heart of the argument. Is the bigger risk losing a high-performer? Or marginalizing an entire demographic of employees (as well as future candidates)?

    • Kyle,

      Doesn’t inclusion mean that we value all of our employees? Even those who we might not agree with. Funny how easily we become ‘exclusive’, when we turn this argument around. We devalue the beliefs of the heterosexual employee they seem silly. My argument isn’t broken, it’s flipped around on purpose, to show how one side feels, when their beliefs are not given credibility…


      • I get that – and that’s why I appreciate the intention here. It’s good food for thought.

        But there are better ways to exemplify inclusion and value of ALL employees than to treat this as anything other than bigotry. If a high-performer came into your office and said they were uncomfortable working with someone because they were Latino, you wouldn’t give their “personal feelings” any credence – because that’s racism.

        This isn’t about devaluing the beliefs of homosexuals or heterosexuals. This is about perpetuating bigotry.

  3. Quit skimming my comments. Go back and read it.

    I don’t think telling someone “you already showered with gay people” does the trick. That’s not what I wrote. I think there are two important messages at play and maybe I’m not being clear enough: you tell someone to get the F back to work and you also realize that nobody is a high performer forever. You don’t build policy around someone’s comfort level. You build policy based on a bigger strategy that weaves in financial goals, objectives, corporate strategies, partnerships, etc.

    And a high performer who asks you to build company policy around his bigoted/racist/sexist belief isn’t really a high performer. You and I both know that. A high performer is too busy to pay attention to anyone’s anything — sexuality, skin color, gender, ability, disability, etc.

    I do know this is an issue in some companies — and I do live in the south — but you created some false constructs in this blog post, Timmy. If you don’t like a gay person, the last place you go is HR and demand a change. These jerks express themselves through exclusion, bullying and direct hostility.

  4. Oh my god, this is so dumb.

    First of all, we are only now at a place in our society where we even know who is gay and who is straight — and we still don’t even know unless someone tells us. So the smart HR pro would say to the bigot, “I hate to tell you, bub, but you’ve been showering with gay dudes for years. Nobody wants to touch your junk, touch your breasts, or get in your butt.”

    But more importantly, Timmy, you asked questions about scenarios where high-performing straight employees get to express their (bigoted) feelings against gay people. I live in the south. I know this happens. And the right answer is to remember that no one employee makes or breaks a company. No one employee is a top performer forever. It’s a stupid organization that makes policy based on the needs of an employee.

    (Because, you know, smart companies make policy policy based on the arrogant F-tard that is the CEO.)

    Live by the selfish needs of the hi-po and die by the needs of the hi-po.

    • LFR –

      You and I both know this is a real scenario that hits HR Pros in all size companies. Thankfully, this NFL story opens up the conversation. It’s dumb to you, because you get it on a higher level. It’s not dumb to the thousands of HR pros and leaders who feel stuck, who feel one employee does make a difference, who don’t know how to keep peace in their organizations and have these conversations.

      You know what’s dumb? Telling some heterosexual person ‘you showered with a gay person’ and thinking that all of sudden solves there issue.


    • I am gay and I like my style of living. Does that mean I have a gay (or is it happy?) lifestyle? And I use agendas inside and outside work. Does that mean I have a gay agenda? Poppycock. By the way, if any of you guys need a back scrub in the shower, I’m not interested.

    • Krystal –

      There is a straight lifestyle, it consists of getting my clothes from places like Lands End and the Men’s Warehouse, and watching TV shows like the King of Queens…

      Didn’t mean to offend – I apologize.


      • By the way, none of this offends me. There is a method in Tim (Sackett)’s madness. He is sparking conversation about important and sometimes uncomfortable or taboo subjects. Kudos to Tim.

  5. Tim Collins you hit the nail on the head! A company either believes in diversity/values or it doesn’t – we can’t have it both ways (i.e. punish those who don’t fit with our values and then pander to those who throw their weight around). There is nothing more disengaging for other employees either – “Management talks the talk but when push comes to shove they always cave to those bringing in the dollars/their friends/the squeaky wheel”.
    If we really want employees engaged and believing in us then we need to practice what we preach!

    • Renee –

      Thanks for the comments. I think as HR Pros, as organizational leaders, we have to get past ‘belief’ and get to proving through documented results diversity and inclusion is the way our organizations should go. Belief only takes you so far, I think we can do better. Too many companies are still at the ‘belief’ stage of Inclusion – what I think is the politically correct stage – and haven’t gone past that to proving to our organizations this is why we need to do this. Not because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do, but because it’s the proven right thing to do for the health of our business. Most HR Pros haven’t taken this step.


  6. Either you believe in your grand diversity and inclusion policy and words or you don’t. There is no middle ground. I must disclose that I am one of 40 LGBT Out Executives at IBM. If you don’t want all employees to achieve their potential and contribute to the fullest extent possible, then hire only people who are the same. Only men (or women), only people from Michigan, or…

    Oh yeah, there’s a problem with that. The world is diverse and so are people who buy things. Enterprises that manage to harness the collective energy of an engaged, hard working, collaborative, and yes diverse workforce are the ones who succeed. They also make the world a better place for everyone.

    Call BS on artificial choices, shower phobia and sales reps who sell 60% of your stuff. Stand by your principles, do the right thing and make the world more accepting of all of us.

    • Tim,

      Great comments as usual. I do think there is a business middle ground. If I run an IBM plant in Texas, and my plant runs most efficiently and most profitable with 100% male Hispanic workforce (we proven this by trying different mixes) – I owe it to all my shareholders, internal and external, not to be diverse, but to keep it that way. Diversity and Inclusion, if I fully ‘believed’ 100%, would have me let go of many of these Hispanic workers and bring in women, whites, blacks, Asians, etc. Potentially giving us less results. Are you saying you support making a bad business decision for the sake of diversity and inclusion?


      • Tim, I don’t buy the premise that “we’ve proven this (plant runs better with 100% Hispanic workers) by trying different mixes” Where is the research, the facts, to back this up? It’s facetious.

        BTW, it’s Men’s Wearhouse, and maybe you should say you life a straight life instead of straight lifestyle. Pardon me for saying so, but there ain’t much style at Land’s End or Men’s Wearhouse.

  7. In my opinion, the only situation that currently exists that is somewhat comparable to this is that of relations between male and female workers.

    To elaborate, with gay co-workers, there’s a possibility that someone of the same sex may have/develop feelings for you. People have had to deal with the possibility of this coming from the opposite sex since the beginning of time, and the simple and easy solution to avoid any sexual tension, in particular when it comes to bathrooms, showers and hotel rooms, was to have separate facilities for men and women. Theoretically, you could place dozens of nude men or women in a room and there’d be no sexual tension.

    With openly-homosexual employees this changes and now there’s little difference between single-gender facilities and mixed-gender facilities. Heterosexual males that have to shower with gay co-workers probably feel like women having to shower with male colleagues. And you can’t really blame them.

  8. Great topic. I think you have to ask the employee how the individual’s sexual orientation affects their work (i.e. job “relatedness”). There are two tracks:

    1) Gay/Lesbian employee IS NOT making passes/soliciting (for lack of a better word)/harassing co-workers.
    2) Gay/Lesbian employee IS making sexual passes/soliciting/harrassing co-workers.

    In situation 1, there is no issue. In this situation, the employee who has an issue with the gay/lesbian employee just does not agree with the employees sexual orientation. It is a discussion with that employee about professionalism in the workplace and why he/she can’t get their work completed because of the other employee sexual orientation (which 9 times out of ten there is not a job related reason). In situation 2, there is a sexual harassment issue and it needs to be addressed.

    As far as the communal showers and sharing a hotel room, another good question. In my opinion, this would be similiar to a bathroom situation. I think there would have to be an element of harassing/sexual harassment for there to be changes made.

    The sales person situation, I think there needs to be a conversation or a series of conversations about about (again) job relatedness and why that sales person does not want to work with a homosexual employee. See if there are any underlying/past issues (employee relations, etc.) that needs resolution. This is where your “Crucial Conversation” skills come in handy!

  9. Replace gay with bad whatever and it is any other employee conflict. It’s the top sales rep not playing nice well you book him his own hotel room, but the rest of the time you build unified culture. Team building and group projects will help everyone see the talents of their peers. After some time employees that put personal opinion (from 9-5) above what is clearly best for the company can leave (top rep included).

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