A colleague makes homophobic remarks to me, but I’m scared of losing my job if I report her.
This is 2019, not 1950, says our elder. You need to speak up.
I’m a schoolteacher in my hometown. A very new one in fact. Recently, a colleague who is tenured, pulled me into her classroom to express her homophobic sentiment towards me. I don’t know if I should report that to my boss or let it slide. I’m scared of making any waves because I’m an at-will employee and I’m worried that I will lose my job if I complain about my elder colleague.
Thank you for writing to the Elder Wisdom Circle for advice. Remember, I don’t know you, and this is all anonymous. The only information I have to go on is your letter and that you indicated you live in the USA. I want to begin by saying I am not equipped to offer anything more than an elder’s perspective on issues. I’m not a professional, just a volunteer who applies my decades of experience to problems submitted by advice-seekers such as yourself.
I can understand why you would ask for advice. You are in a moral dilemma that, if you do the right thing, might cost you your job. Homophobia is mostly a thing of the past. While it still exists today, it is a remnant of the dark time in our history when people were persecuted for being different. This wasn’t isolated to sexuality, and it also included race, religion, gender, etc. White males called the shots, and everyone else was considered “inferior” at best and open to hatred at worst. While it may seem we are reverting to this sort of thinking, it’s temporary and it can’t last.
I believe that we are on a progressive path forward and that such issues will die with the generations that still hold on to these harsh beliefs. However, the way ahead is not a straight line. It seems like a jagged sawtooth where we take two steps forward and one step backward. People like your colleague can get away with homophobic attitudes because a lot of people, including influential leaders worldwide, look the other way. I could go on, but I get the sense from your letter that you know all of this. You want to know what to do, and it’s a good question.
I picked your letter because I can identify with it. Luckily when I was in the workforce, I did not have to deal with homophobia. It was lurking in the shadows, but it was pretty well a “no-no” everywhere I worked. Not so with misogyny. Like you, I encountered a situation where I had to do the right thing at a high personal cost. I won’t go into the details other than to say I had to turn on my male peers for their disgusting behavior toward a couple of female co-workers. While I didn’t lose my job, I was ostracised and even threatened a couple of times. It was a moral and ethical minefield that I would wish on no one. Over time, policies changed, attitudes softened, and today it’s one of my proudest moments when I reflect on my career. However, at the time, I had a lot of sleepless nights, to say the least.
My advice to you is to report the behavior of your colleague to your manager. There’s no place for homophobia or any other sort of bigotry in the workplace. This is even more repulsive if it occurs in an area of learning — a school where young minds and attitudes are being shaped for the future. In my view, your colleague has to change her position on this topic or leave. You are not obliged to agree with her hurtful opinions. By ignoring them, you silently agree and confirm her bigotry as being OK. You empower her to keep spreading this out-of-date hatred. You asked for my advice, and this is the best that I can give you. You say you are an “at-will employee.” I assume by that you mean you can be dismissed with little to no reason. That may be, but if your worst concern happens and you are let go for doing the right thing, you will be able to hold your head high. Frankly, I don’t think you will be fired for reporting her, and if it does happen, make sure everyone knows why. I believe we need to re-think almost every pre-1980 norm. This is 2019, not 1950. It’s a different world out there, and I’m counting on your generation to do this. It won’t be any less painful than it was for my age to fight for women’s equality and attack racist behavior. We started the change, and it’s up to you and your peers to carry on in the 21st century.
I hope this helped a little. If I’ve missed the point, or if you have anything to add, please write back.
Letter #: 448091