Beyond Tolerance: Policies, Practices, and Ideologies of Queer-Friendly Workplaces

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Sexuality Research and Social Policy

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In the United States, workplace protections for queer and trans workers have expanded; however, previous research has indicated that policy change alone is not sufficient to create supportive workplace cultures. The inequality regimes theoretical framework suggests examining policies, practices, and ideologies to understand inequality in work organizations.


Drawing upon 75 qualitative interviews with queer and trans workers in the Portland, OR metro area conducted in 2013, we assessed the policies, practices, and ideologies that shaped how queer and trans workers experienced their workplaces.


We found participants’ narratives about queer-friendly workplaces focused on: organizational policies and practices; disclosure, visibility, and recognition of queer and trans identities; and protection from discrimination based on sexuality, gender, and other intersecting marginalized identities. We found that trans workers experienced more challenges than cisgender workers in all these areas. In addition to articulating the impact of cisnormativity and heteronormativity, some participants experienced homonormativity, which emphasizes tolerance through assimilation and minimized the relevance of queer identities at work. We found that not all queer and trans people were equally able or willing to access this assimilation.


Ultimately, while laws and workplace policies provide critical protections for queer and trans workers, practices and ideologies that encourage queer disclosure, visibility, and recognition and provide protection from discrimination are also central to achieving acceptance, a central goal for queer-friendly workplaces.

Policy Implications

This research indicates that legal and organizational changes are needed to support queer-friendly workplaces. These changes include: policies (e.g. legal protections from discrimination, organizational anti-discrimination policies, policies to support transitioning workers), practices (e.g. recognition of queer and trans identities, queer and trans employee groups, gender neutral bathrooms), and ideologies (e.g. rejection of cisnormativity, heteronormativity, and homonormativity).


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