There was a time when women and people who are queer were barred from the workforce. Today, it’s a much different story.
Rosanna Pfeil has been a rural and suburban mail carrier for Canada Post since 2010. “Whether I’m at work, with my family or with my friends, I am a proud lesbian, and I really don’t mind if someone calls me a dyke. I will say, ‘Thank you!’” Pfeil says. Not that anyone in her workplace would call her a dyke. “If someone would say anything homophobic, that person would have to deal with a lot of angry co-workers, not just me,” Pfeil says. She has heard people use the word “gay” out of context in her workplace, and she doesn’t hesitate to correct them.
Even if she wanted to hide her sexuality, it would be difficult since Pfeil’s wife shares the same employer. “She started her career with Canada Post and has already coveted one of the most interesting jobs there as a route measurement officer,” Pfeil says. She hasn’t experienced any discrimination at work. Pfeil and her wife have made many friends at Canada Post who don’t care that their sons have two moms. “I am pretty sure, with all the support from my co-workers when my wife and I had to deal with our oldest son having cancer and the adoption of our youngest son, that it proves that I am no different because of my sexuality,” Pfeil says.
“I’ve been accepted since day one, which has been amazing,” says Tracy Patterson. She came out when she was 18 and was 30 when she joined the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS). “There was no way I was going to go back in the closet just to get on the job.”
Right from the job interview, Patterson was open, even though she was afraid. Her classmates were immediately supportive. When she got to field training, she found it was harder to be a heterosexual woman than it was to be a lesbian. This became clear when she was outed by a mentor after being placed in a department for training where no one knew she was a lesbian. Her co-workers had an issue with having a woman on their shift because they hadn’t before, and they were concerned the dynamic would shift. “What they said was, ‘It’s okay because she’s like one of the guys. She’s gay,’” says Patterson. “I thought that was odd.” But once she was on the shift, the guys were great to her.
“There’s always going to be some issues with some guys that may be inappropriate at times, but when you put them in their place, they’re very respectful,” Patterson says. She points out that that’s like society in general. She does GLBT training for WPS and talks to members about language, including not using “gay” as a derogatory word. She recalls a time when she met someone on the service who was religious and who had never met someone who was queer before. “He had said, ‘That’s so gay,’ to somebody,” says Patterson. Even though Patterson hadn’t heard him say it, he apologized to her and genuinely felt bad for his words.
While no one has come to her about negative experiences on the job, she thinks it might be more difficult for gay men than woman. “If there’s some effeminate males on the job, I would say there would be a presumption they’re gay,” Patterson says. “I don’t know if there’d be any teasing or harassing or anything. I wouldn’t witness it, because I would say something.” Patterson says people watch what they say around her. But, when she’s not around, she could see some people having difficulty. Although, she has faith that many of the supervisors would step in.
“You get a whole bunch of masculine guys together, they’re going to be teasing and harassing. And there’s always somebody in the crowd that pushes too far, which I’ve witnessed it. I’ve always witnessed that person being pulled aside,” says Patterson. She’s not sure if that’s only been the shifts she’s been on, or all of WPS. “Bullying, it’s nipped in the bud right away.”
It’s clear that the workforce is not a completely accepting and safe space for queer women yet, but there are signs that we are making some strides in the right direction.
–Meg Crane is a freelance writer and founder of Cockroach. Follow her on Twitter @MegCrane
Legal protections and services for LGBT Manitobans
- Equal marriage rights.
- Full adoption rights for same- sex parents.
- The right for GSAs in publicly funded schools
- Manitoba’s human rights code prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
- Provincial government provides coverage for most gender transition surgeries
- A simple process for people to change their sex designation on government documents without undergoing transition surgeries
- Conversion therapy is banned
Facts and figures from the website Catalyst.org
- Most countries and states do not provide legal protections for GLBT employees
- Colonial era laws prevent GLBT people in India from having same-sex relations.
- 61 countries prohibit discrimi- nationbin employment be- causebof sexual orientation.
- There is no federal law protect- ingbthe rights of GLBT employ- eesbin the United States.
- There is no state-level pro- tectionbfor sexual orientation inb29 of the 50 states in Ameri- ca. This means employees can be fired for being GLBT.
- There is no state-level gender identity protection in 33 of the 50 states. Employees can be fired for being transgender.
- Across Europe, 47 per cent of GLBT people felt they experi- enced discrimination or harass- ment because of their sexual orientation.