OUT for Work job fair connects LGBTQ youth and employers

From the 2011 conference. Photo: outforwork.org.

LGBTQ job seekers and their allies came out in full force to the OUT for Work Conference career fair at the University of Illinois at Chicago Sunday. The fair was part of a weekend-long conference of seminars, speakers and networking for the LGBTQ community, particularly LGBT youth.

Now in its eighth year, the 2012 conference was the first to be held in the Midwest and saw its biggest turnout ever, drawing students from at least 54 colleges in the region. The purpose of the weekend was to help LGBTQ youth develop confidence and hone their skills to thrive in a competitive job market, according to the organizers.

“For the past eight years of OUT for Work, great companies such as Lockheed Martin and Capital One, and students from across the country have come together to have an open and real dialogue about the challenges LGBTQ individuals can face transitioning from academia to the workplace,” said OUT for Work Founder Riley Folds. “It has been a pleasure to create and grow such a nationally recognized program.”

The fair brought prospective workers and young professionals face to face with companies looking to expand their LGBTQ and ally workforce, including Walgreens, Boeing and NASA.

OUT For Work Conference & Operations Manager Alex Gant said it’s important to create a career conference for the LGBTQ community and address the very specific issues of dealing with being open in the workplace.

“We don’t’ tell anyone that they have to be out in the workplace, we give them all the tools and resources to do so if they choose to do that,” Gant said. “You have to be happy. If you’re not going to be happy because you can’t put a picture of your significant other on your desk, if you can’t talk about what you did over the weekend like the fact you went to a pride festival, that’s a problem.”

When asked about the specific issues she has witnessed with other LGBTQ individuals seeking jobs, Gant pointed out the various gender identity expressions and wardrobe challenges that might make it hard for some.

“A lot of lesbians, gender-queer identified folks, and transgender folks have issues with what to wear,” Gant said. “Myself, I identify with female pronouns, I identify as a lesbian, but from an outside perspective, I’m very masculine presented. This is what I wear. I love wearing suits and ties. Does doing that in an interview compromise my potential hire? That shouldn’t be something you worry about, but the LGBTQ community does have to worry about that.”

In the end, Gant said that prospective job seekers should wear what they want to wear as long as they can talk about it.

“Women who want to present themselves in more masculine attire or men who want to present themselves in skirts or dresses, or whatever they want to wear, I encourage them to wear what they’re comfortable with as long as they’re prepared to talk about it and prepared to be asked about it.”

Others claimed to not be as affected by sexual orientation or gender identity when seeking a job.

Liz Simmons, a senior Journalism major at Bowling Green State University in Ohio said she hasn’t had any issues in her experiences looking for work as a Lesbian-identified woman.

“Nobody can really tell. It’s not something that’s kind of visible — I don’t have that problem,” Simmons explained. “I would not want to work for an organization that does not like LGBT individuals. Just because you can’t see it on me, does not mean I don’t identify as it and does not mean that it’s not important to me.”

While issues of gender identity and sexual orientation in the workplace were hot topics at the conference, others were concerned with the healthcare packages available to LGBTQ employees and their families. Several employers were on hand to provide such information for potential employees.

“I know that my wife and I can be on each other’s benefit packages,” said Stephanie, an engineer at General Dynamics, who asked not to include her last name in this report. “We both work for General Dynamics and fertility treatment was covered for us. We’ve had to push the envelope a few times, but in the end everything’s been covered.”

Representatives from Marriott Hotels & Resorts, too, shared what they are doing to cater to LGBT employees. The international hotel chain offers same-sex domestic partner benefits, and a non-discrimination policy for race, gender and sexual identity. All Marriott staff must go through diversity training so that all employees are comfortable in the workplace, according to a Marriott representative.

In addition to connecting young people with employers, the goal of the event was to boost the confidence of young LGBTQ individuals and give them hope in a competitive job market.

“I will always be myself,” said Miles Faciane, a senior Computer Science major at Northern Illinois University. “I’ve always had a job. If a job doesn’t like who I am, I don’t want that job anyway.”

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