Advice for LGBT Workers in Difficult Workplaces
By Amanda Frank
Monster Contributing Writer
For both LGBT month in June and Spirit Day in October, we sought the legal and common sense advice of Angela Giampolo, Managing Partner at Giampolo Law Group. Among other areas, her practice advocates for the rights of the LGBT community against discrimination in the workplace and at large.
MONSTER: What needs did you hope to fill for the LGBT community when you started your practice?
GIAMPOLO: I receive 3-4 phone calls a day from LGBT people that have been discriminated against in the workplace, by their landlord, the police or in public settings. While I opened my firm to address the LGBT community’s legal needs that have nothing to do with their being gay, I was also vehemently passionate about protecting their civil and human rights.
MONSTER: How if at all has being gay influenced your career path?
GIAMPOLO: I have always been very active in the LGBT community in Philadelphia and Montreal through non-profit boards, events and the local LGBT chamber of commerce. But at first, being a lesbian didn’t affect my career path at all.
Initially, I was pursuing a path in international human rights, working in human trafficking and genocide. After settling back into Philadelphia from living and working in Beijing and Tanzania, I was not entirely sure what I was going to do.
One night while I was having drinks with a gay couple, and partners for eleven years, they told me a story about meeting with a straight corporate lawyer. When they walked into his office, the lawyer said, “Oh, you two business partners?” No. “Brothers?” No. “Ohhhh….” He got quiet, and with a lowered voice and air quotes said, “Are you ‘partners, partners’?”
It hit me like a ton of bricks at that moment. I was going to form a law firm that serviced the LGBT community’s legal needs that have nothing to do with the fact that they are gay. Gay people own businesses and gay people buy and sell real estate etc.
MONSTER: What do you advocate to the LGBT community most?
GIAMPOLO: I am very active in LGBT estate planning. I give seminars every 3-4 weeks on the topic and am relentlessly educating the LGBT community about the need to have an estate plan. Ultimately, if you live in a state or country that doesn’t recognize gay marriage and you don’t have an estate plan, you’ve effectively disinherited your partner. More than that, if you don’t have the proper legal documents in place and something terrible were to happen to your partner, you may not be allowed to see them and/or make life and death decisions for them in their time of need.
MONSTER: What legal advice do you have for anyone in the LGBT community that may face discrimination in their career?
GIAMPOLO: My advice is not so much legal as it is common sense and political. Your reaction to the situation must be based on the reality of your fiscal situation. You can’t quit or walk out if you absolutely need the job. That being said, regardless of where you live, seek out the advice of an attorney. Especially in the workplace, it takes time to collect the evidence that you need in order to build a solid case.
MONSTER: What would you tell the workforce in general about mutual tolerance and respect?
GIAMPOLO: Harvey Milk, an American politician who became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in, is a hero of mine and his advice is still as powerful today as it was in 1977. We need to all come out at work, at home, in our families and with our friends. With regards to work, if every gay person decided to stay home one day the world economies and workforce would be crippled. That’s a powerful thought – while a singular ant can’t move the world, in unison a group of ants’ strength is monumental.
MONSTER: Have you noticed attitudes changing?
GIAMPOLO: Attitudes are absolutely changing. While Canada amended the constitution 6 years ago to make marriage gender neutral and between a person and a person, at the same time, the United States government was attempting to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage.
Just last month, for the first time ever a CNN poll, revealed that 51% of Americans are in favor of gay marriage. ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ has finally been repealed and the Defense Against Marriage Act is not far behind. And more businesses are eating the hidden costs associated with health benefits for domestic partners easing their financial burden.
It has taken a long time and we still have a long way to go but attitudes both in government and people are absolutely changing.
MONSTER: Can you give a few examples of common (or strange) situations you've helped clients through, so managers and employees can become more sensitive to this particular workplace sensitivity issue?
GIAMPOLO: I’ve seen some pretty insane issues over the years. In one situation, a woman accused a gay colleague who wasn’t out but people suspected was gay, of sexual harassment. It ended up that her motivation was to make him out himself.
I recently dealt with a lesbian couple that worked together and were life partners, which was permissible according to their shared employer’s HR policy. They were involuntarily outed and faced daily discrimination by their boss and colleagues. Eventually, one of the two women, who was up for a managerial promotion was fired.
MONSTER: What advice would you give to employers about LGBT issues at work?
GIAMPOLO: My biggest piece of advice for employers is to take sensitivity training seriously. It is key in this day and age that every employee know exactly what type of language is offensive to the LGBT community and also have a place to vent their issues if they are finding it hard to exercise tolerance and respect. We spend 10-12 hours of any given day at the workplace and every person in society has the right to view and experience work as a safe place to be.