Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Straight People Now Crashing LGBT Job Fairs

Although it would’ve seemed unbelievable not too long ago that a straight person would risk being mistaken for LGBTQ while on the job market, apparently some straight MBA students these days are being told by their teachers to attend LGBTQ career fairs. According to Matt Kidd, executive director of Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA), a nonprofit organization known for hosting the largest annual conference for LGBTQ MBA students, this is an emerging trend at some colleges.

At the 2013 ROMBA conference, only 1 of the 19 student attendees from Rice University was openly gay. Students from the College of William and Mary business school were encouraged to register, but advised to skip the actual conference sessions and only attend the job fair. Overall, 10% of the 1,100 attendees at the 2013 ROMBA conference identified as straight. According to Kidd, LGBTQ students in attendance reported hearing other students say stuff like: “Dude, I’m not gay,” and “There needs to be less focus on gay stuff at this event.”

That is like a straight person going to a gay bar and being offended because a gay person offered to buy you a drink. Or, rather, a straight person going to a gay bar and trying to pick up a patron who is obviously not interested in you.

Chequeta Allen, executive director of the career management center at the College of William and Mary’s business school, defended their advice to straight MBA students, saying, “There are recruiters there who are happy to talk to anyone that’s talented… The idea of those groups is to ensure inclusiveness, not to say, ‘We only want LGBT people.’” The problem with Allen’s statement is no one is actually saying that. No one is saying they “only want LGBT people.”

As we discuss on the regular, LGBTQ people are dealing with the same difficult job market as straight and/or cisgender people, but they are also dealing with discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity and a host of other problems based on their intersecting identities. Just this week, President Obama signed an executive order barring discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors and the federal government — and that was a pretty big deal because there still isn’t any federal law that adequately protects people from all job discrimination based on perceived or actual sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

In 29 states, there are no state laws that prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 32 states, there are no state laws that prohibit job discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Overall, 52% of LGBT people live in states that do not prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to various studies on LGBT employment discrimination compiled by the Williams Institute and Center for American Progress:

  • 15%-43% of LGBT workers have experienced some form of discrimination at work,
  • 8%-17% of LGBT workers report being fired or passed over for a job because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,
  • 7%-41% of LGBT workers were verbally or physically abused or had their workplace vandalized.

When you look at the numbers for transgender people specifically, the statistics are horrifying:

  • 90% of transgender individuals have encountered some form of harassment or mistreatment at work,
  • 47% of transgender workers have experienced an adverse outcome because of their gender identity like being passed over for a job (44%), fired (26%), or denied a promotion (23%).

LGBTQ MBA students face a number of hurdles in entering the job market that their straight and/or cis counterparts don’t; specialized job fairs are a fairly routine way of providing marginalized and statistical minority groups opportunities that more privileged groups usually don’t need to rely on. An event like the ROMBA conference is a chance to network with other openly LGBTQ MBA students and professionals without judgement, where you can safely assume you’re amongst “family.” When straight MBA students show up at the same event, that assumption is no longer safe, and the real-world likelihood that a job will go to a more privileged candidate is suddenly reproduced in what was meant to be a space that recognized and compensated for that likelihood.

This trend has already begun eroding job fairs for specific racial groups. Conferences for black, Asian, and Hispanic MBA students are also finding more MBA students attending outside of the target demographic. The same article that discusses ROMBA notes that about 37% of the students who attended the National Society of Hispanic MBAs in 2013 were non-Hispanic. However, the chief executive officer of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, Manny Gonzalez, believes non-Hispanic MBA students can benefit from the crossover. He asserts that exposure to diverse communities at job fairs makes for better future employees who understand the value of a diverse workforce.

This is a weird thing to say because job fairs are not designed for attendees to talk to each other or learn from each other. At a job fair, people walk around talking to recruiters from various organizations; looking for future jobs, internships and business connections. It is an intense flurry of elevator speeches and polished resumes. The set-up is typically convention style — recruiters set up booths around a large convention hall and attendees run around talking to as many recruiters as possible. It’s like speed dating for job opportunities. Any non-Hispanic students would be competing directly with the Hispanic students in attendance for face time with recruiters. They would actually be taking time and possibly jobs from Hispanic attendees. How does this contribute to a diverse workforce?

This year, ROMBA is adding a section to the registration form in which prospective attendees have to describe a meaningful conversation about the LGBTQ community and describe what they hope to learn from the conference. Kidd hopes this will help filter out students who do not care about LGBTQ communities, who just want to attend the job fair. Kidd emphasized that the point of the registration form change is not to keep straight people out, especially not active allies, but to make sure MBA student in attendance are coming for the right reasons.

Kidd’s attempt to better screen conference applicants to protect safe space for LGBTQ attendees is admirable, and the need for it is all too common. In this so-called post-racial and post-gay and post-feminist world, we often have to defend our safe spaces. Safe spaces are vital because we don’t actually live in a post-racial or post-gay or post-feminist world.

The real questions to ask here are not about how we keep our spaces safe. The questions are about why people who don’t identify with a group feel entitled to go to a recruitment event for that group. Why would a white person go to a job fair for Asian students or Hispanic students or black students? Why would a straight cisgender person go to a job fair for LGBTQ students? Why would a MBA school professor encourage students to attend job fairs for minority students? On an individual level, it stems from a belief that more privileged people have more of a right to access every single job opportunity than marginalized people do to safe space. On a larger cultural level, it seems related to the idea that when marginalized groups try to get on equal footing or catch up to more privileged ones, they are in fact accessing special privileges or “cheating” and getting things that the majority isn’t allowed to have. What we need here is a good ol’ fashioned privilege check. Job fairs for minority groups are set up because these groups experience disproportionate discrimination in the job market and, well, almost everywhere in their daily life. It is very uncool to come into these job fairs and compete for face time with job recruiters when you already have the upper hand in the job market.

A good ally understands this. A good ally is more than just someone who is not racist or not transphobic or not homophobic or not sexist. A good ally works actively for the liberation of others and knows when to check their privilege. A good ally might attend the ROMBA conference because they genuinely care about LGBTQ issues and people. They would not register just to crash the LGBTQ job fair. A good ally would recognize that the whole wide world is a straight job fair and maybe they should let their LGBTQ friends have this one opportunity.

Avatar of KaeLyn

KaeLyn is a (femme)nist activist and the reigning Queer Fat Vegan Korean Immigrant Ms. America Pageant winner. She is a full-time community organizer, and a part-time lover/sex educator. You can find her binge-watching TV, over-caffeinating herself, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, eating vegan comfort food, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Upstate NY with her partner-in-crime/spouse and their furkids: a xenophobic cat, two bossy bunnies, and two sassy guinea pigs. She and her partner blog about adding a human kid to the mix at Queer Family Matters.

KaeLyn has written 11 articles for us.

35 Comments

  1. Thumb up 18

    Please log in to vote

    wow, “there needs to be less gay stuff” who would employ this fool who dares show up to a minority event and complain about minorities????!!!! “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” really sad true story. i watched a video yesterday of a dog that passed out, overcome with the joy vapors, after being reunited with its owner after two years apart, i need the pick me up

  2. Thumb up 19

    Please log in to vote

    Straight people showing up to LGTBT job fairs, asserting their straightness and then complaining about the focus on “gay stuff”. Jesus Christ. I have just about had it up to here with damn near EVERYBODY these past few weeks.

  3. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    The numbers for gays sound totally shocking – 15-43%? – until you realize that a third of Americans claim to have been discriminated against on the basis of their age. This kind of points towards the question of “are these people really all being discriminated against, or do people decide that they’re being discrimianted against when they actually have other issues, but decide that saying that the person dislikes them for no reason is much easier than addressing their personal issues”? Admittedly, being only 29, I’ve not been in the work force that long, but I’ve never seen discrimination and I’ve never been in an environment where it was acceptable.

    This is kind of a problem with stats like this; we have no grounds for comparison. What percentage of people in general claim to have experienced discrimination?

    Given that some studies indicate that 44% of -white males- think that they are being discriminated against, these sort of high numbers become a lot less meaningful.

    • Thumb up 3

      Please log in to vote

      I agree that measuring a percentage of people who have been discriminated does seem difficult. Sure, there are instances where discrimination is really, really blatant, but in a lot of cases if someone is fired or turned down for a job, they don’t find out exactly why. While some people may assume they were discriminated against based on a particular thing, when if fact they were not, other people will experience discrimination and attribute their firing/being turned down to something else. Therefore, it seems like simply asking people whether or not they have experienced employment discrimination could lead to a vast overestimation OR a vast underestimation.

  4. Thumb up 12

    Please log in to vote

    wow. that’s like a white person going to an NAACP event and saying, “i’m just here for the food” and then having the ovaries to say, “Y’all should have less black stuff”. Get your own damned job fair. Call it, “Job fair for the 80% of people who don’t have to worry about getting sacked because of who they fuck or what non-cis gender they present”.

        • Thumb up 2

          Please log in to vote

          Thanks for the clarification, turkish. It’s hard to tell these things even happened and be aware of them when the comments are straight up deleted. I don’t like assholes, and it’s usually good to know who they are in case they show up again. (I find that it’s easier not to loose my…calm when I already know that a troll or an asshole is a troll. So then I avoid getting angry and feeding the trolls. Or damaging any arguments I have by saying stupid things that don’t really help change people’s minds.)

  5. Thumb up 10

    Please log in to vote

    Oh my god, there are LGBTQ job fairs? I want to go to one, how do I sign up?

    On a semi-related note, my work participates in the pride parade every year and my coworker (who also identifies as queer) and I figure there are far more straight coworkers on the float than openly gay and queer coworkers. Straight people, don’t be fucking ridiculous, get off that float and cheer from the sidewalk, this parade isn’t about you. Straight people involved in organizations that focus on improving the lives of LGBTQ folk are exempt from my rant, but my work isn’t one of them.

    I’m openly queermo at work and nobody’s asked me to participate. Then again, I know I would say no if asked, because large parades make me feel claustrophobic and I don’t like the corporate sponsorship of pride parades.

    All that said, I’m super thankful that I work with people who for the most part support gay/queer rights.

  6. Thumb up 14

    Please log in to vote

    This reminds me of a story my high school civics teacher told me. At the time I thought it was funny, but now it rubs me the wrong way and this article is exactly why.

    He was telling our class that when he was in high school, he had a friend who was born in South Africa. They were white and moved to the US for whatever reason. When his friend started applying for scholarships and college stuff, he’d mark himself as “African American” because he was from Africa but emigrated to America. He ended up getting a scholarship or grant or w/e and he attended the award ceremony for it and found himself as the only white guy in the room. When my instructor told this story, he presented the moral as “apply for everything you can because you never know what you’ll be eligible for” but now I read it more as “white guy feels entitled to everything”.

    (sorry if it was rambly and not coherent, it’s late and I’m sleepy!)

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      Yes. This happens constantly. I have a friend who is like 1% Hispanic and went to a very expensive private school. She listed herself as Hispanic on her applications and claimed that she had grown up “financially disadvantaged” “because they never check that”
      Head explodes.

      • Thumb up 1

        Please log in to vote

        Ok, I’m gonna assume you’re white based on your avatar, but what you just said is a fundamentally misunderstood thing by white people everywhere and drives me up a fucking wall. Oh, it’s also racist.
        Checking a non-white box doesn’t get you into college. Saying you grew up financially disadvantaged doesn’t help you. Proof of either of the aforementioned can help with scholarships, but just saying it doesn’t mean shit. I’m ndn, and if I had a nickel for every time somebody said “but you’re, like, white. That’s smart that you put that on your college apps. Was your college free? I shoulda done that. I’m part Cherokee. You know that’s why you got that job, right?” I’d be filthy fucking rich. It’s OFFENSIVE for you to assume I had to have help to get into college, to pay for college, to get a job, whatever, because I’m not white. Screw you for assuming that. And anyway, it’s none of YOUR business.
        It’s just stupidity, and it’s not how affirmative action or college apps or anything else works.
        Also, blood quantum isn’t for you to talk about. So.

        • Thumb up 0

          Please log in to vote

          should’ve clarified, it’s offensive to assume I got a job, got into college, paid for college, whatever else, on the basis of my race or what I said my race was and nothing else.

        • Thumb up 0

          Please log in to vote

          I don’t…I don’t think that’s what Erin’s anecdote was suggesting at all. The problem is that a white person is identifying as a POC in order to tap into financial resources and services that are specifically set aside for POC students because as a white person, they are incapable of succeeding in applying for more generalized and hyper-competitive funding.

          I’ve heard many stories of male students applying for Women in Science grants because they figure they could still have a shot at getting the grant if nobody else applies. This kind of warped entitlement is a result of incredibly limited funding for students that are forced to pay exorbitant fees in an increasingly-competitive economy. People don’t understand that applying for these specific pools of funding is problematic, and many people don’t understand why these “[Minority]-Only” scholarships even exist. Those perceptions are loaded with racist, sexist and ableist entitlement.

          Nowhere is it suggested by the comments above that students ONLY receive scholarships or admissions because of their minority-status.

      • Thumb up 1

        Please log in to vote

        @paper0Flowers no, that’s what the anecdote meant. That it’s that simple, that someone who’s “like 1% Hispanic” (white person talkin’ blood quantum is some bullshit) put some shit on her college apps to get ahead. That’s not how that works, plain and simple. You can write in all the hell you want to. It doesn’t mean shit. And yeah, people have told me that I “just wrote in that you’re ‘indian’ on your apps even though you’re white.”
        1) a white person has no business having any opinion on the matter whatsoever, about race on applications and how much “other” you have to be to apply for minority scholarships
        2) that “anecdote” doesn’t have anything to do with straight people crashing LGBTQ job fairs and how those straight people acted. it’s just a completely different thing.
        3) thanks for whitesplaining to me that was so sweet of you

        • Thumb up 0

          Please log in to vote

          That still doesn’t really address the fact that you insist that her anecdote somehow accuses you of being incapable of achieving academic success without your race. I understand that that is a reality that many POCs are burdened with (that they’re being tokenized because of their identity rather than being rewarded based on their merit), and I don’t think anyone here would deny that reality, but that is something that I am not seeing from Erin’s initial comment.
          1)Yes, white people deciding and dictating how POCs identify (no matter how white-passing they appear) is incredibly problematic, I agree wholeheartedly with the “1% Hispanic” as being racist.

          2) Yes, I know that that particular anecdote doesn’t relate to the article at hand, but Tori also raised a race-based analogy and thus Erin’s is following that thread of thought.

          3) It has taken a lot of learning and unlearning for me to get to the level I’m at in understandin race. As a white person, I do have the luxury at giving other white people the benefit of the doubt when they espouse racist statements without recognizing the inherit racism. There are a number of valid points that you’ve raised in your response, but I find that ultimately your focus was not something that was evident in the original comment. That is what I’m pointing out; not that what Erin said is 100% fine and acceptable, but that her anecdote doesn’t actually suggest anything of the sort that POCs are only successful because of the “affirmative action quota” that white people consistently misunderstand.

          If suggesting a different interpretation is “whitesplaining”, then fuckit, I guess I’m guilty this time, but I’ve been involved in a lot of arguments here and I know that it SUCKS when nobody comes to provide an alternative.

          I honestly can’t add anything else because I know that it would be completely inappropriate, but I hope that we can continue this discussion without being combative or defensive. There are a fuckton of problems in terms of dominant groups applying or entering spaces of minority groups. Through this conversation alone I’ve recognized a lot of racist bullshit I’ve said and done in the past because of the anecdotes that Tori and Erin have both raised.

          **I’m probably going to regret entering this conversation but here goes**

        • Thumb up 0

          Please log in to vote

          Sigh, I already regret my comment. You’re right, there was definitely an authoritative tone in my first comment about what Erin *actually* meant. That is, indeed, whitesplaining.

          The post above took me like 20 minutes because I had to keep rewording and changing how and what I was saying because I recognized that my inital words were dripping with white privilege, so defintely have to be more conscious of my intent and my tone when I enter these discussions.

          You and I often butt-heads here, but every time we do it makes me step back and scrutinize what I said or did to garner your kind of response. Like I’ve said, I hope we can keep up this conversation because you’re challenging me to reconsider a number of things I took for granted about affirmative action-like applications.

        • Thumb up 1

          Please log in to vote

          WAIT NEVERMIND I TAKE BACK EVERYTHING.

          I got it. I understand exactly what you mean now – the fact that putting down a POC identity is considered an “advantage” automatically is based on the idea that it is the only way that a POC can rise above the other candidates, therefore their race is the only thing that makes them more qualified because otherwise why would it be relevant for their credentials?

          Got it. Holy shit, that is not something I ever would have realized. #racismrunsdeep

          I’m sorry for my rambling bullshit and whitesplaining. I totally understand now. I’m so sorry, I feel like a complete jackass (once again!) for getting defensive. You’re right.

  7. Thumb up 12

    Please log in to vote

    When I was an undergrad, I overheard more than once people talking with their friends about applying for scholarships meant for LGBT students even though they were straight because “fuck them” or “why do the faggots get special treatment?”

    I do not miss Wyoming. No no no I do not.

  8. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    When I was an undergrad, the LGBT campus group I was on the board of hosted a networking dinner with a couple decently prominent queer people in local business. More than half of the people that showed up were straight, a good ol’ chunk of them even represented themselves as queer to our invitees to try and wrangle internships and interviews for entry level jobs.

    It was totally great. :|

  9. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    I run into this as an organizer of my local LGBT Meetup group. Allies ask to join and I really want to deny their request, but my girlfriend thinks that would be mean, so I let them join. Of all the Meetup groups they can choose from, they HAVE to join the LGBT one? It just irks me.

  10. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    This actually reminds me something that happened while I was in high school–there was a group of (cisgender+straight) girls talking about their outing to a local gay club, and it basically went like this:
    “Oh my gosh, I went to [gay club], and it was so gross! There were, like…gay people kissing and stuff.”
    But seriously, fuck cisgender+straight people coming into LGBTQIPA+ spaces. I could go on for hours about my experiences with that sort of thing, most likely with my aggravation increasing with every story.

  11. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    I’m thankful to see you got rid of that a-hole from last night who was really dragging down the latest comment section and was about ready to report, but it was late and I hoped someone else would. Judging from early comments this wasn’t the first trolling for this article either. Sad.
    I didn’t read it myself, but just from the title alone I agree it’s idiotic at best for anyone to think they should take advantage of something that’s made to help those who are underprivileged just because they can. It reminds of that episode of Home Improvement where the guy everybody though was homeless on the holiday season was only in line at the soup kitchen because he liked there soup!

  12. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    I’m thankful to see you got rid of that a-hole from last night who was really dragging down the latest comment section. I was about ready to report this, but it was late and I hoped someone else would. Judging from earlier comments this wasn’t the first trolling here either. Sad.
    I didn’t read the article, but just from the title alone I agree it’s idiotic at best for anyone to think they should take advantage of something that’s made to help others who are underprivileged just because they can. It reminds of that episode of Home Improvement where the guy everybody though was homeless on the holiday season was only in line at the soup kitchen because he liked there soup!

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.