should I tell job candidates I’m a lesbian in case it’s an issue for them?

A reader writes:

I’m hiring my first-ever direct report, and I work in a conservative industry in a conservative part of the U.S.

I’m also an out, happily married lesbian, but most people assume I’m married to a man until I correct them. I’m used to dropping a comment about my wife into casual conversations with new acquaintances to keep people from embarrassing themselves, and it works well.

So, should I mention to job candidates that I am a lesbian / I have a wife?

If someone has a major issue with my sexuality, I would like to give them the opportunity to factor that into their decision-making, but I’m not sure at what stage to do that.

I can imagine that even over email it could come off as weirdly defensive for 90% of the job candidates for whom it’s not an issue.

Any ideas?

Do you want to give candidates the opportunity to factor it into their decision-making so that you don’t end up having to deal with possible bigotry or awkwardness from someone working for you, or because you’re genuinely concerned about their comfort? The first is certainly reasonable, but if it’s the second, I’d say that there’s no onus on you to prevent discomfort for bigots. Let it be their issue to deal with.

But if you’re concerned that it will become your issue because it will cause problems that you’d prefer to avoid by having them self-select out, and thus you’re doing it for your comfort rather than theirs, I think you could use your traditional strategy of referencing your wife in conversation. It’s harder to do in a natural way in a job interview, yes, but still doable (“I see you went to University of Wisconsin — my wife went there as well,” or “ah, you’re from Denver — my wife and I just traveled there; what a great city,” or “I always tell my wife that one one of the toughest things about this work is X”). Of course, make sure that you don’t do this in a way that sounds like you’re fishing for information about the candidate’s own marital status or family situation — but it should be pretty easy to avoid that.

Another option is that you could display a wedding photo or a photo of you and your wife on your desk in a place where it will be visible to people you’re interviewing. (Although if it’s not obviously a wedding photo, someone might not realize it’s a spouse photo; they might assume she’s your sister or friend, so that may not be foolproof.)

But again, if the main motivator here is their comfort rather than yours, let them deal with that themselves. You don’t need to cater to bigots.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 399 comments… read them below }

  1. Bend & Snap*

    I can’t believe this even has to be a question in 2015. OP, I hope this turns out to be a non issue for you.

    1. UKAnon*

      I know, this makes me sad too – but as with some other things, sometimes just avoiding the awkwardness is as good as it gets :(

    2. Briar*

      are you…. serious? This is so totally a very real concern for those of us who are not straight. Do you really think that it isn’t?

      1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

        I believe Bend and Snap was asking that in a rhetorical “I wish this wasn’t the case, it’s 2015 and I wish things had progressed far enough that we didn’t have to have this conversation” type of way.

        1. Briar*

          maybe so. I read this kind of comment as, “surely this isn’t still a real thing?”
          people insinuate all the time that now that we can get married we should quit feeling discriminated against.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            I read the comment to be expressing disappointment that homophobia is still an issue, not as a denial that it still exists.

              1. Sketchee*

                I think read either way, it sounds both unrealistic and off putting. Of course it’s still an issue in 2015. I can’t believe anyone would see anything about the modern world and reactions in media that suggest anything about the population of 2015 that this isn’t still a huge force. It will continue to he an issue for a long time to come. The majority of Americans weren’t even okay with multiracial marriage until the early 90s. I can’t imagine that gay relationships will receive widespread acceptance for some time to come =)

          2. MegEB*

            I think it fairly obviously reads as a “this shouldn’t have to be an issue in 2015” rather than “I don’t think this will be an issue in 2015”.

          3. BRR*

            I think this is where we deal with what I call the practical and the principle. The principle of this being a letter is bewildering but the practical aspect (which is what Alison deals with in my opinion) is that it still is an issue for some people and not getting stuck with a bigot for a subordinate would be much easier.

          4. afiendishthingy*

            Yeah, she said “HAS TO BE” a question – meaning it sucks that people are still bigots. Not that she thinks OP’s making it up.

      2. UKAnon*

        I think it’s more that it has to be a question at all. It shouldn’t be an issue in today’s society.

  2. Katie the Fed*

    I don’t see any need to bring it up. It might not be common in your corner of the world, but it’s probably about to be. I would just let it come up as it does.

    (as an aside, I feel bad because I often assume women are married to men. I know far more gay men than gay women, so I’m more used to not making assumptions about men.)

    1. Christy*

      I mean, odds are, if a woman is married, she’s married to a man. I assume the same thing unless the woman pings my gaydar.

      1. OP*

        Right, it’s a fair assumption, which is why I try to proactively out myself when possible. Galloping hooves are usually horses, not zebras, etc.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          I do this too – I always dropped “my partner and I did X cos she likes Y” for the same reason. For me, it’s not so much about homophobia, it’s more about stopping people feeling uncomfortable/embarrassed and feel weird about me if they make the assumption, which has happened.

          1. Mabel*

            I do this, too, whenever there are new people on the team so they know right away, and they hear it from me. Otherwise, I don’t worry about it, but I live in gaytown (Boston) and just about nobody cares if you’re LGBTQ here (yay!)

        2. BRR*

          If you want to out yourself and you’re interviewing in your office can you just have a picture from your wedding up? Or if it’s in a conference room can you leave your phone out and say your apologize but you might receive a call from your wife about X.

          1. Zillah*

            I think the former works, but the latter would come across as super unprofessional – whoever you’re married to, they can wait thirty minutes. X would have to be truly extraordinary for it to make sense.

        3. AvonLady Barksdale*

          A woman with whom I became very good work friends once said to me, in the course of conversation about her recent wedding, “You know I’m married to a woman, right?” I said, “Oh! I didn’t! Sorry about assuming!” “It’s cool, I totally get it” and that was the end of that. Then she and her wife moved to my neighborhood and they became Couple Friends with me and my boyfriend.

          I say this by way of thanking you for understanding when people make the assumption, especially when it becomes a non-issue once corrected. :)

          (As an aside, my bf has a gender-neutral name that has leaned more female in the last 20 years, and many people assume we’re gay when I mention him or when they see our names written down somewhere. It got to be pretty funny when all of our couple friends within a 10-block radius were gay couples– we weren’t, we just looked like it on paper.)

        4. afiendishthingy*

          Yeah, I’m a queer woman, but I don’t date much, and I present as traditionally feminine so people assume I’m straight. When I am dating a woman (and sometimes when I’m single) I do casually slip it into conversation, though.

      2. Charlotte Collins*

        Or specifically refers to her wife.

        I used to know a woman who referred to her husband/live-in (I was never clear, nor do I care to be the cohabitation police) as her “partner.” For a few weeks I thought she was a lesbian, until she referred to him as a male… Then I thought she was just muddying the waters. (I get that she wanted to point out the equality of their relationship, which is great, but at the time “partner” had finally become the acceptable term for someone in a committed relationship with a person of the same sex.)

          1. Simonthegrey*

            This is why my business partner and I, who are both women, try to feel out other ways to refer to each other. People have thought we were a couple in the past, because we are very close. I feel like partner has a certain connotation now and I don’t want to muddy it for someone who is referring to a romantic partner.

        1. Sparkly Librarian*

          Many people I know, especially in the San Francisco area, do refer to their long-term opposite-sex significant other as “partner”. I understand that it’s common in the UK as well. One reason is that English doesn’t have many useful or commonly-accepted terms for the relationship type. (In Swedish, one would have a “sambo”, which is a shortened form of the word meaning “living together”; it has legal standing.) If a woman has lived with a man for, say, 6 years, has a couple of pets with him, is expected at his family get-togethers, etc., she may balk at referring to him as her boyfriend. But he’s not her husband and she doesn’t want to call him that (to avoid being misleading, to stay out of legal pitfalls). They may not have children, so he’s not her “baby’s father”, which can be another workaround. “Lover”? “Live-in”? “Domestic partner” (possible for opposite sexes legally under some circumstances, and socially acceptable to some)? “Significant other”? For many of the same reasons that same-sex couples chose to use “partner” (which is not universal), opposite-sex couples do, too.

          1. Kelly L.*

            “Lover” reminds me too much of that one SNL skit! I generally use boyfriend/girlfriend or SO (while fully realizing boyfriend/girlfriend sounds more high school than I really want it to).

            1. Nom d' Pixel*

              Same-sex, opposite-sex, I don’t care. People should not refer to someone as their lover. It just sounds too sexual.
              I default to SO or significant other, because it covers just about everything.

          2. Ad Astra*

            I see heterosexual couples using “partner” in a lot of online forums, but never run into it irl. It’s usually “boyfriend,” despite the pitfalls you mention, or occasionally “live-in boyfriend,” if there’s a need to emphasize the seriousness of the relationship.

            1. ReanaZ*

              It’s extremely common in the non-American English-speaking world to use partner for “serious long-term relationship that may or may not involve a legal commitment”. Hell, I am legally entangled to mine, and I still use partner over spouse except on tax forms. It’s a much better word. Also, I’m bi, and the gender of my partner is pretty much none of anyone’s business.

              Also, I’ve hated the words boyfriend/girlfriend since pretty much the second I was no longer a teenager.

              1. ReanaZ*

                Also, it’s probably worth noting that most of the non-American western world has legal relationship statuses other than ‘marriage’ that confer some/all rights of marriage to seriously partnered adults who are not legally married, which is possibly why the importance of having such a word as partner is elevated.

          3. Mephisto*

            I have a live-in boyfriend and we have pets together. I don’t plan to get married so I expect to be in the awkward “what do I call this person to other people” quandary maybe forever. I’m in the SF Bay area, so a lot of heterosexual people do use “partner,” but even so, many people assume a gay relationship first. It’s confusing socially. When I mention my “partner” to people and then see them taken aback to meet a man, it’s kind of amusing but kind of awkward.

            1. AnonaMoose*

              I know it’s weird, but I kind of like the second guessing thing about using straight ‘partnerism’. Checking societal standards isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

              1. Rana*

                Me too. My now-husband was my partner when we were living together, because he wasn’t a boyfriend, nor a legal spouse. My spouse happens to be male, because he’s the person I fell in love with, but that particular gender-pairing wasn’t inevitable, so I took a quiet pleasure in people having to take a moment to think about what my partner’s gender probably was.

                We were also in a rural conservative community at the time, so it was interesting seeing which people initially assumed partner = husband (most of the staff) versus partner = wife (most of our academic colleagues).

                1. MPH*

                  I refer to my live-in boyfriend with whom I have pets and own a house as my partner too, we’ve been together for about four years. I learned just a month or so ago that many of my classmates were shocked that he was a he when they first met him, although no one had any ill-will before that either. I feel like anyone who is offended if they think I’m partnered to a woman deserves any hurt feelings they may have about the whole thing. I’m in the Midwest and I’ve seen some of the looks I get. No matter to me! It’s a good way to let me know how much I’m going to want to interact with that person later on.

              2. Shan*

                I live in a really conservative area and I use the word “partner” all the time when referring someone’s significant other, especially when a couple lives together. I say it a lot in reference to my boss’s boyfriend, because they’re unmarried but have been together for over 20 years and own a house together. It’s just a useful term when boy/girlfriend just isn’t accurate. I hear it all the time used for all kinds of couples, and I’ve never even thought that people would assume that means I’m referring to same-sex couples! Like you said, I think breaking down that connotation isn’t a bad thing.

            2. LAI*

              I’m also in the SF bay area and I know enough heterosexual couples who use the term “partner” that I no longer assume it means gay or straight. To me, it just means a person with whom you are in a committed relationship but to whom you are not legally married.

              1. Jane*

                I am in the SF Bay Area. I call my boyfriend of 11 years my partner, and I am female. I had not realized this was regional. On one occasion I am aware of this tripped someone’s gaydar, but for the most part I think people do not assume one way or the other in this area.

            3. Anon in AZ*

              Would it be weird or deceiving to refer to your SO as your husband (or wife, depending on their gender), if you are not legally married?

              No one questions when people introduce themselves this way. Even in the hospital, if I tell the staff I am his wife, they don’t question or ask for proof. Hotels don’t do it, and I don’t recall having to prove I was married in order to put my then-spouse on my insurance.

              We cannot get legally married for complicated reasons, and neither of us is religious, and I’m asking not with the intent to defraud (IRS or otherwise). I just wonder if we had a commitment ceremony and our family and friends were aware, what would the harm be in calling ourselves husband and wife. It would certainly make things simpler.

              Our finances won’t change, our medical insurance won’t change, our taxes won’t change. We don’t have children together or assets for either to inherit, and have medical power of attorney for each other. Right now, the only thing holding me back from calling each other husband and wife is a piece of paper.

              Please understand that I am sensitive to the fact that same-sex couples have had to fight for the right to legally marry. Some may feel it would cheapen that struggle for us to be de-facto husband and wife, so I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

              1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

                I think it’s perfectly fine to define your relationship as husband/wife even without the legal marriage if you view your partner as filling that role.

                (not quite the same but I refer to my SO’s parents as my “in-laws” even though we aren’t married because it is far, far more succinct than saying “my boyfriend’s parents” and everyone just seems to take it at face value.)

              2. Shan*

                Oh yeah, I’ve known multiple people to do this! Usually it’s when they’re living together and have kids, because even though they’re not legally married, the terms “husband/wife” more accurately describe them than the term boy/girlfriend. It was never a big deal, and when asked to clarify, the couple just explained they thought of it as common-law marriage.

                1. Shan*

                  I should’ve phrased it differently: they were never *asked* to clarify if their marriage was legal or not, but sometimes they got a question or statement from a friend that assumed they had a wedding, and they chose to clarify by explaining it was a common-law marriage.

          4. MegEB*

            I really like the term “significant other”, for some reason – I just think it covers all the bases nicely, and is sufficiently neutral that it could apply to any number of romantic situations. “Live-in” sounds like the person is describing a nanny, and “lover” is just … exceedingly sensual. Especially in professional circles!

          5. AnonaMoose*

            I did before I was married. Now I refer to him as my husband, though I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a West Coast thing. Cali-bred, but heard ‘partner’ for both types of coupling when I lived in the PNW.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              This was the Inland NW, but she was the only person I knew who did it. And if I remember correctly, they were legally married. (But I didn’t find out about that right away either.) Not that I cared, but it just was one of those cases where conversations could have been awkward…

          6. Dynamic Beige*

            (In Swedish, one would have a “sambo”, which is a shortened form of the word meaning “living together”; it has legal standing.)

            And that would be awesome if we could use that in English. Unfortunately, in English that would be a derogatory and racially-charged thing to call someone.

            1. Liz*

              In AMERICAN English. In Australia, you’d be telling people you’re in an intimate long-term relationship with a sandwich.

              1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

                I did once text my boyfriend “we’re breaking up because this sandwich is so delicious I think it’s my soul mate…”

            2. Anonymers*

              You can just use the danish version of the word then: “sammenlever” :)

              (Over here “sambo” would actualy be more of a roommate, than somebody’s partner)

          7. One of the Sarahs*

            Yes, “partner” is used a lot in the UK, where I think cohabitation is more common than in the USA. Specifically it seems to used a lot by people in their mid- late-30s and over, and especially in 40s and 50s, where “boy/girl”friend feels wrong because they don’t refer to themselves as “boy” and “girl”. The other time I’ve seen it particularly used by progressive heterosexuals who don’t want to label themselves as “Hi I’m heterosexual!” because why should that be an issue (the flip side of people who talk about their heterosexual husband/wife/kids/wedding/date/anniversary all the time, but think LBG people who do the same are FLAUNTING THEIR SEXUALITY/RUBBING IT IN MY FACE!!!1!!11!1111)

            1. Mabel*

              When I was reading your comment, I thought, “well, what about man/womanfriend instead of boy/girlfriend?” but immediately realized that is just wrong!

              1. MIss B*

                Meh, I (a cis female) lived with a romantic partner (cis male) for a long while, and I always referred to him as my man-friend. Boy/girl-friend, for me, seems too twee to use once you’re over 19. But that’s just for me, personally. Other grown up people, feel free to continue using it!

                Also, though, “partner”, while kind of sterile for me, word-wise, is truly great for its usefulness, because it works for everyone, including people who themselves (or their partners) identify as queer or non-cisgender, and while those relationships can appear heteronormative to the casual observer, that isn’t necessarily the case — partner is a good way to be inclusive to all sorts of identities, while also not casually outing anyone who doesn’t want to be outed, and not assuming a heterosexual relationship as the default.

              2. Lindsay J*

                One of my facebook friends refers to her boyfriend as her “manfriend” all the time and I find it irritating for some reason. They just got engaged so hopefully she will begin referring to him as her fiancé instead.

              3. Tau*

                In German, the word for “boyfriend/girlfriend” is the same as the word for “friend” and you have to figure out which is meant from contextual clues. On the one hand, less of the immaturity connotation. On the other, there had to be a less confusing solution…

                1. Myrin*

                  I always find it funny when people mention this because it’s not actually the case in my region (I know you’re German, too, Tau, and this really seems to be a super regional thing) where which one you mean is entirely clear about 98% of the time – because we use the pronouns and articles differently! “Meine Freundin” would be my girlfriend whereas “eine Freundin” would be a female friend.

                2. One of the Sarahs*

                  I always find it fascinating looking at the USA, where it seems like “girlfriend” can mean platonic best friend – but “boyfriend” doesn’t seem to be used in the same way?

          8. Cactus*

            Yep…prior to becoming officially engaged, my husband and I referred to each other as “partner.” Mostly for the reasons you list–we were in our mid-late-20s, we shared an apartment and pets, we took vacations together, my family knew him and his knew me…and then there was the whole “we ‘look’ hetero, but we’re actually both bi” thing. Partner was a more comfortable word, that didn’t feel so teenagerish.

        2. Nom d' Pixel*

          I always assume that “partner” means same-sex, but I can see someone who isn’t married and thinks boyfriend or girlfriend sounds too immature using it.

          1. Allison*

            I’ve started using the word “partner” as well, not because “boyfriend” seems immature but because I only feel comfortable using “boyfriend” if the guy and I have agreed to be in an exclusive, official relationship, and that’s not always the case. But if someone told me I was appropriating an LGBT term and I needed to stop, I absolutely would, it just hasn’t really occurred to me until just now that it might be problematic to do so.

            (and the guy I’ve been calling my partner might actually be ending things tonight . . . so there’s that)

            1. Nom d' Pixel*

              First, I hope things go well for you tonight, however you want them to end up.

              Second, I have mixed feelings about the appropriation thing. Of course, you don’t want to do it in any sort of mocking or belittling way. OTOH, some people just do things better than what we are used to. It is insular and narrow minded not to be able to look at another group and say “that is a good idea”. So, if appropriation comes from a position of respect and not offense, I think it is OK.

            2. OP*

              Hope things turn out okay for you tonight.

              I’m not a spokesperson for the entire LGBT movement, but I like it when straight people use the word partner, for the same reason that I use the word wife. It causes people to question their assumptions just a bit, which I generally think is good.

              1. AnonaMoose*

                I *JUST* typed that upthread. Man, I am repeating a lot of folks today. (great minds and all that)

              2. christine j*

                I’m a 30-something in a long term live-in hetero relationship in Toronto, Canada (i.e. very cosmopolitan place) and I refer to my significant other as my “partner” rather than boyfriend. This is a pretty standard term in my social circle, and doesn’t imply a homosexual relationship any more than a heterosexual one for most people i’m friends with. My partner initially found it weird and said he thought it was a term for homosexual partners, which was a surprise to me! But he’s from a different geographical area (smaller town, eastern Canada) and I think that’s why. He’s used to it and uses it now too.
                I think “partner” is great for a number of reasons. It doesn’t privilege or distinguish married relationships over non-married relationships, and I like the gender neutrality of it. I also hope I’m contributing to it being perceived as gender neutral — I think all of us, whether gay or straight, should have a term we can use (eg in professional settings) to refer to having a long-term partner, without identifying their gender and giving information on our sexual orientation or marital status.

              3. blackcat*

                As someone was heavily involved in LGBTQ activism, using the term “partner” for my husband (I’m a woman) was very intentional for a long while. The fact that he is a dude should not matter, and so I preferred to leave his gender ambiguous. I do “ping” people’s gaydar occasionally, and so I’ve definitely had people surprised to meet my husband, BUT that entirely happened when we lived in the south. When we’ve lived in major northern cities, the people we end up with in our circle have commonly used “partner” for partners of either gender. So it’s generally been a non-issue. When living in the south, I actually found it to be a great filter for new-ish friends–using the word “partner” was clearly off-putting to some would be friends, who then backed away. I think mentioning your wife is a great way to get people to self-select out of working for you.

              4. Sarah*

                I’m in New Zealand right now and basically everybody I know over the age of 22 uses the term “partner” and I love that it’s training me to really drop my assumptions more than anything else in my life has.

            3. TootsNYC*

              As a hearer of the word “partner,” I would assume means even MORE of a commitment than “boyfriend.”

              If he’s some guy you’re dating casually, and you don’t know if you relationship is exclusive or official, I would not suggest “partner.” Maybe “my guy/girl” or “this guy I’ve been seeing.” Or “my date.”

              1. Cactus*

                I always just said “my person” for that kind of “whatever maybe huh” relationship. There’s also “ummmmfriend,” which gets used sometimes at Captain Awkward.

              2. Former Diet Coke Addict*

                This is how I always interpreted it, too–“partner” implied a significant commitment, commingling of households/finances/life plans/etc., while boyfriend/girlfriend was a more casual, “yes we’re exclusive, but not to the point of life partners.”

              3. Lindsay J*

                This. Partner, to me, signifies something close to married. I guess I view it as a shortened form of “life partner” in my head.

                I was in a situation where we weren’t officially in a relationship (but might as well have been) for a year and a few months and I hated all the circumlocutions I had to come up with to refer to him. If it was someplace where the exact details of the relationship didn’t matter (telling people at work what I did this weekend) I just used boyfriend. With my parents and friends I used “the guy I’ve been seeing” or just his name. Online, I used “my guyfriend”. Face to face introductions we generally used “friend”. He used “my +1” a lot.

        3. Mander*

          When I first moved to the UK, I thought that people were really open about being homosexual. It wasn’t until my now-husband started referring to me as his partner that I realised it was a gender neutral term here.

          1. Merry and Bright*

            In the UK it is pretty wide term to describe the person you share your life whether you are gay or not, married or not.

            1. Musereader*

              I work in a call center in the UK for almost a year, i speak to at least a dozen people a day who refer to their partner, only once has it been a gay relationship.

          2. Daisy Steiner*

            In New Zealand it’s even more common than in the UK. Living in England, I’ve had people comment on my use of the word partner to refer to my boyfriend (I’m cis female), but in New Zealand it never happened once.

        4. Honeybee*

          I use the word partner because for a long time I worked in research and advocacy with LGBT populations and it just became a part of my lexicon. It’s a more gender-neutral word than “husband” and less awkward than “spouse”, and I like that it inspires no assumptions about my partner’s gender, my sexuality, or our marital status. It think it makes people interrogate their assumptions a little bit more – it certainly does for me. (I’m a queer lady and I am in a relationship with a man).

        5. Gallerina*

          Was she British by any chance? In the UK, it’s totally normally to refer to your long term other-half as your partner, no matter what your orientation. I was actually really surprised when I moved to the US and it wasn’t commonly used for straight couples.

          1. Brock*

            Um, what IS the standard US term for an opposite-sex ‘long term other-half’ if ‘partner’ has a connotation of same-sex?

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              Oooh, good Q, esp as “girlfriend” seems inter-changeable with “my platonic BFF”

        6. dragonzflame*

          Lol, that reminds me of a guy I used to work with. I couldn’t figure out if his ‘partner’ was same-sex or not (NOT that it matters, but just wasn’t sure). I hit on the brilliant idea to just ask what his partner’s name was…and it was one of those ones that could have been either. Gah.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            That is exactly why I don’t use “partner”, sadly. I don’t mind the assumption that we’re gay by any means, but my boyfriend gets kind of touchy when people assume he’s a woman (without meeting him, of course), and that kind of bleeds into how I talk about him to other people. I hate saying “boyfriend” and I much prefer “partner”, but when people hear his name, they assume he’s a woman and it creates more explanation and potential awkwardness. One of these days I’ll get over that.

        7. Anony-turtle in a half shell!*

          My former boss used to always call her husband her “spouse,” never referring to him as husband. A lot of people assumed she meant same-sex spouse, but I think she did it for feminist reasons: an “I’m no one’s wife” kind of thing. I don’t recall if I ever heard him refer to her by anything other than her name, so I’m not sure if they both used it.

          Another coworker used “partner” for the woman he lived with long-term. They weren’t married, but they were “established”: had children together, had been together for dozens of years, etc. I think he probably didn’t want to call someone he’d been with most of his adult life his “girlfriend,” which I can understand.

          1. Anony-turtle in a half shell!*

            I’ve always used “significant other” for my now-spouse. I was in my mid-20s when we met/married, so it felt weird to call him my “boyfriend” when he wasn’t a boy. I’ve always thought SO covered everything from “we’re just dating” to “we’re exclusive” to “we’re engaged” to “we’re married,” so I just went with that one when inviting people to bring their SO of whatever duration (just met on through to spouses) to an event.

        8. Maris*

          Depends on what their background/culture is. In Australia, “partner” is the catch-all term used in the same way as “significant other” is used in the USA, but applies to all (same or opposite sex).

      3. Briar*

        I would not trust your gaydar for a judgement call like this. it’s easy not to make assumptions about the gender of anybody’s spouse… why not just hold off on assuming you know? I almost never ‘ping’ anyone’s gaydar, but, I promise you- I am most certainly gay. it doesn’t offend me when people guess wrong, but many times I have just let them go on with their mistaken idea.

        1. Christy*

          Yeah, usually my internal monologue is “Oh, Jane has a wedding ring on. She’s married to a dude. Oh wait, she could be married to a chick. I should remember that’s an option. Oh well, gonna assume it’s a dude until told otherwise. That’s more likely anyway. But it would be nice to have another non-straight person around here. Oh well. Maybe I should pay attention to conversation now. But look at that ring!” etc etc.

          1. Anna*

            It’s possible that now that the option is available in the US nationwide, the assumption wills start dropping off eventually. For my friends who are gay and married, I always make an effort to mention “his husband” or “her wife.”

            Both sides of the partner issue have come up for me. Back in the early 2000s in college, one of my professors referred to her partner so I assumed she was gay. Turns out no, she was straight. Recently a coworker was discussing a fellow coworker’s wedding and her partner and I assumed male person and then found out she’s gay. I get using non-gendered terminology, but we inherently categorize so it can cause a lot of confusion.

            1. Nashira*

              Non-gendered can legitimately be its own category. I realize that non-binary gender people aren’t high visibility yet, but you really have no idea how much of a relief I find genderless language to be.

            2. Vendrus*

              It’s still a regional thing, not inherent! It happened a while back in other countries when same-sex relationships became commonly accepted, it’ll almost certainly happen in the US.

          2. Honeybee*

            1) Why assume anything at all?
            2) Even if it is a man she’s married to, why assume she’s straight? I’m a woman, I am married to a man, but I am not straight.

      4. Allison*

        Statistically, you are correct. And in many, many states, the idea that a married person could be married to someone of the same gender is a very new concept, so I can’t fault people for making that assumption. I probably do it too. But I think that, if you’re trying to be progressive and support gay rights, you need to occasionally remind yourself that gay marriage is a thing everywhere now, and therefore that married person who hasn’t specified their sexual preference or the gender of their spouse could be married to a man or a woman.

    2. Bostonian*

      For me as a lesbian, I don’t really mind when someone assumes that I’m married to a man as long as they are able to roll with it non-awkwardly when I correct them in a straightforward but not offended manner. I mean, it’s a reasonable assumption given the statistical prevalence of married gay women, and there are way more worthwhile things for me to get worked up about. But that’s just my experience, as someone who’s been out long enough in a liberal part of the country to be pretty angst-free about it.

      There are lots of non-visible things that people constantly have to disclose about themselves, and that’s just part of life. It’s how the other person responds that makes it a big deal or not.

      1. WLE*

        Unfortunately, I almost always assume that when someone says their married or has a wedding ring on, it is to someone of the opposite sex. I think this is for a few reasons. Growing up, almost all of the couples that I saw on television shows, in movies, and in magazines were straight. Only recently has it become common for gay marriage to be so widely accepted (I live in a very conservative state). Therefore, I was not seeing many gay couples be open about their relationships.

        I promise that I don’t mean anything by it. It’s just a lifetime of only seeing straight relationships for the most part.

        1. Zillah*

          I think that most people understand that – it makes total sense. However, I also feel like once you’ve realized that that’s your assumption, it’s important to try to consciously curb it whenever possible and train yourself into thinking otherwise. Just my $.02, though – others may disagree.

    3. Linda*

      Don’t forget about us bisexual people too! We’re always trying to confuse you. ;) But here is what I think. I know people replying to you are like “Oh well most of the time it’s a man so just say husband cause whatevs.” Honestly, it’s such a small thing to change your language and people appreciate it so much (because we’re so often invisible) that it might help you have a better relationship with them. I have gotten into the habit of saying “If you want to invite your [S.O., partner, spouse etc] go ahead!” or whatever. It’s so easy to do once you get the hang of it but I know it’s hard at first.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I’ve started saying “significant other” in most cases, but I know in my mind I’ve usually thought of a husband and get caught a little off guard. But then again, I’ve never met a gay person in my life who surprised me, if that makes sense.

        1. TheLazyB (UK)*

          I rarely or never wonder if people are gay, but yeah I’m rarely surprised when I find out they are.

      2. anonanonanon*


        As a bi woman, I really appreciate when people say partner/S.O./etc or, you know, stop assuming I’m heterosexual just because I don’t “ping their gaydar”. But I find the whole gaydar concept really, really uncomfortable anyway, so.

        1. Honeybee*

          Yup to both. Particularly the latter. It assumes that there are a set of characteristics that allow people to identify a gay person, which usually includes stereotypical characterizations of gay people.

          1. Molly*

            Ehh, I don’t know if that’s entirely fair. IME, gaydar works on two levels: first, identifying people by sight, which, yes, can play into stereotypes but also acknowledges the reality of flagging. I have short hair because I’m gay, and I like to be sufficiently recognizably gay that I can meet women, you know what I mean? And lots of us are out there with our various flags and tells.

            But the second level is social/interactive, and there’s nothing particularly stereotype-requiring about recognizing that if some woman is staring at my cleavage, she’s probably playing for the home team. Or subtler things, of course: that little nod when we’re walking through the gayborhood, whatever.

            Either way, it’s not some kind of magic knowledge, but I do think it’s useful to not pretend we can’t sometimes recognize each other in the wild. If we couldn’t, the pre-Grindr gay world would have been a pretty celibate one, and it suuuure wasn’t!

            All of this said, obviously one can’t be sure and shouldn’t be trying to make sweeping statements based on mutable characteristics like haircuts. But … I’m gonna keep noticing the tattooed gals in baseball tees with the wandering eyes, ykwim? As someone who rarely sets off anyone else’s gaydar, I gotta find them so I can openly flirt and make my intentions known. ;)

            1. anonanonanon*

              But that still plays into it why it’s wrong to just assume someone is gay by appearance? My appearance super feminine. I have long hair, I wear makeup and dresses and heels and a lot of people are always surprised that I’m bi because “I don’t look/seem like someone who likes women”. I look stereotypically feminine so they assume I must only be into dudes, which no.

              I think my issue with it personally is that it’s created a lot of issues where people ignore those who don’t fit in with the stereotypical idea of a gay person. Not all lesbians are going to look and act the same way, just as all gay men don’t look and act the same way. And there are always those people everyone insists “must be gay” because they act/look a certain way, and no one believes them when they insist they aren’t gay.

              I know a lot of people don’t mean the gaydar thing negatively, but it is a big issue within a lot of LGBTQA groups about fitting in with a mainstream stereotype and that does end up hurting people who identify as gay but don’t fit in with those stereotypes.

            2. Zillah*

              The second level you’re talking about it is what I think of as gaydar, though I know that many people rely on stereotypes instead. I think that there are subtle nuances to behavior that differ based on who we’re interacting with, and part of that is based on attraction… which I do think observant people can pick up on. People rarely acknowledge that, though.

            3. GovWorker*

              I have worn my hair very short for decades. I am a hetero cisgendered woman. To me, hair is indicative of preference (its cooler and easier to manage, and kind of sassy). It is not indicative of femininity/masculinity.

              I just use my man’s name, I wish everyone would. No worries about assuming this or that. If the name is gender neutral, so be it. We are in a committed relationship. He is my partner, SO, all of that, I still prefer to just use his name when referring to him.

    4. Ad Astra*

      I’m in the same boat. I don’t happen to know many lesbians socially, and gay marriage wasn’t legal in my state until quite recently, with the Supreme Court ruling. So I’m used to hearing lesbians use terms like “partner” instead of “wife.” So, unfortunately, most discussion of marriage sends me off to the land of outdated assumptions.

    5. KH*

      I assumed the other way around recently. A friend was visiting from out of town and asked if it would be ok to invite over his his cousin and his cousin’s partner, who also live in the area.

      I was all ready for it to be two men (I have a lot of gay couple friends and genuinely enjoy their company) and was surprised when a man and woman showed up. I was Ok with that too. :-)

  3. voyager1*

    Some people may have a problem with your lifestyle, a professional will keep that to themselves however. Do you work in a part of the USA that isn’t very tolerant or something?

    1. Kelly L.*

      “Lifestyle” is not really the word you want here, and yes: “I work in a conservative industry in a conservative part of the U.S.”

      1. Elysian*

        I know that people often talk about the “gay lifestyle” to insinuate that its a choice or that all gay people are somehow the same, but I don’t think that’s what voyager meant here. I know the term is coded generally, but in this case it really seems like the commenter meant it definitionally – “the way in which a person lives.” We all have lifestyles. I don’t think we want to jump on the commenter here for his/her wording.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Unless we want the commenter to pay $1 like in Pinkwater’s “Young Adult Novel.”

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              The Dada Boys make each other pay a fine for using certain terms. “Lifestyle” is one of them.

          1. LBK*

            Now there’s a book I haven’t thought about in ages even though I must have read it 1000 times growing up. Must see if I can dig up my copy of 5 novels.

        2. iseeshiny*

          I didn’t see any jumping – just a fairly polite/neutral reminder that the term is coded. How do we learn things if no one tells us?

          1. LBK*

            Genuine question: can someone suggest a better way to say this? As a gay man myself, I often struggle to avoid using the term “lifestyle” because I know it’s coded, but also sometimes it is the right word, even when I’m talking about how being gay relates to what I do, how I think, how I act, etc. I don’t know how else to say “the manner in which I live my life”.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              “Who I am”? “How I live”? I’m trying to think of the hetero equivalent and there isn’t really one, which is telling, so I think the more you can make it just “who I am,” the better?

              1. voyager1*

                Lifestyle was the best word I could think of… ran into the same issue your post was explaining.

              2. LBK*

                I don’t know if there’s a cultural equivalent in the straight world – I think it’s more divided into different demographics, whereas in gay culture it tends to be more “scene” or “not scene”.

                Frankly, the idea of “lifestyle” being coded feels outdated to me – my understanding was that it was when people used to refer to sexuality as a lifestyle choice like choosing to be a vegetarian or choosing to be in a fraternity, and I don’t really hear it used that way anymore.

                1. LBK*

                  (Also, I recognize this may be something more unique to living in cities – I don’t know if the “scene” exists in the same way outside of them.)

                2. OP*

                  In my area, lifestyle is often still used to mean “a choice someone makes to be gay,” so I encourage people to use a different word.

                3. LBK*

                  Wow. I sometimes fail to realize how much of a bubble I’m in having only lived in liberal cities since I came out.

                4. afiendishthingy*

                  Unfortunately a lot of people do still think of sexuality as a lifestyle choice. I think it’s more commonly used among people who believe that it’s not a sin to be attracted to the same gender, but it’s wrong to act on that desire. I know what you’re saying about “scene” and “not scene” but as a happily single queer woman it makes me laugh a bit. My gay(ish) lifestyle consists of a lot of hanging out on my couch watching Netflix with the cats. Which, ok, is a pretty stereotypical lesbian lifestyle, although also stereotypical single straight woman behavior. Sinful!

                5. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

                  when I hear lifestyle I almost immediately think “lifestyle bloggers” and assume that whatever you’re talking about is twee and involves a lot of mason jars

            2. Elysian*

              I just keep it out of my language, but I agree its hard. Sometimes just “life” words. When I moved to the city and my parents asked “Do you really prefer that urban lifestyle?” they could have subbed in life and it would still have made sense. It IS a real word though with a meaning outside of its coded meaning, and I struggle with that too sometimes.

              1. Anna*

                I just had a discussion with someone with reference to the word “exotic.” It’s loaded with subtext when making reference to other cultures, but it still is a word in and of itself that has its own independent definition.

              1. Vendrus*

                Not in the original context is doesn’t – it still implies a choice.
                So far as I can tell, the most appropriate substitution for ‘lifestyle’ here would be ‘sexuality’.

            3. Mookie*

              I don’t know. It’s a sexual orientation; it’s not necessarily going to influence every aspect of someone’s life. Prejudice and small-mindedness in response to sexual orientation, on the other hand…

              1. LBK*

                I think it does, though; not in the ways that are usually implies in stereotypes but in how it shapes your worldview. Maybe decades or centuries down the road when coming out in elementary school is the norm and gay rights aren’t still a subject of debate, but as it stands now there’s life experiences a gay person goes through that a straight person doesn’t, and those change how you see the world. Sexuality itself doesn’t directly influence who you are per se, but living as an minority certainly does, especially an invisible minority that most people spend their childhood running from and some people spend their whole lives.

                1. Mookie*

                  I certainly agree that being socially and politically marginalized has immeasurable, long-term, far-reaching effects that can’t be easily compartmentalized, and that’s probably true for a silent / silenced minority.

                  The (post-Stone Wall, post-AIDS crises) mainstream gay rights movement in the US has intentionally and successfully distanced itself from the more radical aims of what we used to call queer liberation, which has had an homogenizing effect on younger generations of cis gay youth. The comparatively modest needs and desires of middle-class, white, monogamous, even otherwise socially and political conservative homosexual men have been prioritized, even internalized, and then generalized to the whole. HRC has done its job, preaching acceptance and tolerance on the part of bigots, and assimilation on the part of white lesbians and gay men. To the point that sexual orientation’s reach doesn’t extend beyond who you love, have sex with, become acquainted with. Doesn’t affect where you live or work (sort of). Won’t prevent you from having A Family (most of the time). Shouldn’t affect your civil rights (except when it does).

                  I think that’s where recognizing intersecting oppressions (where such intersections can act like TNT) is so important. Trans people, gender queer and non-binary people, queer people of color in particular, and working-class / working-poor gay people don’t have that comparative luxury or access to that kind of ready acceptance. Gay and trans people raised and living in ethnically or religious insular communities (like Amish colonies) don’t have the option of living “liberated,” of seeing people like them represented in the media or in politics, because passing is essential to survival and self-actualization is stymied by repression and oppression.

                2. Mookie*

                  But, again, it’s not a lifestyle (which sounds frivolous, disposable, and without a history) or a culture (there are many, some are extinct).

                3. LBK*

                  I agree with everything you’re saying and I certainly have my bone to pick with the HRC, but I don’t think anything you said actually contradicts my point. It kind of feels like a random tangent. My point is that being gay does have an influence on your life and therefore shapes who you are, to some extent. It’s not the only influence, obviously, but it’s not as insignificant to your development as a person as whether you’re right- or left-handed (to borrow the analogy below). And I do think there are more concrete elements of my life that are specifically influenced by being gay – where I choose to work, where I travel, who I’m friends with, what I do with my free time (to an extent).

                  Maybe this is less true outside of cities, but in my experience there is a generalized “gay culture” or “gay scene” or whatever term you want to use. That’s not to say everyone falls into it or participates in it, obviously, but it does exist, and it’s not exactly the same as the HRC’s “pretend you’re exactly like a straight cis white person” culture, either. Those influences are definitely there and I see the homogenization you discuss, but there’s still a much more sexually liberated element, there’s different social expectations, there’s a small world aspect that changes how you meet and interact with people. I feel a stark difference when I’m in the “gay world” versus the “straight world”.

                4. Vendrus*

                  I have never heard or seen of this ‘gay world’ – and I’m a bi woman who thought she was a lesbian for some time!

                  I’ve had friendship groups that were mostly non hetero/cis/etc but there was very little difference in the kind of conversation except slightly more openness about certain aspects/issues of life.

                  If you’re talking about the stereotypical clubbing/wild parties/overt sexuality stuff, I see no difference between that and how a lot of straight people behave. It’s just done in venues tailored to non-hetero interactions instead of hetero ones.

                  (NB: Lack of difference logistically, not in social perception or general risk factor)

        3. Anonymous Educator*

          Some people may have a problem with your lifestyle

          Just imagine saying that about someone left-handed instead of someone gay.

        4. One of the Sarahs*

          But this is the thing – the commenter DID use it to mean lesbian, as if we all have the same lifestyle, when of course that’s not the case that there’s a similar “way in which gay people live” that’s different to heterosexuals.

    2. Stephanie*

      To be fair, OP might
      (1) Like her industry. Plenty of industries skew conservative (law comes into mind, engineering depending on the specific industry) outlook.
      (2) Like her locale. Granted, the plural of anecdote isn’t data, but a couple of my gay guy friends never could get into the whole gay urbanite scene.

  4. len*

    Notwithstanding that bigots are people too, why would anyone choose to increase the frequency of turnover?!

    1. Anie*

      Huh? I think the point is to find out if there’s an issue before hiring and therefore “reduce” turnover.

      1. Dot Warner*

        I think what len meant is that if the OP’s orientation is going to be an issue for a potential employee, the job isn’t a good fit for that person, and it’s better for everybody to find that out before hiring rather than after.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Len, I think you’re responding to my statement that if she’s just concerned about their comfort, she shouldn’t worry about it, right? I think it’s a reasonable question to ask, but my answer is the same reason why I wouldn’t tell someone in an interracial marriage to make sure job candidates knew about it, or the reason I wouldn’t think to warn a potential employee I’m Jewish, or so forth. There’s a point where catering to that kind of thinking ends up reinforcing that it’s even an okay thing for someone to have as an issue.

      1. Ad Astra*

        “There’s a point where catering to that kind of thinking ends up reinforcing that it’s even an okay thing for someone to have as an issue.”

        I think that sentence really hits at the heart of the issue. I can see why many people have come to expect bigotry, and lord knows it would be great to screen bigots out in the hiring process. But you have to treat bigots like they’re the weird ones, not you. Anticipating their discomfort just normalizes their views. But I’m straight and white, so I get why that might be a easier for me to say than it would for someone else.

      2. M-C*

        That’s a good point, it usually works better to assume that people are not going to be prejudiced and will react gracefully when they find out you’re part of a group they normally don’t have warm fuzzy feelings toward. And lesbian visibility is very much needed, considering how most people, even in otherwise liberal contexts, still assume heterosexuality until proven otherwise. So in theory I’d agree.

        But in this case I can only applaud the OP’s foresight. Usually one doesn’t choose one’s coworkers, one deals with the bigots that almost invariably come with the territory. Here, the OP does have a choice. And she can be assumed to work very closely with this person for the foreseeable future. So someone she can get along with fairly easily would seem a real plus. It seems to me that weeding out the bigots is a wise move to ensure continued work harmony.

        I don’t think the rest of the commenters appreciate how much of a stress it can be to be monitoring yourself all the time so as not to wander into territory the bigot might take offense at. Work, the doing thereof, is enough of a stress by itself without adding needless interpersonal one to the mix. What if the bigot turned out to be incompetent in some major way and needed to be fired? What if the bigot turned around then and claimed religious discrimination because they had made it clear that they disapproved of OP’s lifestyle? What about my 2 separate friends who were accused of sexual harrassment mostly because the friends didn’t find the bigots attractive and said so? What if the new bigot was harrassing some other lesbian in the company, and then accused OP of collusion if she tries to defend them? These are some really stinky situations when they happen in real life, why not just try to prevent them?

        Whew. I think it must be the first time I disagree even slightly with AAM :-). Feels weird. Especially as she’s right in the abstract. It’s just that practically, being a lesbian-missionary isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    3. Charityb*

      Turnover isn’t an inherently bad thing. If someone is uncomfortable in a role after a while, or if the job is the wrong pace for them (too fast or too slow), has limited opportunities for advancement, or has a lot of unresolveable interpersonal conflict with their coworkers, it’s fine for them to move on.

      It’s not always possible to weed out people who have racist, sexist, or homophobic beliefs; sometimes, those people might not even recognize this trait in themselves and may overestimate their ability to cope in an environment that challenges their views or deal with people in their “target” demographic.

      It would be nice if the OP can catch this issue upfront prior to hiring them, but realistically in the environment she describes she probably isn’t going to be able to avoid *all* homophobes. If one of them eventually does get hired and becomes uncomfortable working for a lesbian, there’s nothing wrong with them leaving on their own.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yeah, but there’s healthy turnover and unhealthy turnover. Healthy turnover is people leaving after 2-4 years of good service. Unhealthy turnover is people rotating out every 3-6 months. The hiring, rehiring, and training and retraining will take its toll on the organization, as will the inevitable tension that will come up between an anti-gay bigot having to report to a gay manager.

      2. AnonaMoose*

        This is a wonderful point: “sometimes, those people might not even recognize this trait in themselves…” And considering that a ton of stuff is changing regarding this particular civil right, it would be unrealistic to expect complete and total tolerance at all times (sadly).

        For instance, my mom has always been a true supporter to my LGBTQ friends growing up. However, she tends to unwittingly enforce stereotypes (see: Will & Grace) and doesn’t understand that she’s doing a population that she embraces a disservice.

        I think the next decade or two will be…sticky….as folks learn new societal rules.

  5. Anie*

    I think I would do the casual wife comment-drop. If I was able to pick who I hired, I’d want that issue weeded out quickly.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      Also, it avoids awkwardness, and to me it’s just information that the applicant might have to keep from embarrassing him- or herself. (Much like knowing a potential boss’ kid’s name to avoid blurting out something about how ugly said name is, or something.)

      1. Anie*

        Oh yeah, I can see that. And I can think of way too many examples of awk moments like that popping up…

        1. Doodle*

          I did this once. :(

          We were talking baby names at lunch at work and someone asked about name “X.” Several colleagues, including me, commented that we didn’t like it. 11 months later, we met newborn Baby X, son of the colleague who asked the question. So. Awkward.

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      If the hiring is done in your office, and you’re allowed to have family photos/reasonable amounts of decoration, a strategically placed photo of the marriage/commitment ceremony would say everything you want to without you saying a word. If the candidate brings it up, the extra “Yes, my wife and I honeymooned in the Bahamas. We live in a marvelous time for equality.” kind of comment would cement it.

      Because there are some people out there who are bigots. And if they are, that’s their problem. But it doesn’t have to become your problem by hiring them. It would be much better if they self exclude if they would have an issue working for a woman/a person of colour/a person of different religious faith/a person of different sexual orientation than you find out later when they’re being a PITA about it.

      FWIW, for all the words English has appropriated, it is amazing to me that we haven’t found words yet for boyfriend/girlfriend when you’ve over the age of 30(?) I guess the language just hasn’t caught up to the culture yet. In a world where “cray” becomes a common thing so quickly, how have we not figured this out?

    3. Florida*

      It has to be very casual, though.

      If I were the interviewee, I would think it was very awkward that the interviewer was trying to tell me she is gay. Likewise, I would think it was weird if she told me she was Methodist, or had kidney problems, or any number of things that are awkward in an interview. If the interviewer mentioned that she had three kids, there are some ways that she could do this were it would seem like normal part of the conversation. Other ways where it would seem like she just wanted me to know she had kids.

      The wife mention needs to be as casual as mentioning that you went to the park with your three kids. Maybe something like, “Sorry I’m a few minutes late. I was on the phone with my wife about an urgent matter. Thanks for being patient.”

      I don’t know. Just be sure that it sounds very casual and not contrived.

  6. Christy*

    I casually out myself all the time, just as an FYI to those around me. I would totally out yourself in interviews–far better for them to self-select out, and I think Alison’s examples are spot-on. I think in-person is really the only way you can swing this, unless you have a wedding picture you can have on display.

    I even set up a little look-I’m-a-homo corner in my cubicle–it has my queer grads diploma and a rainbow Rubik’s cube image–and one coworker didn’t realize until I had a picture of me and my girlfriend in front of it *and I gestured to it in conversation*. So some people aren’t gonna pick up on it even if you out yourself, and that’s on them. Sigh.

    1. LawBee*

      Funny story: I’m not not-out, but I don’t date much, so it’s never really come up at work. My close work friends know, but I don’t remember ever saying anything to my boss, or his wife (with whom I’ve shared many a drunken evening). I’ve often referred to myself as a stealth lesbian, ha.

      Fast forward to a recent wedding of a coworker. Bossman is drunkenly urging me to join the mass of women waiting to catch the bouquet. His big selling point? “It’s legal now! Go for it!” HOW DID HE KNOW.

      1. Anie*

        Oh em geee, that would weird me out so much! I specifically don’t talk about stuff like that at work (because it’s not a share-you-weekend kind of culture), but I would be really surprised if someone knew.

      2. Charlotte Collins*

        My guess is that it somehow came up in passing in a conversation your boss had with one of your work friends, and your boss never mentioned it at work because you didn’t (and why would he anyway?). But at a social event with drinking involved, he felt free to bring it up.

        At least he’s supportive. In vino veritas, and all that. :)

      3. FD*


        Years later, when I came out to one of my high school friends, who had been very openly gay in high school and generally chose a very stereotypically butch style, she joked that I must have cloaking to slip under her gaydar.

      4. the gold digger*

        My gay cousin and I were talking about gay marriage and it being legal.

        “What would (very conservative, went to church every day) Grandma think about my being gay?” he asked.

        “She would nag you just as she nagged the rest of us and would ask you when you were getting married,” I said.

      5. Oh no not again*

        Lol, I never told my supervisor, but one of my gossipy coworkers must have told her. I’m glad she’s cool with it, but I get to hear the ghey jokes now. It doesnt upset me and sometimes i make fun of her for it. The bouquet thing sounds like something she’d say.

      1. Lizzie*

        Yes! I legitimately cackled in the office. My supervisor thinks I’m Winnifred Sanderson now, I’m sure.

    2. xarcady*

      Some of us just really don’t notice, or care. I had one co-worker who dropped hints all over the place, I’d run into her and her partner in the supermarket and the farmer’s market, and it wasn’t until she announced that her partner was pregnant that I got clued in. And it just meant the baby blanket I made was rainbow-colored, which they loved.

      But, yeah, I can be pretty oblivious to some pretty obvious things, and I suspect others are, too. Mostly because I figure people’s private lives are private until they feel like sharing them with me.

      1. Christy*

        I super-wish this coworker thought private lives were private. I wish he could avoid talking incessantly for lengths of time. Alas.

        (You sound great, btw, I just can’t stand this guy. He’s definitely oblivious.)

      2. Charlotte Collins*

        Yeah, since I’m not looking for a romantic relationship and I’m not interested in matchmaking, this information for me is more so that I don’t use the wrong pronoun or something. Also, if someone were to ask about someone’s romantic situation, it helps if I can tell the inquirer whether they’re barking up the wrong tree…

      3. Nom d' Pixel*

        That sounds like me. I just really don’t pay attention. I am the idiot complementing you on a new haircut 3 weeks after you get it. Plus, I have a couple liberal friends who aren’t gay but put the marriage equality stickers on their cars or display rainbow flags or other things that might say “I’m gay” or just say “I support civil rights”. I tend to be pretty oblivious to other people’s love lives.

        1. Anon for once*

          I used to have a rainbow ribbon on my work lanyard and be an honorary member of the LGBT staff society. In my new work that network is closed as our workplace is it not considered entirely safe to be out which makes me so, so sad.

        2. blackcat*

          “Plus, I have a couple liberal friends who aren’t gay but put the marriage equality stickers on their cars or display rainbow flags or other things that might say “I’m gay” or just say “I support civil rights”. ”

          I am that person. Before I wore a wedding ring, I discovered that rainbow earrings=telling the world I’m gay! Which is… about half true… in that I’m not straight, but I have been partnered with a dude for my entire adult life.

          When I taught, I had a few subtle things in my classroom that seemed to effectively get the message across to queer students that I was a safe person to talk to, but were subtle enough that there was never a “GET THE GAY TEACHER AWAY FROM MY CHILD” parent complaint. Though I suppose it’s possible that there was such a complaint, and my boss insulated me from it (he had met my now-husband, and could have easily said “What, blackcat? No, she’s straight. I’ve met her boyfriend.”).

      4. Me*

        True story–I was hit on at a party once by a lesbian and didn’t realize it for like 3 days. I was just randomly thinking over the evening on day and remembered how she’d vanished soon after I’d introduced my husband and realized OMG OOPS!!

        So yeah, some of us are just dense.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I got invited on a DATE one time–a very casual one–and I went. And I didn’t realize she was interested in me. Until we were like halfway through the date. Talk about awkward.

          She was really nice and cool, and I liked her a lot, but I’m so straight you could use me as a ruler. I felt bad about it because she didn’t want to be friends with someone she had been interested in, so we ended up going our separate ways. :(

      5. ReanaZ*

        The thing I find gross about this “I’m just oblivious” and “I don’t think about other people’s private lives” is that it usually results in erasure and heteronormative assumptions. “Everyone is assumed straight despite efforts to present themselves otherwise!” Eww.

        It’s like “I don’t see colour.” It sounds great in theory but usually just leaves people erased and invisible.

    3. Monday Anon*

      As a straight person with a rainbow flag at my desk, I wouldn’t automatically assume you were gay.

      1. fposte*

        But presumably a rainbow flag would serve much the same purpose in alerting an applicant that this is an LGBT friendly workplace and that if that’s a problem for them, they should reconsider the position.

        1. Anna*

          I think that’s just as important. Even if the OP doesn’t make it clear to applicants that she’s gay, a person can get a lot of context clues about the culture from seeing rainbow flags or the equality signs on people’s desks. Not that people should wallpaper the office with stuff.

    4. Tau*

      I like your corner! I’d like to be more out than I am, but have not yet figured out how to ~casually~ drop it in conversation as a single queer person.

      1. Christy*

        Either bring up an ex or make up an ex! That’s what I did in grad school. I referred to my “ex-girlfriend” multiple times, almost always as a signaler, but really she was just a girl I’d gone on a few dates with.

        1. Tau*

          …that works! And if you stretch the definition a little I totally do have an ex, so it wouldn’t even be lying. :)

          Thinking about it, another tactic I’ve used in the past is to join an LGBT social organisation and then mention “oh, I’m going to the LGBT society’s board games night” or something. Time to check out if there’s anything nearby on Meetup…

      2. OP*

        I hear you, Tau. It’s actually a lot easier to be out at work now that I’m married. I’m not the kind of person who talks much about my love life at work, so when I was single it was much more under the radar. Not because I was hiding it, but because it’s so much harder to incorporate into conversation.

      3. Tagg*

        It’s even harder when you’re a single bisexual person. I have coworkers that assume I’m straight, and coworkers that assume I’m gay. And I don’t even think getting a little bi flag for my work badge would do much good either, as most people don’t recognize it.

        Of course, they all assume I’m female as well, which is incorrect, but I don’t get into explaining gender non-conformity at work.

        1. Tau*

          Of course, they all assume I’m female as well, which is incorrect, but I don’t get into explaining gender non-conformity at work.

          Tell me about it. *rueful* That’s one I’m not planning on ever getting into, especially because I manage pretty well with everyone reading me as female.

          I can also see how you’d have a hard time getting your bisexuality recognised :(. I’m planning to round my own orientation to “lesbian” for work because I don’t think anyone wants me to try to explain not only non-binary genders but also asexuality and romantic orientations in the workplace – myself included. (Although bringing in my plushie amoeba with the asexual flag hat and scarf is direly tempting sometimes…)

      4. Molly*

        Seconded on “use an ex.” IME, it will feel awkward the first handful of times, but once you start listening for it, straight people talk about their exes frequently, and no one thinks anything of it.

        I’m a big believer in “if you’re safe, be visible.” It’s a small thing you can do to improve the lives of people for whom it’s not yet safe to be out and proud, especially kids and teens with bigoted parents. It feels very weird at first, often, but you get really comfortable doing it over time and then it just feels GOOD, ime.

        1. M-C*

          Oh yes, a snarky comment about an ex is so totally accepted work conversation for all orientation :-).. Totally easy to join in with ‘and can you believe mine… she… her…’. If you’re so young as to not even have an ex to refer to, crushes work well too, and you don’t even have to pick Ellen.. just be sure to use the crush word explicitly so there’s no ambiguity.

    5. Honeybee*

      2 + or they have friends and family nearby, or that’s where they grew up, or that’s just where the best industry for their job is…there’s a lot of reasons why a gay person might not be able to live in a very liberal/accepting area.

  7. FD*

    I hear you there OP!

    Sadly, I feel like letting this drop early on also helps reduce homosexual ‘jokes’/inappropriate comments in the office–not just because people select out but because most people at least will avoid making such comments if their boss is ‘one of them’.

    1. OP*

      Yes, I wish I had outed myself a lot earlier when I started my current job because of the jokes/stories people shared having NO IDEA “one of them” was in the room.

      One of them shocked me speechless, which made it 100x more uncomfortable (for them – I was already quite uncomfortable) when that person found out I was in the category they were mocking.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        yeah, well, if someone is making inappropriate jokes he/she deserves all the discomfort that comes with realizing one of the targets is in the room.

        But, I understand YOUR discomfort in such a situation, and that sucks.

        1. Nom d' Pixel*

          Seriously. What century is this that people think it is acceptable to make gay jokes, especially at work?

      2. FD*

        Though when I decided to bite the bullet and come out at work, I then got the joy of having the “one of my best friends is gay” conversation fifty times…Including from the owner of the company, which was just hideously awkward!

        1. Nom d' Pixel*

          So, I have never had anyone come out to me. Every gay person that I know has simply been matter of fact and out before we met, so their relationships just “are” in much the same sense that my my husband and I just “are” (if that makes any kind of sense). I also also not one of those people who always knows the right thing so say. I think if anyone at work came out to me, they would probably think I was a jerk because I’d be like, “Ok. When do you need me to review that report?”

            1. Nom d' Pixel*

              There is a great Key & Peele sketch about everything. I was so sad when they went off the air.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Me either. I was like this when Jodie Foster and Ellen Page came out–they were all, “I AM GAY” and I was like, “And?”

            And this is a genuine question, no sarcasm: what SHOULD you say? Everyone who knows me knows I don’t care if they’re gay or not and support marriage equality. Maybe “I know that must have been hard to say, and I’m totally cool with it” ?

            1. FD*

              Personally, I think there are different contexts!

              I think that if it just comes up in casual conversation, it’s OK to treat it like not a big deal–because if it’s coming up in casual conversation, the person probably doesn’t want to make it a big deal. For example, if someone happens to reveal it by way of mentioning “my wife/husband”, I think making a production out of it is rather annoying. Of course, that’s my own preference, and that’ll be different for different people.

              I think it’s different if you’re the person someone is coming out fairly early on–this might be a close work acquaintance, for example. I think then, you just handle it with the same empathy you would if someone told you something else that might be emotionally hard for them to admit.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                That’s what I was thinking–if someone said, “My wife and I went to the casino boat this weekend,” my only question would be if they won anything. And if she said yes, “Are you buying us lunch!?” :)

                If they were clearly struggling with telling me, I wouldn’t want to be flippant about it. Thanks for your answer.

                1. Sarah*

                  One of my best friends in college apparently came out to everybody when I wasn’t paying attention. So she asked about how things were going with a guy I was interested in, I told her, and she said, “Dang he’s pretty. He always says he’s gonna turn me, but if somebody that cute can’t do it, it can’t be done?”
                  “Turn you?”
                  “Oh, honey – I’m gay. Did you miss the memo?”
                  “Must have! So, more Buffy?”

                  When it’s been somebody coming out for the first time, or early on, I tend to go with “Okay, cool. I’m glad you told me,” with as much “I love you, you know that, right?” as needed. But as I’ve gotten closer to 30, those instances are fewer and farther in between.

            2. aliascelli*

              When it’s specifically coming-out-to-you, you might try, “Thanks for telling me” or something along those lines. I like that pause – acknowledge – back to work approach.

            3. Oh no not again*

              Well, don’t brush them off. They are telling you probably because they trust you enough with information that can get them ostracized, lose their housing/job, etc. They could be telling you because you’ve said some homophobic things (far less likely, but a possibility). We are constantly told to keep quiet about our lives, so we speak up, especially when we are assumed to be straight all the time (it gets old). You may not care, but consider it an honor when someone tells you who they really are. You must be alright or people wouldn’t tell you, so feel good that someone thinks highly enough of you to tell you. When I tell someone I’m gay, its a big deal to me and 9 times out of 10 I’m telling the person because I trust them.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I hope I am that kind of person. *blush* I just want my friends/coworkers/people to be happy.

                Most of the people I know who are gay are out, so it hasn’t really been a thing. But I’m grateful to everyone for your answers. I live in a hugely conservative (and a bit backward) place, so no doubt there are some people around here who still haven’t come out and have no intentions of doing so. I know better than to mention it to anyone else if they do tell me, however. That’s not my news to share.

                1. M-C*

                  Well, if you live in a hugely conservative place then it probably is a bigger deal if anyone makes a formal announcement, and would imply a lot of trust. At that point a small acknowledgement of being glad for them would be be cool :-). But on the whole, coming out as a big production is usually something reserved for hugely important relationships like your parents or your best friend since first grade. The drive-by hint with a different pronoun is much more usual, just a correction of people’s assumptions and needing no more than a casual reference to the same pronoun in the same conversation ‘oh, she likes that, does she? ha ha! my sister is the same blah blah’.

                  I’d like to point out that if nobody’s ever come out to you in any way, it usually means that you aren’t giving the impression that you would welcome such an announcement. It’s enough to occasionally refer to gay people you know (personally or otherwise, think cousin or Elton John) as people you both approve of, and know they’re gay. People get the hint that you’re OK with it then.

          2. FD*

            Obviously I can’t speak for every gay person, but personally, I don’t mind that response at all. It’s when it’s suddenly a big thing/I’m assumed to be able to fix their car/they want to make a point of talking about how tolerant they are that I start to get irked.

              1. FD*

                Supposedly lesbians can…I get it some of the time, but my fiancee gets it more. For the record, neither of us knows how to do much beyond changing the bulbs in our headlights.

                It’s sort of the female equivalent of the ‘gay men are good at fashion’ thing.

        2. LawPancake*

          Omg, yes! I totally get, and appreciate, that folks are just trying to show that they’re supportive or whatever. But good lord does it get tiring to hear about everyone’s gay friend.

  8. OP*

    Thanks for the answer – looking forward to reading everyone’s comments.

    It’s definitely for my comfort/ease. My thinking is that if it’s an issue for you, you’re probably not the right candidate for the job. Not because I’m “reverse discriminating,” but because if the gender of my spouse is a deal-breaker for you, there’s probably going to be some issues with trusting/respecting me that I’d rather avoid from the outset if possible. (Acknowledging, of course, that those sorts of trust/respect issues can crop up regardless of anyone’s sexual orientation).

    My wife, on the other hand, thinks it’s completely a non-issue, but she works in a much more progressive industry than I do. It seems like a know-your-potential-employee-base situation.

    1. voyager1*

      Glad to see a follow up. I can understand your desire to reverse discriminate, which yes you are doing and frankly I would probably do too.

      I think the picture idea is best though. There really isn’t any reason why you should feel or have to explain who you live with. Again some might be offended or whatever, that is them you can’t really change that. A professional will keep it to themselves. Gay jokes are not work appropriate just as race jokes and such.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        I don’t think it’s reverse discrimination to want to find someone who isn’t homophobic to work with, no protected class is being favoured over another.

        1. Nom d' Pixel*

          Agreed. I am a woman in a male-dominated field, and there have been a couple of times when men have taken issue with having to work with me or with acknowledging my expertise/position. I have sat in a room and listened to my boss tell them that if they had a problem, they didn’t have to work with us and we would find someone else. That isn’t discrimination, that is standing up to it.

        2. Ad Astra*

          Yeah, I’m a lady married to a man living a very conventional life, and I still don’t want to work with homophobes.

      2. Mander*

        I don’t think the OP is necessarily reverse discriminating, though, unless an interviewee makes a homophobic comment but is otherwise a fine candidate. She seems to be hoping that any such candidate picks up on the fact that she’s a lesbian and will self-select out of the job if they don’t want to work for a lesbian boss.

        1. Honeybee*

          Screening out people who make homophobic comments in an interview is not “reverse discrimination,” even if there were such a thing. That shows you two things: one, that the person is homophobic and is therefore not a “fine candidate” for an LGBT-friendly workplace; and two, that the person doesn’t even have the good judgment to not be offensive during an interview, which does not bode well for their interactions with coworkers and potential clients on a day to day basis.

          1. Shannon*

            +1 I would seriously wonder about someone’s understanding of social norms if they started popping off with bigoted/ sexist/ homophobic remarks in an interview, unless they are interviewing for a position with the KKK.

    2. Nom d' Pixel*

      I can understand that. It sounds like you are just trying to weed out problem employees before they start.

    3. Cambridge Comma*

      Could you, instead of having to discuss your marital status, highlight some kind of aspect of your workplace that would weed out the bigots? e.g. a diversity policy or a gender neutral bathroom?

      1. Nom d' Pixel*

        Every company over a certain size says they have a diversity policy. That doesn’t mean they walk the walk. It can ever vary widely by department. The department that I work in is good, but there is another one in the building that is generally known for having a director who is racist.

        On a separate note, I live in a small town in a conservative part of the country and was surprised that my gym put in a gender-neutral locker room. I haven’t even heard anyone make a fuss about it. I typically use it because it is really nice (several completely private shower/changing rooms) and the gender-specific ones need to be upgraded. I have never seen anyone else go in there, though.

    4. Molly*

      I think you’re smart to think about it. I used to have a line about LGBT-related volunteer work in my resume for exactly this reason–anyone who doesn’t want to hire a dyke isn’t someone I want to work for. Now that I’m on the hiring side, I do more or less what you’re thinking about–drop some kind of broad “ahem” in the promising candidates’ ears and make sure we’re not fundamentally incompatible as colleagues. My region and field are pretty liberal, but you never know, and I’d rather have someone self-select out of the hiring process than have to deal with it later.

    5. Jo*

      As a job-seeker, I’ve always tried to work my queerness into the conversation somewhere, either by putting some of my LGBT-activist experience on my resume (if I think the experience is genuinely relevant) or by mentioning my girlfriend/ex-girlfriend/wife in the conversation.

      And let me tell you, when I was looking for jobs in a conservative part of the country, I REALLY appreciated knowing that some of the hiring managers were themselves gay.

      I would out yourself with candidates whenever possible, both to protect yourself from bigoted behavior from your future hires, and to keep strong queer candidates around. They might also self-select out, if they’re unsure of where their potential manager stands on the issue, and have other options.

    6. Argh!*

      You could inadvertently weed out a teachable older person, as young people are more likely to be non-discriminating. Most former bigots were turned around by actually getting to know someone of the detested race, nationality, religion, or orientation. I work in a conservative area and the Christians I work with are professional despite me being an open atheist. One person really minimized his contact with me, but he left for a Christian workplace so he was probably unreachable. But he was cordial and professional. (He probably just didn’t want Satan possessing him or something. I never wore devil horns… that I remember. I do like Halloween!)

      1. aebhel*

        Well, yeah, but some people don’t want to be teachable moments for bigots, especially in a work environment, and that’s a totally valid response. I don’t want to be around homophobes even if it would be good for them to know a non-straight person, because their personal growth is not my responsibility and I don’t need to be on the receiving end of their bigotry while they learn.

        OP isn’t suggesting refusing to hire anyone who’s not 110% okay with homosexuality; she’s trying to allow people to self-select out of an environment where they wouldn’t be able to behave professionally before it becomes an awkward disaster.

    7. Lizzy*

      For what it’s worth, I’m a queer woman and if I were a hiring manager I would definitely want to casually out myself to gauge candidates’ reactions. Mentioning your wife in passing seems like a good strategy. I wouldn’t recommend a photo of you and your wife because that could so easily be overlooked and/or misinterpreted. I swear I could announce to my coworkers that I had sex with a woman and they would probably still think I was straight — for some people the assumption of heterosexuality is so overpowering that they will never, ever think “oh this is a photo of Interviewer and her wife” unless you actually utter the word “wife.”

  9. Monday Anon*

    As a straight person with a small rainbow flag at my desk, I wouldn’t automatically assume you were gay.

    1. Florida*

      The job candidate might not assume you are gay because there’s a rainbow flag on your desk. But if the candidate was offended by the rainbow flag on your desk, that’s a clue that you don’t want the person there whether it’s because you’re gay or others in the office are or customers are.

      Also, the candidate would be able to self-select if they weren’t interested in working with people who are gay-friendly.

  10. DC*

    I ask because I genuinely don’t know; is there anyway a candidate could claim “reverse” discrimination? What would be the threshold of “proof” for such a claim? If I were OP, I’d want to know just in case you happen to interview someone who is bigoted and would claim such a thing.

    And I echo the comments that it is sad we have people still having to be concerned about others’ reaction to loving another person.

    1. Elysian*

      Reverse discrimination is such a bad term, I think. It’s more of a conversation term; it’s not a legal term. If discrimination with regard to sexual orientation exists in the OP’s state, a person of any sexual orientation can claim it is happening to them. The requirements to prove such a claim are the same no matter what the sexual orientation of the parties. So “you failed to hire me because I’m straight” is just as legitimate a claim under the law as “you failed to hire me because I’m gay.” Whether a person could get proof of that is harder no matter what the orientation of the people involved are. The nature of discrimination claims is just that they’re hard no matter what.

    2. LBK*

      I don’t think you could because the OP wouldn’t be discriminating based on that person’s sexuality; the criteria she’s weighing isn’t “is this person straight,” it’s “does this person have a problem with gay people” (and while arguably there’s a 99% overlap of the latter group with the former, I still don’t think you could even argue disparate impact).

      Of course, it may be moot since sexuality is a perfect legal basis for discrimination in most of the US.

      1. Kelly L.*

        This. The OP wouldn’t be screening people out for being straight; she’d either be screening out people who turned rude and unprofessional after the OP mentioned her wife, or they’d be selecting themselves out and not accepting the position if offered.

      2. DC*

        Sorry, I definitely didn’t mean to suggest that the OP would even consider such a thing. I’ve encountered some folks who may fit the description – some protected classes, as well as those who wouldn’t – that would CLAIM some sort of obnoxious thing like that.

        I should have been clearer and I apologize for that.

        1. Meg Murry*

          Yes, this is the only thing that makes me nervous about the idea of OP outing herself. What if she interviews a few people, and drops that she has a wife into the conversation, and then it happens that the person she hires is also LBGTQ?
          I could see it getting ugly for both the OP and the person she hires, especially if the bitter rejected candidate is an internal candidate and starts spreading rumors that OP only hired the new person because s/he is also gay/lesbian/whatever.

          Of course, this could be an issue for any hiring decision: I’ve seen bitter rejected candidates say that the decision was made based on all kinds of factors: race, gender, age, going to the same high school/College/church etc when in fact the truth is that the hired candidate was truly the most qualified. I just wonder if OP is opening a can of worms by discussing martial status during the interview.

          Separate but semi-related – I personally would be kind of thrown if OP dropped a comment about her wife (or husband) for that matter during the interview, especially when I was newer to the job market. I’m pretty sure my face would go blank and get a deer in the headlights look – but it wouldn’t be “oh no, OP is talking about her wife, is she a lesbian, how do I respond to that?” It would be “oh are we talking about family status? I thought we weren’t supposed to talk about that that in interviews? Should I mention my husband, or would that be a negative for this position? What about my kids? Gah, brain whirling and I don’t know what to say, I didn’t prepare for this topic, um um stammer stammer awkwardly”

          So just because someone reacts awkwardly to OP wife-dropping doesn’t automatically mean they are a bigot – although I agree for OP it would allow them to self select. I fear it might also have people who just don’t want to mix personal and work self selecting out as well.

    3. The IT Manager*

      Shouldn’t. “Being a bigot” is not a protected class, and you can discriminate for pretty much any reason except for the protected classes.

      1. Bostonian*

        Unfortunately there are a lot of people who cloak their bigotry in religion and get away with discrimination, or have to be dragged through the courts kicking and screaming to put a stop to it.

          1. LisaLee*

            I don’t think this applies. For one, just because a belief overlaps with religion doesn’t mean that the OP is specifically targeting religious people. Plenty of Christians are not homophobes, and plenty of atheists are.

            Secondly, she isn’t questioning anyone on their religion. She’s mentioning that she has a wife and letting them do with that information what they will. The applicants can’t claim discrimination when she is literally just existing as a gay person.

            1. Honeybee*

              In theory, yes, all of this. Unfortunately practice in the U.S. recently has not found this to be the case, and it still doesn’t prevent a potential candidate from making a scene. That said, I don’t think that should prevent the OP from trying to screen out bigots, just like Alison has mentioned before that fear of lawsuits shouldn’t stop businesses from cutting people loose for all other kinds of non-protected reasons.

  11. Tau*

    Agreed that the casual wife-mention sounds like the way to go, and tbh I’d probably do the same in your situation, OP – why not head off certain potential seriously uncomfortable situations at the pass, after all?

    1. neverjaunty*

      Right, and keeping it as a casual mention is best. People who have Issues are the ones who will flip out when you say “my wife” rather than “my husband” – but you don’t want good, non-bigot candidates to feel like they’re being not so subtly put to the test.

      1. Student*

        If I had a prospective boss drop a hint that she was gay during an interview, I would both:
        (1) get the message that she’s trying to screen out people who won’t work well with a gay boss
        (2) respect her for it; there’s no reasonable way for her to guess at a candidate’s feelings about gay. As long as she didn’t come off as hostile towards me personally (as in, acting as if she expects me to hate her for no reason), I’d be glad she was proactively trying to head off problems before anyone is invested in the job.

        Anti-gay bigots are potentially going to look at the OP’s choice of words very carefully to see if they can make a court case against her. Some subtlety is necessary, but it’s not for the people who genuinely might work out well for the OP.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          You have a good point at the end. But just having a picture within easy view in the office, and OP never mentioning the wife during the interview, would not hold up. “She was being gay at me!” is not a valid reason to file a court case (or it shouldn’t be). It would only make them look ridiculous.

          1. Windchime*

            I dunno; I probably wouldn’t make assumptions about seeing two women/two men in a picture on a beach unless they were both wearing wedding garb and gazing at each other. I have a perfectly lovely picture of me and another woman at a wedding, but it’s my daughter-in-law’s mother who has become my friend. So unless someone said, “This is a picture of my spouse and I”, I wouldn’t make assumptions about any pictures.

        2. neverjaunty*

          By “make a court case” I assume you mean bringing a lawsuit claiming they were not hired because of animus based on sexual orientation? Assuming OP is even in a state where that’s possible, how would they do that, exactly?

  12. christine j*

    This might depend on your employer, but could you phrase something in terms of organizational values, without making it personal? For example “Here at Teapots Inc., we really value our diverse workforce. It is important to us to be a safe, welcoming and equitable work place for people of all sexual orientations, genders, ethnicities and religions. For a good cultural fit, it is essential that our employees share these values and enjoy being part of a diverse team.”

    Of course you might need to tailor that a little if you don’t have much diversity in the office along lines of ethnicity or religion.

    1. F.*

      I think this would be a much more appropriate way to approach this than to make it a personal thing centering around the hiring manager.

      1. Calla*

        I don’t think it would be as informative for OP, though. People respond very differently to hypothetical/vague diversity than to actual people (especially someone they’d have to *report* to).

      2. Nashira*

        I don’t know if it’s really making it a personal thing. I am bad at small talk, but where I live it’s normal for job interviews to begin with some chitchat where casual mentions of one’s partner are natural. Like “oh, you like that restaurant? My wife and I go there a lot.”

        Of course, for me that’s also usually in the context of explaining why I moved from Maryland to Capital BFE, Missouri. Got married etc.

    2. OP*

      My employer’s non-discrimination policy was one of the main reasons I chose to work there, so those sorts of conversations can send a powerful and welcoming signal to queer candidates in less tolerant places.

      I’m not so sure that it would be as helpful a sorting tool in this case, though.

      1. Anna*

        I had a friend who worked for a medical office and one of their screening questions was based on asking if they felt they’d be able to work in an environment that treated and hired a diverse population. I think it can be done. Someone who self-selects out will turn down an offer or even leave the interview after you mention it.

        1. Honeybee*

          Well, there are a couple of issues with that. One, a lot of people’s discomfort is more deep-seated or even unconscious enough that they can’t articulate it. They’d say “yes” to such a question, but it isn’t really true in the day to day. Two, lots of companies that are actually quite homogeneous and intolerant boast that they celebrate diversity and have boilerplate diversity clauses. They’re so ubiquitous in hiring that it’s automatic for candidates to just say yes. Fourth, a lot of people associate ‘diverse population’ with racial/ethnic diversity, so they answer yes on that basis, but they forget about all of the other kinds of diversity and that that could include differences of sexual orientation and religion and other things. And four, a candidate could just lie. Yes or no questions are problematic for this reason.

          An alternative is to ask a behavioral question with an element of diversity or inclusivity in it; a couple of companies are build those kinds of questions into the interview.

          1. Steve G*

            Yes to all of this.

            And the generic sounding question can mean different things to different applicants, and something different to the employer.

            I saw it a few times in personality tests during my last job hunt this summer, and I went to an interview at a place that mentioned the ability to work with diverse populations, etc. all over the place. Well, when I got to the interview, I realized it meant that they had a large percentage of people from country X (not including it since it doesn’t matter but it wasn’t one of the top 2nd languages in school here). Cool. But that is not “diverse” that is “ability to work with people from country X speaking their native language most of the day and you will not understand,” as per my experience waiting for the interviewer…..

          2. Anna*

            That’s the self-select, though. Anything you say yes to off the cuff in an interview, you could easily back out of later. “After further consideration, I realized this wouldn’t be a good fit for me.” It’s far more direct than subtly working her wife in to the conversation and in reality, if there is an issue the outcome is exactly the same. She could be more specific if she wants, but the situation is exactly the same.

        1. Tau*

          Dear AAM,

          Two weeks ago I had a job interview for my dream job. It was going really well, the hiring manager and I really clicked, but then they gave me the hat test – and told me I failed! I know the test is only a formality and have sent them two owls every day to complain but they keep telling me I’ve been rejected. Is this legal?

          Sincerely yours,

          Disgruntled Jobseeker Who Is Certainly Not a Weasley

      2. christine j*

        Right, this is a good point. Language on a website or in a job posting is easily skimmed. But I think there might be a way to really drive home the importance of this in a face-to-face interview. Like say “I’m sure you will have read our company’s non-discrimination policy that appears in the job description, but I wanted to take a moment in the interview to draw your attention to it”. Then you could take a moment to describe what it actually means for a candidate considering this role. You might explicitly state that, for example, there is a zero tolerance policy for expressions of homophobia in the workplace.

        1. christine j*

          I would just NEVER mention my personal life or my partner as an interview in a job role — unless the candidate knew or had worked with my partner in the past.

        2. Anna*

          This is what I’m talking about. The company OP works for values that diversity and it doesn’t hurt to explicitly state that for candidates. The medical office was very specific, “We serve LGBTQ. We employ people who are transgendered. We serve people who have a variety of relationship styles.” Or something to that effect. Basically letting applicants know that if they couldn’t get on board with that, they might not accept an offer.

  13. F.*

    To a professional, sexual orientation is a non-issue. I have worked for and with hundreds of people in my nearly 40 years in the workforce, and I wouldn’t know the sexual orientation of the vast majority of them, nor do I care. I am concerned about the quality of one’s work, not what they do in the bedroom. However, bringing up one’s sexual orientation during the interview process, especially for the hiring manager to do so, would make me, as a candidate, question the motives of the interviewer. Are they anticipating trouble from me? Do they have a problem maintaining appropriate information boundaries in the workplace? Are they subtly fishing to hire only others of the same sexual orientation? Is this some sort of litmus test? Are they trying to weed out candidates with more socially conservative views? Note that I am NOT implying that the letter writer is doing any of this. I do think it is an inappropriate discussion to have with a job candidate, though.

    1. fposte*

      It would be totally weird as a discussion, that’s for sure. But a reference to one’s wife in passing would be a very different thing than a discussion–that’s something people do all the time.

      1. Tau*

        Yes – I doubt a straight hiring manager briefly mentioning her husband in an interview would be seen as inappropriate.

      2. Kelly L.*

        This. And if it’s not TMI for a straight guy to say “my wife,” it’s not TMI for a lesbian woman to say it.

        1. Judy*

          I would say that I’ve never heard the terms “my husband” or “my wife” in any interview, either as interviewer or interviewee. But I’m an engineer, and the interviews are much more about technical items and experience.

          In fact, I’d feel it a bit odd if a male interviewer would say “my wife” in an interview. I’m not sure why I’d need to know if they’re married. I’ve been at this job for over a year, and I’m not 100% sure if my boss is married or in a serious relationship. I’m fairly sure he’s not, and I know he doesn’t have kids, but it’s just not something we’ve discussed.

          1. LBK*

            So you don’t have any friendly small talk with anyone in your office? I’m not talking about sitting down and having a chat with your boss about his dating life. I’m saying in the course of normal conversation, straight people often frequently announce their sexuality without realizing it because no one cares if someone is straight; it’s something gay people tend to be more attuned to because we’re used to playing the pronoun game and worrying about the consequences if we accidentally out ourselves by saying “he” instead of “they” to refer to our ex.

            Spend the next week listening for cues. Unless you truly work in an office or industry that has no conversations that aren’t related to work (which are rare), I bet you’ll catch a few you didn’t even think about before.

            1. Shell*

              But Judy specifically pointed out that they have never heard of discussions about SOs at the interview. Not just at the office, but at the interview.

              I agree with you that if your entire office is one where no one ever drops in some casual reference about their SOs, that’s very odd. And I agree with you that if a casual reference about opposite-sex relationships is appropriate, a casual reference about same-sex relationships is equally appropriate. But no mention of either at the interview–I don’t think that’s odd at all.

            2. Judy*

              I’ve usually not spent more than an hour with one person in an interview. Usually if I’m the interviewee, I have several interviews back to back. I truly don’t believe in that circumstance I’ve had anyone use the term “my husband” or “my wife”, they’re trying to figure out if I have the experience in designing, coding and testing microprocessor based embedded systems that they need.

              Once someone is in an office, of course there will be casual references to the rest of co-workers lives. I know quite a bit about my manager’s hobbies which is why I don’t believe he has a serious relationship at the moment, I would have expected him to share if he was married or seriously dating someone, as he has shared other things about his life. He didn’t bring anyone to our team’s holiday event last year. I know he doesn’t have kids, because we discussed it before the summer company picnic that he didn’t attend.

              1. LBK*

                I must have had the weirdest interviews in history then because all of mine have included more conversation than just explaining my work qualifications.

        2. anonanonanon*

          I do think it’s a bit weird. I’ve never heard anyone mention their partners or spouses in an interview and it would probably take me aback for a moment or two if it happened. Also because I’d expect that they’d either want me to comment on it or talk about my own relationships. I’d find it just as weird from a straight interviewer as a gay interviewer – and I say this as someone who identifies as bisexual.

          But I tend to be the type of person who doesn’t like to talk about my personal life in an interview anyway.

          1. LBK*

            I’m confused – what are you envisioning the conversation being here? I don’t think anyone is implying the interviewer is saying “So I have a wife. What do you think about that?” These are normal small talk things like mentioning you’re going to visit your wife’s sister this weekend – things that straight people say all the time with no one batting an eye but that can draw scorn for gay people about flaunting their sexuality.

            1. anonanonanon*

              I’m fine with that in a normal work conversation with coworkers – and it does happen all the time – but in a first time meeting INTERVIEW setting? Nope. I’d find it a bit weird. I’ve never heard anyone bring up throwaway mentions about weekend plans or visiting a restaurant with their partner in an inteview. All friendly small talk has either been about the weather or the commute to get to the interview or at most, about favorite books. There’s not often a lot of small talk that’s not work/job/company related anyway.

              It could be a regional thing, because I definitely notice when LGBTQA identifying people use a gender neutral pronoun or when straight people mention their opposite sex partners, but a lot of my first meetings with people in the professional environment don’t include that type of small talk that brings up sexuality or personal life. And I live in a very liberal area (but one that is also very much an area of “I don’t know you, I’m not telling you anything about my personal life”)

              1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

                I think it can be very common–“So, I see you’ve just moved from X,” “Yes, my spouse’s job moved them” or “Yes, my spouse’s parents are very elderly and we’ve moved to be closer to them” or “Yes, my spouse grew up here and so we’ve relocated to be closer to family” or whatever.

                1. Anna*

                  I think that’s the hang up. If there’s no context for it, it can sound forced and it’s usually something the interviewer asks the candidate Both of your examples are interviewer asking candidate.

              2. LBK*

                In both rounds of interviews I did for my current job the managers brought up inadvertent mentions of their sexualities in totally normal conversations that weren’t overly personal or weirdly out of place. It was casual conversation – one mentioning he and his wife just had a baby who had the same name as me, the other in the course of an anecdote that came up over discussion of us both being analysis geeks even in our personal lives. Neither one was wildly outside of professional norms.

                I genuinely think the people who are saying they would find it odd/confusing/unnecessary/inappropriate for a spouse to be mentioned in an interview wouldn’t even notice it if it actually happened.

                1. Apple*

                  Well, you seem to have noticed just fine, and are able to recount it in a fair amount of detail.

                  I genuinely think you are wrong, and I would most definitely notice. And I would find it very weird.

        3. Shell*

          I think it’s totally fine to bring up “my wife”, “my husband”, “my partner”, and all its variations in casual conversation–after the prospective employee is already there. I’ve also never heard any mention of significant others in any of my interviews, from science to business. I grant that I’m entry level and thus my interviews haven’t been too long for the most part (maybe this kind of chattiness comes up in longer interviews for higher level employees), but I would also think it was odd for an interviewer to bring it up. Unless your SO was also in the field, the interview should be focused on the prospective job and its duties.

      3. F.*

        I was focusing on the OP’s question about mentioning it in the interview. In other words, I am basically agreeing with Alison’s advice that the OP just drop a casual remark about their wife in the conversation naturally.

        1. OP*

          This is a helpful summary of my discomfort with bringing it up as a conversation topic during the interview process – it seems out of bounds for a professional discussion, because my sexual orientation isn’t relevant to my work persona. Unless, of course, it is to the candidate.

          1. LBK*

            I think a “work persona” does include the elements of your personal life you’d normally discuss in the office, though – the only reason this is an issue is because it’s something an employee would be likely to find out and be subject to hearing about during the course of their employment. If it truly had nothing to do with your work persona, it wouldn’t even be an issue because the employee would never know – just as much as someone’s homophobia might be part of their work persona if it’s severe enough that they wouldn’t work for someone who was gay.

            1. OP*

              I agree with you. I was trying to distinguish between what seemed appropriate/inappropriate to bring up in an interview.

              To me, there seems like a difference between mentioning in an interview or over email, “By the way, I’m a lesbian, and I wanted to let you know in case you had an issue with that” vs a casual comment about my wife and I looking forward to something that weekend.

              I think the first approach puts someone on the spot and could come off as not relevant to the job (for most non-homophobic people), and the latter expects no response other than the person filing that information away in their brain.

              I can also see F.’s original point that some people might be turned off by bringing the subject up in an interview. That’s helpful for me to hear, because I don’t want to unintentionally scare off more tolerant people or give an inaccurate impression of how I generally discuss my personal life in the office.

              1. LBK*

                That makes sense. I really don’t think anyone would assume you put too much emphasis on personal life if you make a casual comment about your wife – interviews usually do include a little small talk and it could come up pretty naturally without feeling like an unwarranted segue into personal topics. Something as simple as asking if they have any plans for the weekend and then mentioning you and your wife are going out of town (to Kinseyville, land of the secret homophobia test).

              2. jmkenrick*

                I agree; I live in San Francisco and have LGBT people in my social circle (and my work life) and unless your approach was really lighthearted and nonchalant, that first one would make me stop and wonder if I had done something to offend you already…which may not be the best paranoid state of mind with which to interview.

                The second would be a nonissue.

                (Of course, this is within the context of my environment. Maybe if I was in a more conservative area, that first approach would make more sense.)

              3. blackcat*

                This is where a wedding-y wedding photo (if you have one) could come in handy, if other people in your office also have family pictures on their walls/desks. I don’t think that would be off-putting to anyone who didn’t care, but would be off-putting to someone who wouldn’t want to work with you.

              4. Sarah*

                I wonder if you could work it in while walking them out of the interview? “Big plans this weekend?” kinds of questions tend to be reciprocated, and you could work in a “Oh, no, my wife and I are just going to clean out the garage” or something similar.

          2. Ad Astra*

            I think it just needs to be natural, and Alison’s scripts sound pretty natural. If you’re interviewing someone who doesn’t talk about their personal life at all, you may not have a good opportunity to mention your wife without sounding like a weird derail. I think this strategy works fine as long as you’re not dead set on mentioning it to every single candidate you meet.

            Or, go the complete opposite direction, and start talking about “mah wiiiife” in your best Borat voice.

    2. Helka*

      To a professional, sexual orientation is a non-issue. I have worked for and with hundreds of people in my nearly 40 years in the workforce, and I wouldn’t know the sexual orientation of the vast majority of them, nor do I care.

      Lucky you. Some of us aren’t so fortunate.

    3. LBK*

      Do you mind not referring to sexuality as just “what they do in the bedroom”? Who you love is not a secret, private act and straight people experience a lot of privilege in being open about their attractions and relationships in ways they probably don’t even realize. I’m sure you don’t tell your coworkers who mention they’re married to someone of the opposite sex that you don’t want to hear about what they do in the bedroom.

      Sorry to go on a tangent, this just really bugs me because I find 99% of the time people who say they don’t care what you do as long as they don’t have to hear about it don’t have the same standard when it comes to hearing about straight people going on dates or having significant others.

      1. Kelly L.*

        This. Everybody knows that spouses generally have sex, but the mere mention of a spouse does not reveal any private bedroom info except what the hearer is imagining in their own head.

      2. F.*

        Actually, I don’t want to hear about what ANYONE does in the bedroom,so I guess I’m not one of your “99%”. If you have read my other comments, you will understand that I find one’s sexual orientation irrelevant to whether or not they are a productive employee. Please do not assume bigotry where it does not exist.

        1. LBK*

          But again, being married is not “what you do in the bedroom”. You do that everywhere. You are married at all times. Being marred is not a sex act.

          It’s also not a question of whether it’s relevant to their productivity as an employee, but sexual orientation does inadvertently come up in normal workplace conversation all the time by nature of mentioning a wife, a boyfriend, a celebrity you think is hot, etc. Unless you ban all non-work discussion from being held within earshot, I don’t understand how you could possibly enforce this “I don’t want to know your sexuality” rule.

          I’m not saying you’re bigoted, I’m just asking you to consider how equally you apply this rule. You can have unconscious biases without being a bigot and this is an extremely common one. I find it really, really hard to believe that if a male employee were interviewing with you and while making small talk mentioned it was his wife’s birthday this weekend, you’d feel affronted that he’d offered you unnecessary information about “what he does in the bedroom”.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            Yes, or if you ask people “what did you get up to in the weekend?” or “can you believe England’s out of the rugby?” and be surprised if the answer includes “we” or refers to a partner’s view.

            (Some people seem to assume that being out, or not, is always a proactive thing, when most of the time it’s about having to make snap decisions in response to office questions to 1000 different things that can become really complicated and very stressful if you have to keep hiding that you have a partner)

        2. Marcela*

          But the bedroom phrase diminishes so much relationships! It’s a sad way to call our loves, attractions, reducing what covers and touches so many elements of our lives, to just something that happens in our beds. Hubby and I many times complain/joke about it, so when he does something for me, he would tell me it’s because he wants to sleep with me, as opposed to because he loves me, just because we hate so much that many times in the Big Bang Theory, Leonard would say he does things for Penny just for sex.

        3. M-C*

          Yeah, F, but the way you go on an on about it sounds very much like people who say they don’t care whether someone’s black, they can’t see color etc etc. If you truly think that sexual orientation doesn’t matter at work, it’s only because you’ve ignored a whole lot of info about how hard it can be, at work, for someone not of the same orientation as you.

    4. Christy*

      And as a general note, my sexual orientation is far more than what I do in the bedroom. Sure, that’s a part of it, but it’s also just a part of the fabric of my life. I live with my girlfriend–she’s the person I interact with the most, and if I’m sharing *any* of my personal life with coworkers, she will come up. I’m certainly not sharing any sexual information anymore than a man would be if he brought up his girlfriend–like fposte’s point.

    5. Anonymous Educator*

      Are they anticipating trouble from me?

      I think, since the OP is asking and generally lives in a conservative area, the answer to your question would be yes. Yes, she is anticipating trouble from candidates who may happen to also be bigots.

      1. Nashira*

        And anticipating trouble is the smart thing to do for her. A member of a minority’s safety comes before the minor discomfort of the majority.

    6. Honeybee*

      Honestly, this was my thought. I’m queer myself and would be completely comfortable working in a queer-friendly workplace, obviously, but I’d find it weird if an interviewer of any orientation dropped a reference to their spouse into the conversation. I simply don’t see a place where it would naturally come up in a way that wouldn’t feel like a test, unless the interviewer had such good rapport with the interviewee that they start talking about unrelated stuff. And even though it’s a test I would pass, it’d still make me feel weird.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I think that, like mentioned upthread, it really does depend upon the region. Where I live, that kind of chitchat would be normal for an interview. But in some places, it would be awkward. (Here, not doing the chitchat thing would be more awkward. But if you like your privacy, as long as you’re ready to talk about weather, you’re golden.)

      2. F.*

        Not only would I think it was a test, but I would wonder if my every utterance was going to be scrutinized for possible “unconscious biases” for which I would be judged.

  14. LBK*

    So here’s a thought, and it comes with the caveat that you’re absolutely not obligated to do this and that it could put a lot of pressure on you: what if you don’t say anything, end up hiring someone who normally has a problem with it and ultimately serve to turn their minds around? That they can be around a (*gasp*) lesbian all day and nothing terrible happens and actually you’re a great person? By far the most common way people’s minds are changed about homosexuality is by knowing someone personally who’s gay and realizing they’re not a terrible heathen but actually just a normal person. It could provide a teaching opportunity.

    Or it could provide a horribly awkward experience that torments you until one of you leaves, but I think it’s worth considering the risk.

    1. OP*

      Yep, this is compelling to me, too, and one of the things on my “good reasons not to bring it up” list.

    2. Three Thousand*

      I understand that argument, but I no longer find it as convincing as I used to. People are excellent at compartmentalizing, particularly the kind of people disposed to dislike or feel uncomfortable around gays in 2015, and they can just as easily think you’re “one of the good ones” or “an exception” and not change their opinion of gays or homosexuality in general based on how they feel about you. There are a *lot* of “I don’t hate gays or anything, but no kid of mine better be gay” people out there. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to deal with them.

      1. Sigrid*

        Yep, that describes the racism and homophobia of a number of people I have the misfortune to know. They know and like both black people and gay people, but that doesn’t change their opinion of black people or gay people as a whole – the people they know are just “not like the rest of them”.

        1. Three Thousand*

          The thing that stays with me is a few years ago I had a coworker who took it upon herself to tell me that she didn’t have a problem with my “preference,” but that she knew she would be “devastated” if one of her kids came out as gay. She was never anything but pleasant to me otherwise. Homophobia isn’t always about frothing hate.

          1. Jake*

            The way I see it, for some people being gay is like being shallow. In general I don’t like shallow people because I think it is s negative trait. Despite that, my best friend is shallow. His positive traits far out weigh his negative traits in my mind. So, I don’t like shallow people, but my best friend is shallow.

            I think it is less about the people they meet being, “one of the good ones” and more of an acknowledgment that “bad” traits can be trumped by good traits.

            1. Ad Astra*

              Yeah, I do think these days a lot of homophobes see gay people as flawed rather than evil. I don’t find that view acceptable, but it does at least allow homophobes and gay folks to coexist in professional and social circles.

              I’m not sure there’s much you can do to change the mind of someone who, in 2015, is openly hostile to LGBTQ people.

          2. Nashira*

            Sometimes it’s easier when it is the frothing hate, even. Clueless knives from the well-meaning always hurt me more than the straight up malice, since I don’t drop my emotional armor around the malicious.

      2. LBK*

        I don’t think it’s successful at permanently swaying opinions, but it can help move people from being against gay rights to “I don’t like it but I don’t think there should be a law against it,” which is at least a step in the right direction. I wish I could find the article I read a few months ago that basically showed how this strategy was the main component in the marriage equality movement.

      3. Mander*

        Yeah, I get a variation of this as a fat person sometimes. Someone will make a body shaming or similar comment, suddenly realise that I’m standing right there, and say “oh, but you’re different!”.

        It might be nice if getting to know the OP helped change someone’s outlook, but she shouldn’t feel obligated to try and do so.

      4. Honeybee*

        This. Besides that, you also have to deal with their ish while they’re getting from “___ people are terrible” to “____ people are cool!” Not everyone wants to be someone’s educational project. (And I say that as someone who very much likes to be an educational project for certain of my identities.)

    3. F.*

      I know we’re not supposed to do “+” comments, but I just want to say + a whole bunch! This hold true for ANY person who is perceived as being “different”. We’re all humans! (well….except for this one shape-shifting lizard of a former boss I once had, but that’s a different story… ;-) )

    4. ellie*

      This happened to me and I did change my mind. It was a good learning experience for me. However, it was never my boss’ responsibility to educate me in this non-work-related area. Had I not dealt with and resolved my cognitive dissonance, I might have been a lousy employee.

  15. Jerzy*

    I think (hope) we’re getting to the point in our culture where we realize that assuming someone is gay is as bad as assuming they are straight. That said, I think OP will avoid a lot of future drama by being upfront and avoiding hiring someone who may decide that he or she can’t possibly work for a lesbian, or who will make any issue of it with colleagues.

    1. Three Thousand*

      As a “sneaky gay,” I would love it if people could guess my sexual orientation and relieve me of the burden of either telling them and “rubbing in in their faces” or not telling them and “being ashamed of who I am.” I don’t see a problem with simply trying to guess a person’s orientation, as long as you acknowledge you could be wrong and you aren’t actually quizzing them about it.

  16. Jake*

    If a gay boss went out of their way to make sure I knew they were gay, I’d be slightly annoyed. Not because I care about sexual orientation but instead because there is a subtle statement from the interviewer that either I’d care or they do.

    It would have to be extremely seamless (which would be possible but difficult) for me to not be slightly annoyed.

    That being said that annoyance would register as a 0.001 out of ten, so it wouldn’t ever affect my decision and it would give the OP peace of mind, so I guess it would still accomplish what the OP goes for.

    1. Three Thousand*

      Yeah, I’m going to weigh the OP’s peace of mind over a straight person’s feathers being ruffled that anyone wouldn’t automatically know that they couldn’t possibly have a bigoted bone in their body. There are always going to be people who think being accused or even slightly suspected of bigotry is worse than being the target of it, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.

      1. Jake*

        Agreed, which is why my ultimate conclusion was that Mt slight annoyance is a fair price for her peace of mind.

      2. Amanda*

        The “wife-drop” is usually pretty seamless. You can very easily put in that reference, or not, as the situation requires (says the married lesbian who works for a progressive company, with some non-progressive clients, and makes that call on a regular basis). It’s non-obvious specifically because so many people bring up their spouses all the time at work, in interviews, at parties, whatever. Totally normal flow of conversation that provides context to someone’s life…in fact, it’s far MORE normal to me than obscuring it on the occasions that I need to do so.

        1. Emmy Rae*

          Off topic, but “Mount Slight Annoyance” and “The Wife Drop” are both giving me the giggles imagining what they might be. Reality show challenges?

    2. alter_ego*

      yeah, but it’s kind of like Schrodinger’s rapist. YOU know you aren’t a homophobe, but the interviewer doesn’t. It’s not an insult to you to say that there are homophobes in the world, and you can’t tell just by looking who they are. She can’t know that about anyone until, well, she knows it. And as the purpose of an interview is to gauge whether a job is a good fit by getting to know a candidate, then part of that may be trying to figure out that you’d care.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think, though, that comes from a place of privilege — as straight people, it’s easy to say “I’d be annoyed if my interviewer felt the need to make sure I knew they were gay because of course I wouldn’t care.” But we’re not the ones who have to deal with the fall-out of the potential bigotry, and I think it’s important to recognize that.

      1. Jake*

        It certainly does, and while I am still annoyed, I’m willing to accept that slight annoyance so the OP can have peace of mind exactly because dealing with bigotry (which is probably way more common than I’d guess) is way worse than my slight annoyance.

  17. Calla*

    On the note of pictures not being obvious: I got married earlier this year and was showing some picture to a coworker on my computer. They were obviously wedding pictures. One guy, seeing the pictures, made a comment about “my husband.” … now, my wife has short hair and was wearing a suit for the wedding, but her face is pretty obviously that of a woman. He was apologetic after I corrected him, but it really goes to show that people are so programmed to see everyone as straight that they miss even REALLY blatant signs!

    I think the best way to go about it is a casual mention, which is what I do in interviews (as the interviewee).

    1. Honeybee*

      There’s a psychological concept behind this – I can’t remember what it’s called, but in the face of information that’s either ambiguous or incongruous with what people expect, our brains try to fill in/replace the missing/incongruous information with things that make sense or are more expected/fit with brain heuristics. That’s why eyewitness testimony is so unreliable, because people’s brains make up things that they didn’t see – but we really do believe that we saw them, because we did indeed perceive them. Because our brains put them there.

  18. Bostonian*

    I’m coming at this from the other side right now as a lesbian job seeker, and I plan to mention my wife in interviews if there’s any opportunity to do so without being awkward. I’m lucky enough to be in a pretty good position in my job search, and I just don’t have the patience to deal with any employer who isn’t fully on board with having a gay employee.

    I’ve come out to conservative family members, I’ve been the first LGBT person that someone has met, I’ve answered the questions from drunk coworkers at happy hour about when and how I first knew I was gay and how my parents responded when I came out. I appreciate the arguments about changing people’s minds, and that sometimes a little awkwardness from coworkers is the price you pay for a job you otherwise like. But I’m at a moment in my life (married with young children) when being open about the basic facts of my family life at work is non-optional to me, and I’m willing to accept the risks that come with figuring out if a potential employer is the kind of place where it will be a non-issue.

    So OP, it’s really a personal decision. If your reaction to the thought of having a subordinate who has a problem with you is “nope! not gonna do that!”, then by all means drop your wife into conversation. I’d do the same in your position.

  19. Anonymous Educator*

    Slight tangent, but I know someone who recently got a job at a parochial school and mentioned off-hand being in the Pride parade. She saw no adverse reaction from the hiring folks, and that was very reassuring to her.

  20. Hannah*

    If candidates Google you, can they find your Facebook with your sexual orientation and/or your wife’s name if it is obviously a woman’s name? Putting personal info out there with no privacy filters is not for everyone, I know, but some are fine with it. That could be a way for candidates to find out a bit about you without you having to bring up personal info during the interview.

    1. Calla*

      I look at LinkedIn profiles, but I have never gone looking for a potential boss’ personal Facebook. Is that common??

  21. Pixel*

    I just want to comment that I love all of Alison’s advice on this. I so so wish for the OP and others facing this issue that our society was well past this kind of bigotry. But since it is what it is, I think the mentioning your wife in casual conversation is a great way to clue someone in and let people that have an issue self-select out.

  22. Employment Lawyer*

    Sure. Perhaps you shouldn’t have to. But that doesn’t make it a bad idea.

    Since you’re in the power seat, you may as well find out before you get stuck with someone who is a problem for you.

  23. granite*

    Every boss I’ve had since college has mentioned their spouse during the interview process. Most commonly in relation to how their work schedule was impacted by their kid’s schedule, but also sometimes when discussing benefits they’ve taken advantage of. It is totally normal to mention your spouse as the interviewer.

    Do practice how you’ll work it into the conversation, so you don’t have “the pause.” (For the straight people, the pause is the split second when you’re about to say something that will out yourself, but instinctively pause to consider whether it’s safe to do so.) In an interview when the interviewee is hanging on every word, you need to not show even the slightest discomfort at the disclosure.

    Beyond that, try not to make assumptions. When I started my current job, I was quite wary of one guy, because he graduated from Bob Jones University. Turns out he’s just the sweetest guy and ended up one of my best work friends.

  24. VX34*

    If your colleagues, and more importantly, your superiors, are already aware of your sexuality and marriage and don’t have an issue with it, then I say it doesn’t matter what your subordinate thinks.

    They going to go to HR or someone above you and go “MY BOSS IS GAY!!!!!!!”? If the only response they would get back is “…And?” then, I would like to think you have nothing to worry about. Note, this isn’t me saying you shouldn’t ever worry about discrimination, because that’s still a sad reality these days. But the way I see it, if there’s no legal recourse, or company-specific retaliation that might occur, the worst it seems like could happen is they quit because you’re gay.

    I definitely understand the concern, but I also think that people applying to jobs need to worry only about professional behavior and nothing else. Anything else is should quite literally be their problem, and nobody else’s.

    Best of luck either way though.

    1. Florida*

      I think it’s nice to say that it doesn’t matter what your subordinates think, but really it does matter. A bigot subordinate would probably not go to HR and say, “My boss is gay!” Instead, they would do more subtle things. Instead, they might take the arrogant attitude that “I’m loving the sinner, but not the sin.” Who wants to work with that haughtiness in a subordinate? Especially when this is one of the people you will be spending most of your time with.

      Many commenters have made some idealistic comments that basically say this shouldn’t be an issue. I understand that this is mostly out of frustration, which I share. It is frustrating and it shouldn’t be like that, but at the same time, we have to deal with what’s real.

  25. Lily Rowan*

    Everyone has already said all the good stuff, but I’ll add one note from a recent personal experience, because I had the initial reaction of “why is anyone talking about their personal life during an interview?”

    I’m hiring right now, and just did a second interview. The first interview was very straightforward, all about work stuff, but by the second interview, we both (interviewer and interviewee) relaxed some, and some personal stuff did come out. In this case, it was an off-hand mention of kids, but it totally could have been an equally off-hand mention of a spouse.

    So maybe you don’t work it in to the first interview, but definitely before you hire someone.

  26. Dovahkiin*

    Oh OP, I’m sorry.

    I’ve been in a parallel boat – lucky to live in a liberal-ish city (Denver) and in a field (Tech) that’s not conservative, but is certainly homogenous.

    I out myself all the time to avoid painful situations. I wish the presumption of automatic heterosexuality wasn’t so prevalent that this was an issue…but it is, and even as I hire younger and younger workers (just out of school), bias still pops out of their mouths.

    I started bringing it up during hiring after a really bad hire (for lots of reasons – integrity issues/couldn’t pick up skills fast enough). Me and HR presented him with a PIP after 9 months of him dropping the ball on tasks and lying about it. During the meeting, he seemed receptive, and understood the stakes. He even apologized for letting us down. But after the meeting, he asked to speak with HR separately and asked them if I was “always such a dyke bitch.” He said he wanted to work for someone who “wasn’t trying to be a man.”

    My company handled it well. He was terminated. My boss was compassionate to me and so was HR. I wish that had been the last incident like that in my career. But it wasn’t.

    Alison’s advice is spot-on. I bring it up very casually – “We have flexible scheduling and WFH is an option. When my wife and I adopted a dog, I worked from home for a couple weeks to train the little guy.” Or I mention a company retreat that’s a reward for high-performers. “You can bring your spouse or partner. My wife and I had a great time last year.”

    One thing about being a member of a minority is that you get a lifetime of practice in reading people’s subtle cues about how they feel about you, and how likely they are to harm you. So I mention it casually, then gauge. If possible, I strongly recommend a lunch or coffee interview round, where you and your team can meet the candidate and have a more friendly conversation than a formal interview. Interviewing is a time suck, but it’s been so worth it to me. Tech people can be socially awkward and shy by nature, but by sharing a friendly lunch, I can usually get a better grasp of a candidate’s personality and sense of self. You don’t need to talk politics, just workplace culture and touch lightly on your life. Not only has this helped filter out bigotry – both unconscious and conscious (I personally take it as a huge warning sign when a candidate tells me “I’ve never met a gay person before!” but your filter might be different), but it just generally makes for better hires overall.

    If you ever travel to Denver, look me up. We can have a drink at my wife’s bar and trade war stories.

    1. Pineapple Incident*

      Thank you for sharing this. I’m sorry for the junk you’ve had to go through regarding the intersection of this part of you with your career, but it sounds as if you’ve developed some good ways to handle it/ward off the possibility of working with weirdos who have some stupid problem with you.

  27. FiveByFive*

    Intriguing topic. It’s not often the idea of a hiring manager dropping hints about office culture in the hopes of candidates self-selecting out of the process is viewed in a positive manner.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I actually think it’s something good interviewers do intentionally all the time — you want people to self-select out if they’re not going to be happy with the culture, whether it’s about your hours, ways of communicating, values, work ethic, or whatever it might be.

  28. Sunshine Brite*

    Late to the party, but couldn’t it signal a more tolerant workplace as part of an interview to ask what the interviewee’s preferred pronouns are at the same time of preferred name?

    1. asteramella*

      This is absolutely not the norm outside of LGBT-specific industries (working in LGBT advocacy, etc.) and would be viewed as really strange, confusing, and potentially offensive by most heterosexual cisgender people.

  29. Narise*

    What reaction would signal that someone is not OK with your personal life? Is someone listens to what you have to say and doesn’t respond or changes the topic back to the interview, do you automatically assume they don’t approve? I’ve always been told not to share personal information in an interview. If others believe the same thing when you start talking about your family they may feel its intended goal is for them to divulge information about their family or situation. Also I would ask if your company knows that you’re using this as a litmus test to not hire people. We all have something in our lives that someone doesn’t approve of I’m just not sure most companies would let use use that as a basis to disqualify someone for a job.

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