Tips for Coping After Experiencing Discrimination at Work

Discrimination in the workplace is defined as the unfair treatment of someone based on things like race, age, gender, class, and sexual orientation. Treatment based on prejudice is illegal.

As of 2020, Title VII protects employees from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression. This is a federal law in place even when state or local laws don’t explicitly provide this.

How are LGBTQ+ people uniquely affected?

Unfortunately, discrimination still occurs between people on smaller scales with behavior such as microaggressions. These are more subtle day-to-day uncomfortable interactions where one person makes derogatory, passive-aggressive, or minimizing comments based on their marginalized position.

For example, a coworker may say something snide about a gay couple’s recent adoption of a child, or people may gossip around the water cooler about someone’s gender expression through the clothes they choose to wear. I can even be what the someone considers as “harmless question or comment” that is actually rude, makes assumptions, or is insensitive.

These interactions may make you feel uncomfortable simply being a member of the LGBTQ community at work.

Being the victim of this kind of prejudice, big and small, can affect your mental health. Discrimination at work may make you feel chronically:

  • Isolated from your peers and unable to connect
  • Depressed, anxious, or angry
  • Unhappy with your job, which can make you dread going to work
  • Frustrated by the expectation that you represent your entire marginalized group
  • Exhausted from constantly trying to defy other people’s stereotyping

3 Tips for Coping with Discrimination in the Workplace

Immediately de-stress

It’s important to immediately attend to your own emotional and physical state. Practice deep breathing, focus on your five senses, and remove yourself from the triggering situation.

It’s okay to self-isolate until you feel more calm. At home, engage in self care. Do things that bring you joy, such as finding a new craft project to do, taking a spa day, or cooking fancy meals.

Write down your feelings in a journal. This can also help document each interaction, which can be useful when confiding in someone else.

Trust your instincts

It might feel simpler to brush off your feelings and tell yourself nothing happened. While you should decide which response feels right to you, know that your feelings are valid.

It’s okay to question what happened. Remember that your sexual orientation and/or gender expression are protected by federal law. Familiarize yourself with exactly which laws apply to your situation and how your workplace has said it will defend diversity. If you feel safe doing so, confide in someone you trust. You may find it helpful to seek legal advice from a local legal organization who provides services to the LGBTQ population such as The Transgender Law Center.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If necessary, and if your workplace has an HR department, report discriminatory behavior when you feel ready to do so.

Empower others

By creating a safe space with others who feel similar to you or understand your situation, you can each validate your experiences. Standing together is better than feeling alone and isolated.

Embrace your identity and encourage others to do the same. Join organizations that help the queer community. Start and affinity group at your place of work or in your field such as a group for LGBTQ Software Developers or a Gender Queer Teacher Group. Your place of work may have resources that will support these efforts or you may wish to do this independently or though a local LGBTQ community organization. Ultimately the goal is to find support for yourself and you can help others who are in similar situations.

What Should You Do Next?

It’s normal to feel helpless and mistrustful of your workplace. Do your best to advocate for yourself, process those feelings in a healthy way, and feel empowered. It may be time to find new employment, or it may be time for some extra support.

Make a plan of action for dealing with discrimination, including speaking with your manager or connecting with HR. By doing this, you can take steps to ensure that the discrimination that happened to you into won’t happen to you or anyone else again.

If you’re looking for a therapist to help you cope with discrimination as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, reach out.

Hello, I’m Miriam. I’m a psychotherapist with an online practice in California and Illinois.

Learn more about me and how I can help you here.