Banning Heterosexuality in the Workplace



All current and future employees


Human Resources


June 25, 2013


Displays of Sexual Orientation in the Workplace

To Whom it May Concern,

It has recently come to our attention that some of our employees are offended or distracted by our LGBT employees who flagrantly display their sexual orientation in the workplace. Management has expressed concern that worker productivity is at risk if we fail to take action on this matter. This feeling of unease, we would like to assure you, is not isolated to our own company. Recent news reports make it abundantly clear that “overt displays of sexual orientation” (ODSO) are on the rise across the United States and that various government officials are beginning the arduous task of addressing ODSO in the workplace.

Because our ultimate goal is to provide a comfortable, safe, and productive work environment, we will be implementing a new policy that will address the problem of ODSO head on. Effective immediately: displays of sexual orientation, whether homosexual or heterosexual, shall not be permitted on company premises or during company events. We understand that this new policy may be difficult, especially for our heterosexual employees, who may not be used to hiding their sexual orientation from the public. In order to smooth the transition, we have commissioned a task force made up of several LGBT employees, all of whom have years of experience concealing large portions of their personal lives from the rest of the world. The “ODSO Task Force” has created an easy-to-follow FAQ for all employees who may have questions about how to effectively hide their sexuality in the workplace:

1. Can I display photos of my wife in my cubicle?

No! Photos of husbands, wives, boyfriends, or girlfriends indicate sexual preference and are therefore prohibited. Furthermore, photos of children are not permitted because of the association with heterosexual procreation. If you would like to personalize your work space with photographs, however, we recommend kittens.


2. Can my husband visit me in the office?

Absolutely not! In order to maintain an ODSO-free workplace, visits from significant others are strictly prohibited. Exemptions may be granted, however, if an employee’s sexual partner agrees to wear a company-approved suit designed to neutralize all signs of sex/gender.

Office-approved ODSP suit
I brought you your lunch, dear!

3. What about office chatter? Can I talk about what I did over the weekend?

We understand that water-cooler talk is a normal part of the workplace environemnt and we definitely encourage it. However, in order to avoid ODSO behavior, all employees must refrain from mentioning their boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, husbands, or even hook-ups when describing their off-duty activities. If someone asks you about your weekend, we recommend substituting “I had a romantic dinner with my wife” with something more non-threatening, like “I took my grandma out to lunch.”


4. Well, what about the telephone? Can my wife call me at work?

If your significant other needs to contact you at work via telephone, we recommend creating a code name like “the plumber” or “my accountant.” — “Mr. Smith, your plumber is on line 2!”


5. Wait, does this mean no more office dating?

Yes it does. We understand that office flirting is a normal and fun part of the workday for our single employees; however, maintaining an ODSO-free workplace requires the utmost discretion. Luckily, we have over a hundred years of LGBT history that can help us out. For years, closeted LGTB folks have found subtle ways to express their sexual preferences in the face of legal and social prosecution. For example, prior to the 1950s, many urban gay men wore red neck ties to signify their sexual orientation.**

A portion of Paul Cadmus' The Fleet's In!
A portion of Paul Cadmus’ 1934 painting,  “The Fleet’s In!”

Developing your own coded signifiers,  like wearing certain types of clothing, makeup, or using specific mannerisms, may help you secretly land that date with your dreamy co-worker (off company grounds, of course). Perhaps subtly displaying a chartreuse coffee mug on your desk or using brightly colored paperclips on your monthly reports could do the trick? Proceed with this advice with the utmost of caution, however. If management discovers your ODSO behavior, you can and will be terminated.

By following these simple guidelines, you too can easily avoid the pitfalls of overt displays of sexual orientation. And remember, you have very few federal protections against discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of your sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian or nonreligious employers!

Best Wishes,

Your Employer


As silly as this attempt at sarcasm may be, I hope it drives home the larger point of LGBT discrimination in the workplace. Despite the fact that a new study has found that LGBT supportive policies have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line, the latest statistics show that nearly 40 percent of openly gay employees and 90 percent of transgender workers report discrimination in the hiring process and in their employment. Furthermore, consider the following statistics compiled by The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, which aggregated a number of surveys to determine the extent to which gay and transgender workers experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace:

  • 8 –17 percent of gay and transgender workers report being passed over for a job or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity
  • 10-28 percent received a negative performance evaluation or were passed over for a promotion because they were gay or transgender.
  • 7–41 percent of gay and transgender workers were verbally or physically abused or had their workplace vandalized.

These startling statistics are actually not so startling when you consider that in the past week, two government officials spoke on record about their desire for LGBT employees to hide their sexual orientation in the workplace. Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert was asked to weigh in on the pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which, if passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, would protect LGBT individuals from being fired, denied employment, or harassed at the workplace because of their sexual orientation. Gohmert’s response was, “Who wants to go talking about sexual orientation when they’re working? Good grief.”

That very same week, chairman of the Idaho GOP resolutions committee, Cornel Rasor explained why he and his Republican colleagues  were trying to overturn some of the state’s non-discrimination laws thusly:

“I’d hire a gay guy if I thought he was a good worker. But if he comes into work in a tutu . . . he’s not producing what I want in my office. If a guy has a particular predilection and keeps it to himself, that’s fine. But if he wants to use my business as a platform for his lifestyle, why should I have to subsidize that? And that’s what these anti-discrimination laws do.”

Using examples like wearing a tutu in the workplace are extreme, publicity-grabbing soundbites of what an LGBT-inclusive workplace might look like (although, I would be delighted if all of my colleagues wore tutus to work!). In reality, what most LGBT employees want is what every employee wants: To be able to proudly display photos of loved ones on their desk; to receive visits from their partners without fear of persecution or termination; to not hide behind coded language on the office telephone; to freely chat with their co-workers about their time away from work. To be human without fear of economic repercussion.  

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has been introduced and defeated in Congress in some form or another since 1994, would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian, nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees. It has been re-introduced this year and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that he plans to take up ENDA “soon.”


Though LGBT advocates have made important advancements as of late (notably the EEOC ruling that transgender discrimination is sex discrimination, and President Obama protecting transgender federal employees), transgender and LGB people still need ENDA because it would explicitly make discrimination illegal in the workplace and protect more workers from harassment and termination. Although we are all sort of distracted (rightly so) by the impending DOMA and Prop. 8 decisions, I would urge you to not forget about ENDA. If you have some free time, contact your Representative and tell them also not to forget about ENDA. Marriage equality is great, but so is economic security.

** For more on the history of gay men during this period, see George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books, 1994. For more on the history of sexuality in the United States, see John D’Emilio and Estelle Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America. University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Jacqueline Antonovich is the creator and co-founder of Nursing Clio and served as executive editor from 2012 to 2021. She is an Assistant Professor of History at Muhlenberg College. Her current research focuses on women physicians, race, gender, and medical imperialism in the American West. Jacqueline received her PhD from the University of Michigan in 2018.