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You bring yourself of work: An exploration of LGB/TQ experiences of (in)dignity and identity

Sara J Baker, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The workplace can be a hostile space for people who perform their gender, sex, and sexuality in ways that differ from heteronormative expectations. These employees are often met with messages that are particularly undignifying, thereby denying desires for respectful communication with others and damaging an individual's sense of self-worth and value. Therefore, the goal of my project was to learn about the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer individuals in the workplace and what kinds of interactions either affirm or threaten workplace dignity, their strategies for resistance, and how the communication of (in)dignity influences processes of LGB/TQ identity work. Guided by a workplace dignity approach, I interviewed 36 LGB/TQ working adults for the purposes of gaining a deeper understanding of the communication of (in)dignity and identity in the workplace. Through in-depth, structured interviews, I examined their experiences of dignity and performances of identity in the workplace. These individuals discussed their experiences of (in)dignity; its relevance to gender, sex, and sexuality; responses to dignity threats; and the performance of their sexual identities in the workplace. Analysis revealed several important insights regarding the communication of (in)dignity and identity in the workplace. First, dignity can be affirmed through communicative practices that recognize personal LGB/TQ identities and through organizational acts of solidarity. Second, dignity can be threatened through denials of solidarity and (ambiguously-attributed) threats to security. Third, when dignity is threatened, LGB/TQ employees deploy sensemaking strategies in the forms of responses and political acts of resistance. Finally, the communication of (in)dignity in the workplace prompts processes of LGB/TQ identity work. Specifically, four identity work strategies emerged in conversation with (in)dignity: the Passer, the Professional, the Compartmentalizer, and the Valued Token. These findings contribute to the literature on workplace dignity, resistance, and identity work. These findings also point to several suggestions for human resource management practices. I propose a series of interventions designed to foster respect and inclusivity during anticipatory socialization and through the inclusion of LGB/TQ advocacy groups within the organization.

Subject Area

Communication|GLBT Studies|Occupational psychology

Recommended Citation

Baker, Sara J, "You bring yourself of work: An exploration of LGB/TQ experiences of (in)dignity and identity" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3618584.