THE BLOG
08/30/2013 03:57 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Notes From a Queer, Working-Class, Italian-American Man in the Workplace

If you think workplace bullying, harassment, and discrimination have ended, you are mistaken. For decades workers have been complaining that their respective employers demoralize, deprofessionalize, bully, and harass them. As of recently, an abundance of articles are circulating in the media about workers who are mobilizing and refusing to endure these circumstances, especially due to a lack of fringe benefits and pathetic salaries/hourly wages. Rhetorically speaking, can you blame them when they cannot pay their inflated rents, feed their families, and suffer from the emotional and psychological abuse of their bosses. Having tolerated a work environment of a city agency where I experienced sexual harassment, homophobia, and bullying, I can relate to these workers' experiences. The thought of awakening to another day of being enslaved to my city employer was dreadful, causing me all sorts of somatizations. The doors to these city offices need to be ripped off the hinges because the tax payers deserve answers to why management conducts itself unethically and why they are overpaid, unprofessional, dishonest, and incompetent. Here I will narrate my work experience where homophobia, bullying, and harassment were common phenomena and typical workplace behavior.

From the very first day of my employment with a city agency, I was objectified by my supervisors who were gay men. They were senior management who had distorted views of their power, and they lacked respect for boundaries, EEO policies, and compliance with federal, state, and local laws. They made it obvious through their remarks that they thought I was a sexy, youthful, and intelligent man, who was worthy for their eyes and sexual fantasies. I was willing to ignore their comments about my choice of clothing and appearance since it was flattering to be perceived as a sexy Italian-American man. However, when messages were conveyed me from my direct supervisor that my European style clothing was too form fitting and my big butt was noticeable, that is when I decided to pursue a sexual harassment case with the agency's EEO office. The criticisms were followed by directives to dress in baggy clothing, shave my facial hair, and to wear suits, in order to stop my virile gay supervisors from focusing their attention on my butt. The real issue: they were unable to control their small heads.

Without reservation, I filed a sexual harassment case with EEO, hoping this office would be willing to listen, investigate, and transfer me to another office. When I interviewed with the EEO investigator, I did not have to finish my sentences because the investigator realized the implications of the comments: the managers were prying on me and taking advantage of their power. With cases of this nature, I was told that a transfer occurred automatically, in order to protect the employee from continued harassment and retaliation. But this was no ordinary case because those who were implicated were top management, making nearly $600,000 among 4 of them, and bon fide city workers with decades of "experience." They were all politically connected within the agency. Subsequently, the investigator avoided contact with me regarding my case and transfer, and the so-called "investigation" dragged on for 4 months. Of course, it was my doing that led to an expedited process because I contacted the head of the agency to demand this case be investigated promptly and thoroughly.

EEO determined that their review of the case indicated no probable cause. They did not mention their internal, unspoken policy of protecting management who is above the law and deemed immortal and invincible. Foolish me, who is always idealistic, optimistic, and naïve, for believing in the system. When I consulted with a private attorney who specialized in sexual harassment cases, I was informed that pursuing legal action was a waste of my time. Only women (i.e., young, white women) receive attention in a court of law, but those cases require a woman to be groped, fondled, and demoted. And here we have a case with gay men who were making sexually inappropriate comments. EEO attorneys were aware that my case did not require legal action, so they decided to sweep it under the rug and lie about what my witnesses reported to them. This is a form of implicit homophobia within municipal offices and the judicial system. Gay men who abuse, bully, harass, sexualize, and objectify other gay men in the workplace are not perceived as perpetrators because they are middle-class, white, privileged, and well-educated.

Taxpayers should be concerned about the treatment of city workers because it results in a loss of thousands of tax dollars (and I am being generous with that estimate). Due to abuse, bullying, and harassment, workers are leaving their jobs. They know their self-worth, and they will seek employment in environments where they are valued, compensated properly, and respected. Tax dollars are being flushed down the drain on the hiring process, training, administration, and let's not forget the endless hours of time spent on processing papers. The irony is the workers are better equipped at performing the essential job duties for an office. Thus, when they leave, the managers don't have a clue on how to maintain operations. Once again, more tax dollars are lost with the occurrence of disarray.

Instead of worrying about whether I would resign, the managers would plot against me behind closed doors. They would send an email each day to me, thinking their logical skills were more developed than mine, demanding reports and evaluations be complete by COB, or by AM, or PM. (For those of you not familiar with this stupid office culture language, it means close of business, or morning, or afternoon). The instructions were always confusing, ambiguous, and grammatical and syntactically bizarre. I would highlight their lack of understanding of basic words, such as the similarities between detail and describe, and the differences between technical and clerical duties. When I stopped obeying their commands, they wrote me all sorts of nonsense about being insubordinate and disrespectful. What they conveniently overlooked is my ability to communicate effectively. In email responses, I carefully crafted letters that invoked the social work code of ethics, laws against discrimination, and basic codes of conduct for a supervisor and subordinate. To their chagrin, this outsider, who they took a chance on hiring, was willing to challenge their authority from a resourceful place and demand to be treated like a professional--and not a slave laborer.

The managers insisted that any rule, law, and policy be subjugated to their needs, even if the consequences were fatal to others. When I sat in my cubicle and listened to them, using an authoritarian tone, they did not care to hear a response from other employees. There were attempts by non-management to provide important, logical details, but power clouded the managers' basic human capacities. Based on a book that was published six decades ago, Are Workers Human? Taylor writes that leadership is about achieving the purposes of a group for whom the manager represents. When leaders use force and fear to compel workers to follow his/her directives, this tactic is called domination--not leadership. Clearly, what I experienced is not leadership.

People, who do not possess privilege due to their race, gender, disability, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, are subject to these social structures that are dictated by tyrants who impose their values and judgments. I hypothesize that policy and law neither prevent nor protect the occurrence of ongoing exploitation, prejudice, discrimination, oppression, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, queerophobia, and cripophobia. In actuality, there exists lip service, a lack of enforcement, and politics and power all of which overshadow the laws

I rendered a resignation letter because of the constant exhaustion from fighting the oppressors. I decided that it was in my best interest to depart and use my skills and motivation and passion to pursue a doctorate in social welfare. My discipline has been writing about an emerging countermovement to oppose the powers that be which have bureaucratized, corporatized, red-tapped, deprofessionalized, and reduced us to assembly line workers. This also adversely impacts those individuals who are served by these workplaces because they, too, are marginalized by these oppressive forces. I implore the public, taxpayers, governmental officials, and managers, to understand that the workplace is not intended to enslave, exploit, discriminate, and oppress workers. In the words of FDR, "No country, however, rich, can afford the waste of its human resources." Every person counts and their dignity should always be a priority.