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5 Questions Every LGBT Graduate Needs to Ask

LGBT Graduates
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You just finished the biggest four years of your life. What now?

LGBT college students graduating this May had one of the most significant senior years in history. When the Supreme Court ruled marriage equality the law of the land last June, it's easy to believe that the right to marry suddenly fixed all the issues facing our community. It didn't.

Maybe you've been out since third grade. Maybe you're still in the closet. Either way, you need to start asking important questions about your life after college.

Whether going to grad school or getting a job, these five questions will get you started.

Can schools or companies discriminate against me if they know I'm LGBT?

That depends. The short answer--yes, but it will cost them.

Let's start with schools. Public schools receiving federal funding must adhere to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That means they can't discriminate against a prospective or current student based on race, religion, sex, or national origin.

The Obama Administration in recent years has decided that "sex" in this 50-year-old law includes both sexual orientation and gender identity. So you're in luck. If you feel like a school has rejected your application because you identify as LGBT, you can take them to court--where the school risks losing federal funding.

If you're applying for a job, it gets more difficult. Again, Title VII in the Civil Rights Act has been interpreted to include sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment. In addition, 20 states have laws that prevent job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, several states have no protections, and federal relief is less accessible than with schools.

What laws specifically protect LGBT students or employees?

Again, the short answer--none at the federal level, some in certain states.

LGBT students and employees have no explicit protections except in those 20 states mentioned above. At the other end, 16 states have no protections whatsoever. The remaining states have a mixed bag.

The Equality Act was introduced in Congress last fall to update the Civil Rights Act with explicit references to sexual orientation and gender identity protections, but the bill will likely never come to a vote. Similarly, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act has been introduced in multiple congresses over several decades. It has never passed.

Simply put, current federal education and employment protections depend on whoever is in the White House.

How do I know if my company or school is accepting of LGBTs?

Large corporation are always becoming more progressive. The Human Rights Campaign recently gave 407 businesses a 100 percent ranking on the annual Corporate Equality Index. But not all of us can work for Apple or GE.

Job postings often include the company's nondiscrimination policy. If the post simply says EEOC, that means the company is adhering to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission--which enforces sexual orientation and gender identity protections on the federal level.

Companies also have to follow each state's nondiscrimination laws. In some cases, a company can be incorporated in one state--Delaware, for example--and have an office in Alabama. The protections in Delaware can carry over to the company's employees no matter where they work.

Public schools are often clearer. The admissions office or website can answer most questions. If the school has LGBT graduate organizations or out faculty, that is a big indication.

If I decide to come out in my degree program or my job, how should I do it?

If you're a graduate student, check the same programs you used or just heard about in undergrad. That includes gay-straight alliances and university-sponsored programs in student life, counseling, and health departments. The Safe Zone Project provides excellent guidance, as do other out students and professors. The latter are really important for mentorship on your research and applying for grants.

At work, starting dialogue with the HR department or supervisor can be the first step. Talking with coworkers about partners or weekend plans over the water cooler can also do the trick. Let the office grapevine take care of the rest.

So what's ultimately the safest bet for LGBT graduates? Job or grad school?

Sadly, LGBTs don't have the full rights they deserve. But they do have some protections. You have to do your homework. The biggest question you need to answer is whether a job or more school will help you reach your career or life goals. Once you figure that out, you can find the right place that fits you.

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