There is a reason for the stereotype of the gay hairdresser. Not only is it a profession some men gravitate towards, but it is also practical for survival. Homosexuals that are discovered risk losing their employment or being blackballed from their professions. This is still true today in parts of the USA.
Today there are federal laws that protect against workplace discrimination based on sex, race, national origin, religion, age, and disability. There is no federal law based on sexual orientation. This summer the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on two cases that had opposing views on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bostock v. Clayton County claimed Title VII on sex discrimination does not cover sexual orientation, while Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda took the opposite view. [i] We will watch to see if sexual orientation becomes a protected class at a federal level later this year.
President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13672 on 21 July 2014 adding gender identity and sexual orientation to the categories protected against discrimination in hiring and employment in federal contracts. Trump revoked this executive order on 27 Mar 2017, just two months after taking office. [ii]
State laws on sexual orientation discrimination vary by each state, based on public vs. private sectors. Only 23 states currently have some protections for LGBTQ people. Lambda Legal has a detailed state-by-state map with detailed information. Protections can also be found at the county and municipal levels. “Currently, twenty-three states, the District of Columbia, and at least 400 cities and counties have enacted bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” [iii]
In this environment, where an LGBTQ person can lose their livelihood based on hate it is safer to be an entrepreneur, an independent contractor or have skills that are easily transferable to another city or state.
The stereotypical hairstylist can own a salon and not be subjected to a boss’s prejudices. Independence can also be found as a florist, interior decorator, and several other professions. A registered nurse can travel to different job sites with skills that are valued almost anywhere. Queer folk tend to gravitate toward the arts – dancers, artists, authors, actors, sculptors may still be blackballed from their professions, but may also find independence and mobility if necessary. Professions that are mobile allow for a restart in a new city.
In your family history look at the profession of your ancestors. This information can be found in the census, phone books or other records. What professions did your LGBTQ ancestors have? If their profession was not independent or mobile, they may have been living in greater fear, hiding more carefully, not wanting to risk their livelihood.
[i] Barreiro, Sarah. “Sexual Orientation Discrimination: Your Rights” Nolo.com. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/sexual-orientation-discrimination-rights-29541.html (accessed 4 Feb 2020).
[ii] “LGBT employment discrimination in the United States” Wikipedia.com. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_employment_discrimination_in_the_United_States (accessed 4 Feb 2020).
Update on 16 June 2020.
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled, in a 6 to 3 vote, that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also extends to LGBTQ people. It is now illegal to terminate someone’s employment just for being queer.