Rumours I Am Gay or Bisexual

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about sexuality: Someone has spread a rumor I’m gay or bisexual. It is widespread. This is something I have ignored for nearly two years hoping it will go away. But not so. This is not in any way true, but I’m stuck with it.

I work in an office in a company of over eight hundred employees. Someone has spread a rumor I’m gay or bisexual. It is widespread. This is something I have ignored for nearly two years hoping it will go away. But not so. This is not in any way true, but I’m stuck with it. I hope to have my new wife work here in the future; however, I’m worried about the way she will be treated. I fear everyone will assume the rumor is true and that she just doesn’t know what they consider to be the truth. It’s driving me round the bend. I have been thinking of hiring a private detective to get the truth out so I can address this horrible situation. What can I do?

Signed, Stuck With It

Dear Stuck With It:

To be misnamed especially sexually is more than annoying. You report that a rumor has been widely spread you are gay and/or bisexual and you declare that is false. You think this rumor has persisted for two years in spite of you ignoring it. Now you are close to becoming obsessed with it–so much so that you feel it as extremely painful. You have considered hiring a detective to resolve this for you.

Our site addresses communication-related matters, not legal. I don’t know what is the law in your country would say being designated with a false sexual term is sexual harassment and/or slander. Consultation with an attorney could help you know if you have a case against those who have or are spreading such a rumor. A brief consultation with many attorneys in the US can be without charge. Also you might check with your country’s appropriate agency to learn if there are specific government offices that address such matters.

In the US, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handles complaints of being discriminated against at work because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. I understand that in your case your complaint is of being branded as of a sexual orientation that is not true. If you bring a complaint, you would need to request an investigation and provide evidence of how being labeled gay and/or bisexual has interfered with your work by making interaction difficult with coworkers and management. To quote from the EEOC site: Sex discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of that person’s sex.

Sex discrimination also can involve treating someone less favorably because of his or her connection with an organization or group that is generally associated with people of a certain sex. . . The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. Usually pursuing a legal remedy is lengthy, stressful and not always successful.

The description you provide doesn’t indicate how you have learned of this rumor, how it was spread, how you have responded to it, nor its consequences. It seems reasonable that if you brought this complaint to your boss that he would check to stop such a rumor because management, at least in the US, is responsible for making a reasonable effort to prevent and stop discrimination and those actions that create a hostile work environment. I gather that you haven’t approached your boss in a serious or persistent way about this.

Since your workplace employees 800+, it likely has a department of Human Resources that will aid in clearing the air of rumor-mongering. Surely, since you’ve worked at the establishment for at least two years, you have found some individuals with whom you are friendly and can confide. What do they advise? Might they be candid to inform you where the rumor first can to their notice and what they would do if they were so labeled? Also I assume you have a work group that meets at least occasionally for its business. Could this group help squelch this rumor if you fervently asked their help?

Short of biting your tongue and steeling yourself with a grin and bear it demeanor, you can fight it solo with humor and telling yourself that those who intentionally or naively spread this rumor are misinformed and you can set them straight. You have a voice and you have the right to be called by your correct name. You can say, “I was told (or overheard) that someone said I am gay or bisexual. I hope you will not pass that on. Whoever told you that is wrong and even if it were true, we are hired to do a job, not to spread personal rumors. Can you understand how hurtful such a rumor can be when it is false? Will you help stop such talk?”

I trust that you have discussed this matter thoroughly with your new wife. You are wise to be cautious and hesitant about being her in to this situation . Doing so probably wouldn’t stop the rumor mill if it has become an established habit. Might it not be safer for her to seek work elsewhere? Your own last resort might be to seek work elsewhere. I say last resort, because I believe wrongs can be righted and that we can work past them even when they persist. Dealing with rumors is an opportunity to talk about how to stop those that hurt and to get on with what matters. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. That is to suggest squelching rumors sometimes is not as effective as energetically focusing on the big picture; of making your workplace successful. Attention to rumors can’t do that. Attention to blaming won’t do that. But commitment to cutting wasted supplies, wasted energy, wasted time and wasted money might. Getting a job done well and making a workplace successful requires energy and commitment.

William Gorden