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Laura Alie noticed a welcoming atmosphere at an internship site she worked at while earning her master's degree, the Pacific Center for Human Growth in Berkeley, Calif.

Compared with other sites she visited, the LGBT counseling center "was more than affirming," says Alie, a first-year PsyD student at John F. Kennedy University in San Francisco. "I felt like everything they were looking for, everything the center was about lined up with who I am and where I want to go."

Faculty gave comprehensive training on gender identity and sexual orientation and nurtured each trainee's and client's identity no matter how they identified themselves, she says.

Of course, not all LGBT grad students have this kind of welcoming experience. Internship, postdoc and job sites still vary widely in terms of leadership, institutional protection and climate, and it can require sleuthing to find affirming environments, LGBT students and faculty say.

That said, a number of tools can help you find sites that fit at least some of these bills—or work productively in sites that don't. Experts suggest that you:

  • Do a background check. Network and seek reliable information about the climate and policies of a potential site, LGBT experts advise. One great source is the APAGS Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender listserv, where you can get information on training sites, fellowships and jobs from LGBT grad students all over the country. Enroll here.

Meanwhile, an APAGS mentoring program links LGBT students with professionals who can provide vital background on sites' climates. Contact APAGS to sign up. Through such networking, Frank Golom, a fourth-year student in social-organizational psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, discovered that IBM and Microsoft both have active LGBT employee groups, for example.

In addition, several organizations offer resources to help potential employees find LGBT-affirming employment, says Golom. The Human Rights Campaign publishes an annual "Best Places to Work" list; Campus Pride has developed an assessment tool for evaluating LGBT climates in higher education; and the nonprofit organization Out and Equal is devoted exclusively to LGBT workplace issues, for example.

To gather information on internships and postdocs, chat with former interns or fellows, advises Michelle Vaughan, PhD, former chair of the APAGS Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns (APAGS-CLGBTC). Ask how they define and represent diversity and what it means to them to be inclusive about LGBT issues. "It's a great opportunity to hear not only what they say, but how they say it," she says.

Another way to assess a site's LBGT friendliness is to visit the directory of the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers and home in on programs that offer training opportunities with LGBT populations. Such options signal that trainers at these sites are either LGBT or are sensitive to and trained in LGBT issues, says Maryka Biaggio, PhD, a higher education consultant in Portland, Ore., and co-chair of the APA Div. 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues) Education and Training Committee.

Likewise, check the backgrounds of clinical and training directors by scanning their Web sites and research output, says Lore M. Dickey, chair of APAGS-CLGBTC and a fourth-year student at the University of North Dakota. If faculty vitae include a lot of research citations on LGBT or diversity issues, for instance, it's a good indication the site is LGBT-affirming, he says.

The more feedback you can get on a site you're seriously interested in, the better, Golom adds: "Go for multiple data points," he advises.

  • Check out official policies. If you're applying for a position at a university, get a copy of its nondiscrimination employment policy to see if it specifically protects employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Also check policies related to lifestyle factors, such as whether same-sex partners can live in married-student dorms.

Similarly, obtain a copy of a company's policy when applying for a job in industry. It should include information on LGBT-relevant issues, including employment nondiscrimination and domestic partnership health-care benefits. If necessary, seek out the company's diversity or equal employment opportunity officer and ask about anything that isn't clear, Dickey adds.

Fortunately, more and more employers are schooled on these matters, Biaggio says: "If they don't have these policies, it's a good sign they're a little behind the times."

  • See for yourself. Look for signs that a campus is LGBT-friendly, for example, whether it has an LGBT student group or LGBT center on campus, says Dickey. Many schools now have "Safe Zone" programs where heterosexual allies openly support fellow LGBT students (see "Straight Allies Can Help"). Other positive signs include campus training programs for staff on LGBT issues and LGBT outreach programs.

Meanwhile, case the wider campus and community to see if they offer resources such as LGBT newspapers, gay-friendly churches and opportunities to socialize, Biaggio says. "It's important to find support systems outside of the internship, postdoc or job setting," she notes.

  • Finesse the interview. When interviewing for a job or internship, strike a balance between timing, tact and being true to yourself, Golom advises. For instance, he first asks about the company's general stance toward diversity. If the interviewer provides an insightful answer and the timing seems right, he will pose questions about LGBT activities.

Consider geography. On a more global scale, some locations are more LGBT-friendly than others. Cities tend to be more progressive than rural areas, and some cities are more open than others, says Dickey.

Meanwhile, the country still varies widely on employment laws and other kinds of protection for LGBT people, according to the advocacy organization Lambda Legal. As of August, 12 states and Washington, D.C., had statewide employment anti-discrimination laws pertaining both to sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression, while 20 states provided employment protection based on sexual orientation alone. State employment laws that protect LGBT people vary widely in what they cover, though they are not limited to state-run employment settings. Some states protect LGBT people in areas including education, public accommodations, housing and lending, says Cole Thaler, transgender rights attorney for Lambda Legal.

The federal government does not currently provide explicit discrimination protection for LGBT people (the major bill related to this issue, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, has gotten stalled in the House because members can't agree on whether to include gender identity). Openly gay people are still not allowed in the military, and the political climate in the Department of Veterans Affairs tends to discourage disclosure, experts note.

That said, LGBT psychologists shouldn't necessarily avoid such settings—they just need to be aware of the challenges they may face as a result of their sexual orientation, Vaughan notes.

  • Prepare for possible adversity. Through necessity, accident or a trailblazing spirit, many LGBT students and psychologists end up in internships or jobs in less-than-affirming settings.

If you're in this boat, tap your wider network for support, Biaggio advises. "Seek out mentors or advisers outside the setting, and nurture your relationships with trusted peers, gay and otherwise," she says.

If you find yourself in an unfriendly or even hostile situation, tell people trained in these matters, such as a diversity officer or a university ombudsman. However, "assess the office or people that might be responsive and supportive before you forge ahead with a complaint," she suggests.

Remember, though, that sites that are less progressive or friendly may contain hidden opportunities. Vaughan—who recently worked at a university in a conservative, rural town—says jobs in such locations provide a chance to help those struggling with their own sexual or gender identities.

"You'll be working with a population that's pretty closeted and doesn't have a lot of support and resources," she says. "It's a great opportunity to be a part of their process and healing."

By Tori DeAngelis


Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.