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Monday, September 28, 2009

Gay and Seeking a Job?

Two years ago, Matthew Logan went to the Out to Work job fair for gay men and lesbians, and he met representatives for AXA Equitable. Last year, he went to the fair and decided to work for the company. On Thursday, he was back to recruit.

The Out to Work job fair was originally started as a diversity outreach project to showcase workplaces that are friendly to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered employees. This year, it has become an economic lifeline for thousands who are out of work. More than 2,000 people preregistered for Thursday’s job fair, which took place at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in Greenwich Village. Last year, 300 did, though about 1,500 ultimately showed up.

This year, about 2,500 people attended the job fair. Laid-off M.B.A.’s, recent college grads and entrepreneurs waited in lines that stretched down the block in both directions. A flurry of suits, BlackBerries and résumés converged in a lavender room under disco balls.

Despite the tough economic times, the job fair had the same number of employers recruiting as last year: about 50. They represented a range of enterprises, private and public, big and small: HBO, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Gay Men’s Health Crisis and Pfizer. While finance and Fortune Companies were there in force, the entertainment companies — such as HBO and A&E — had notably much longer lines than the others.

The organizers looked to the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which evaluates workplaces for gay-friendly policies, like domestic partner benefits and affinity groups for to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered employees.

“We started with the companies that got good marks on the report card,” said Tony Juliano, the president of the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, a sponsored of the fair. Some companies are known to be more friendly than others.

Those who attended the fair emphasized that it was not just about finding a job, but finding a job where they did not have to have second thoughts about putting a personal photo on their desk, bringing a same-sex companion to a corporate social event, or obtaining health insurance for their domestic partners.

Mr. Juliano, who is gay, recalled that 30 years ago, he would have a female friend come to company events when he worked at AT&T. “She was my beard,” he said. (AT&T is now a progressive company, he added.)

Mr. Logan, 42, came out to colleagues 12 years ago and was met with some surprise. “Some friends say I’m the straightest gay person they’ve ever met,” he said. “I’m a boring M.B.A. finance guy” who likes sports. (He even invests in a gay sports bar called Gym.) But he had become tired of having co-workers ask “what her name was” when he mentioned he went to a movie with someone. Finally he would just say, “Her name was Bill.”

“I’m not bashful to talk about who I wake up with in the morning,” he said. “It was career limiting,” Mr. Logan said. “They didn’t discriminate against me, but they didn’t feel comfortable inviting me to dinner.” Without the dinners and the golf outings, a person is not in line for the next promotion, he noted.

“You can’t be part of the old boys’ club,” he said. In contrast, AXA Equitable has marketing materials aimed at gay and lesbian clients. He picked up one brochure. It explained that gay men and lesbians could create trusts so as to leave inheritances for partners. “I wouldn’t have joined if they weren’t progressive,” he said.