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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Lesbian social workers' experiences in their professional working relationships McMackon, Bonnie


Lesbian social workers have been acutely aware of the inadequacies of the social work response to lesbian client needs. At a time when we are experiencing unprecedented gains in civil rights, we are also experiencing increased violence and renewed social and political oppression. Feminist research must start from the experiences of the researcher. As a lesbian feminist researcher, the concern of lesbian social workers' experiences in the workplace was sought. The present qualitative study examines the experiences of five lesbian social workers, all over forty-five years of age, primarily in middle management positions in the health field. Within a focus group, the participants discussed a variety of personal experiences within self-defined 'gay-positive' work environments. Content analysis was used to extrapolate themes. Visible lesbian and gay co-workers and especially supervisors created a 'gay-positive' work environment, however participants felt being an 'out' lesbian was compromised by a number of factors. These included internalized homophobia, institutional discrimination, feminist principles denied within a hierarchy, as well as self-censorship due to reactions from other employees. Homophobic expression increased when heterosexual representation decreased. Possibly due to their managerial status, and/or internalized homophobia, some ambivalence about being 'out' in their work environment also became evident. The findings are discussed in terms of implications for policy and practice in order to address homophobia and provide nondiscriminatory ethical practice in the profession of social work.

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