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Pride Message from Dr. Hoffshire

Dr. Mike Hoffshire.
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A message from Assistant Dean, Dr. Mike Hoffshire

Happy Pride Month Optometry & Vision Science Community!

Many of you know me as Dr. Mike Hoffshire, your Assistant Dean of Admissions & Student Affairs. When I’m not admitting the next class of students, celebrating your successes or helping you overcome obstacles, or assisting you in building your skillset(s), you can find me at Berkeley Extension teaching in their Higher Education and Student Affairs program and researching various aspects of student identity and experience. In celebrating Pride month, I’d like to share with you some results of a study I conducted as it relates to lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer (LGBQ+) student major selection and career development as well as the ways you, as students and future practitioners and scientists, can support this population.

For the purpose of this study, I elected to not include transgender students as that identity is related to gender rather than sexual orientation. Additionally, it is not lost on me that as an able body, gay, middle aged, Catholic, White male in a position of authority and leadership I am writing from a place of privilege but hope that the results of this study inform future research projects, developmental theories and educational/organizational practices.

Despite major gains in LGBQ+ rights and public opinion within the last twenty-five years such as the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the legalization of marriage, and greater acceptance rates, LGBQ+ individuals continue to face discrimination in housing, adoption, and healthcare. In fact, there are still eighteen states and five territories that have no explicit prohibitions for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state law, allowing employers to legally discriminate against LGBQ+ individuals (Movement Advancement Project, 2022).

Individuals with concealable stigmatized identities, such as sexual orientation, often face ongoing, potentially stressful decisions about whether to disclose or conceal their marginalized status. Oftentimes, LGBQ+ individuals are subject to homophobic policies and practices that include lack of protections, health care benefits and accessibility of promotions. Additionally, the literature supports the idea that there are too few role models in various careers who are open about their LGBQ+ identities. These barriers can impact a student’s decision to pursue a particular career path. This study sought to address the gaps in the literature by understanding the impact a LGBQ+ sexual orientation has on a student’s major selection and career development.

In 2017, I interviewed nine undergraduate LGBQ+ students between the ages of 19 – 24 representing a wide variety of majors. While the research study yielded several findings, I am limiting the discussion in this paper to the impact their sexual orientation had on their major selection and professional career.

All participants in the study indicated that their sexual orientation had somewhat to no effect on their decision to pursue their major or career interests. However, it became apparent throughout the interviews that participants recognized their sexual orientation would impact their future career. There were three subthemes that emerged, including level of outness an individual planned to display, relationships with colleagues and supervisors, and the amount of homophobia/discrimination present in the workplace. Seven participants in the sample stated they would be out and open regarding their sexual orientation at work, as long as they felt safe to do so and exercised caution when determining whether to disclose their sexual orientation to colleagues and supervisors. Many felt that they needed to understand the opinions of their colleagues and supervisors first because they could either be ostracized or embraced within an organization.

Lastly, a sub-theme consistent among all participants in the study was the potential barriers that existed in a work environment because of their sexual orientation. Most notably was the threat of homophobia and discrimination LGBQ+ individuals may experience in their career, which often took the shape of lack of promotions or unfair distributions of work assignments.

This study provided insight into student thoughts, attitudes and actions regarding the impact sexual orientation had on major selection and workplace identity. The question of coming out at work was a complex one, with many participants citing a variety of factors, including timing, culture, and fear of backlash. Attention is warranted as organizations become aware of the importance of growing diversity. Additionally, organizations should pay greater attention to their policies and procedures, which may have a direct impact on job satisfaction and organizational outcomes.

As a future optometrist or vision scientists, I would recommend the following steps to improve organizational culture within your practice, lab and/or corporate setting:

  • Continue to educate yourself on the unique challenges and obstacles LGBQ+ individuals may face in the workforce;
  • Advocate for LGBQ+ policies and practices, such as the inclusion of sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies;
  • Promote a welcoming, friendly and safe environment for LGBQ+ employees;
  • Create an LGBQ+ affinity group;
  • Engage in mentorship opportunities with future LGBQ+ optometrists and vision scientists; and
  • Regularly assess organizational climate and implement changes based on results.

    Reference: Hoffshire, M. (2016). Examining the Impact of Sexual Orientation on the Career Development of LGBQ+ Students (Doctoral Dissertation). University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA.

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