I’m From Charleston, WV.

by jason duncan

I had recently completed a year long course for medical coding and billing. I felt fairly confident. After many applications and interviews, I had landed a good paying job with a durable medical equipment company. The atmosphere was casual. A bit uncomfortably casual. There was the woman who recently had gastric bypass and made everyone aware of her eating and bathroom habits. The sexually promiscuous 60 year-old woman who shared details. The Christian woman who proclaimed Harry Potter books were trash. My supervisor (also the one who interviewed and hired me) who desperately wanted to be everyone’s friend. Bolstering down the hall was the pretentious owner’s wife who commented on my cologne, claimed to be a former model, and thought the daily arrival of a new Coach bag made her upper class. Professing, “I can’t live without this”, in regards to her supersized Starbucks latte made her feel classy. Then there were the two girls who played on MySpace all day and I worked directly with.

I was not catching on with the computer system very well and I kept asking for more training. I felt like I was not doing a good job. Worried that I wouldn’t return, my boss left a note on my computer reassuring me how much they needed me and told me I was doing fine. I never felt comfortable telling new people about my personal life, my romantic life. I usually got to know people first and weeded them out. However, when someone asked this time I decided to just casually tell her about my partner of 5 years. Seemingly, there were none of the repercussions I had previously feared about such a confession. The next day, my boss was asking me about my partner and what exactly he did. He was the Director of Nursing for an Eldercare company in which this company did business with. She also asked if anyone else from my training course might be looking for a job.

Then the next day, at 3pm I was called into a meeting with my boss. She informed me with little eye contact that they must let me go. She claimed that they felt I had made too many critical errors. When I asked what they were, she could not point them out. When I asked why I didn’t receive additional training when I asked for it, she could not explain. My final check was handed to me with all current hours up to 3 o’clock that day. The higher ups had already left for the day. They would not return my calls. I wanted an explanation. I couldn’t make any sense of it. I played out everything, every conversation back in my head. I asked my friends if they could make sense of it. One suggested it was discrimination. It hadn’t donned on me. My co-workers and employers seemed so laissez-faire about it. However, it started to make sense. They were asking about others in my course to replace me. If they felt I was doing a bad job, why would they want to hire from the same pool? They were asking about my partner’s position to determine if firing me could potentially damage a business relationship. I felt so violated. Like I could never open up so easily again about who I was. When I contacted an attorney, he told me, “They can discriminate against you for being gay all they want to.” This is because sexual orientation is not a protected class under West Virginia state law. I had lost my job and my self-esteem. With new experiences such as going back to school, I have been reserved and hesitant in sharing my truth.  I reverted to that closed off teenager who feared retaliation for being gay.


  1. Jason,

    Hello there! So sorry to hear about this, but unfortunately to my knowledge, what your attorney advised is very true. To be exact, that is the case in nearly all if not all states. At least in the private sector, though I do believe that many Governments have started protecting us when on “their” payrolls!

    All I can suggest is a very painful lesson learned and feel some solace in that you have shared your story and it may help someone else!

    All the best to you!


  2. You are right. Discriminattion based on sexual orientation is not illegal in most States but there has been a vast improvement in the last few years. Now there are a number of States where it is illegal and that number keeps growing. Plus, many companies now include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination clause especially Fortune 500 companies that operate in that growing number of States that don’t allow discrimination based on sexual orientation. Do some homework ahead of time and find out what the non-discrimination policy is of the company you are interviewing with. A lot of this information should be on the internet. There is a saying that a gay person is only as good as their last coming out experience. It’s totally understandable that you feel victiminzed because you have been victimized but please don’t let yourself become a victim. Instead take some steps to ensure that you know the culture of your next workplace. And if the company has a non-discrimination policy, give yourself time to figure out if the company honors that policy or the policy is not worth the paper it is written on. In other words, mitigate the risk of coming out and empower yourself to come out on your own terms or not come out if the culture in your workplace is still too hostile.

  3. Thanks for your advice and support. This actually took place in late 2006 into 2007. The experience hurt, angered, and confused me very much. However, I have learned a lot since then. My blog (http://goodgenerousgratitude.blogspot.com/) of positive energy helps and I’ve chronicled many feelings through poetry (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Monsters-and-the-Moon/Jason-Duncan/e/9780557604296/?itm=10&USRI=monsters+and+the+moon) which has always been my therapy.

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