Out of the Closet, Out of a Job: Following Discrimination, Lesbian Pursues Life of LGBTQ+ Activism

by Angie Harden

My name is Angie Harden. I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

When I was 15, I got my first job. I was thrilled to have my first job. I was lucky enough to work at a recreational athletic facility in their childcare department. My boss was the nicest lady on the planet. We formed a bond over several years of working there. She almost became like a mother figure to me. And when I went off to college, she wanted me to stay there. 

She loved me so much that she said, “I will make anything work, come back on weekends, come back on holidays, spring breaks, summer breaks. I want you still working here.” So when I went off to college the first time, I’ll never forget it, she baked me a tray of cookies and she said, “We’re going to miss you around here, but here’s something to send you off with and you’ll be back.”

And sure enough, she called me up holidays, weekends, Christmas, breaks over the summer, and she said, “Let’s get you on the schedule.” So I did that my freshman year. I did that my sophomore year, and then I also did that partly through my junior year. 

My junior year is when I decided to come out publicly. I put my relationship with my then girlfriend on Facebook, and I decided to tell the world, and I was very excited about it. So my junior year was coming to a close and per usual, I called at my boss and I said, “Hey, summer’s rolling around. I’d love to get back on the schedule.” Usually I was met with just great excitement, but this time was different. 

She was cold, she was uninviting, and she just said, “We don’t have room for you.” And I said, “Well, what do you mean? What do you mean you don’t have room?” And she just kept on repeating, “We don’t have room for you.”

“What about the substitution list?” We had this very rudimentary paper list taped to the inside of a cabinet door, and she said, “No, I’m not putting you on that list.” And again, I just couldn’t comprehend what was going on. 

So after that, the conversation really – it almost went dark for me. It’s blurry as to what happened after that. I don’t remember too much more. I just remember getting off the phone and being so upset. My girlfriend was actually in the room with me when this happened. And I just… I just started bawling. I had lost… 

And it took me a while. I couldn’t understand it, but I remember my girlfriend at the time saying, “Well, didn’t you just come out?” 

And I said, “Well, yeah, yeah, I put our relationship on Facebook, but I’m not Facebook friends with my boss, and that can’t be it.” I just remember saying that can’t be right. That can’t be it. 

So she said, “Well, does anyone at your work know?” She was convinced at the time that that was what was going on. So she said, “Does anybody else from your work know?” 

And I said, “Yes. I have one coworker who I am Facebook friends with. We have a great relationship, but she might know, she may have seen it, I’m not sure.” So my girlfriend suggested giving her a call. 

I called her and I said, “I don’t work in our department anymore, and I think this is what’s going on. I think our boss knows that I’m gay and she doesn’t want me to work there anymore, but I don’t know how she could possibly know that.” And I’ll never forget it. 

My coworker said, “Oh my God, Ang, I told her. I told her that you came out and I told her about your girlfriend because I was so excited for you.” And that was the moment that everything clicked. 

So initially I was devastated, hurt, upset, and I took a couple weeks to process what had happened and to decide what I wanted to do. And over that couple weeks, I shifted from being hurt and upset to just being really angry. In that moment of becoming so angry about what had happened, I decided to call HR and do something about it. This was not right.

And over that couple weeks, I shifted from being hurt and upset to just being really angry.

So I called HR and I said very confidently, “I am certain that this is what has happened to me. I have been fired for being gay. Take a look at my file, take a look at my reviews. You guys know me. I have been fired for no reason, and I’m sure that it’s because I’m gay. So either you can do something about it or I am very seriously considering filing a lawsuit.”

Two days later, I received a phone call from my boss. When she called, it was not the person that I had known for seven years. The person who was on the other end of that phone was cold. She was timid. 

She said, “I’m sorry for firing you. I shouldn’t have. You should come back and work.” 

And I said, “Absolutely not. I refuse to work for you.” It was a very short phone call. She said, “Okay.” To be honest, I don’t think she was even bothered by that. I think that’s probably the answer that she wanted, but I was so fortunate that I knew so many other people at this facility that I worked at that when people found out that I was open for a job, I got phone calls left and right.

So I ended up working at a Rockwall teaching kids rock climbing classes. I ended up running an afterschool program. I ended up driving a school bus. I ended up teaching kids basketball. So it ended up being a great shift for me in what I love to do. And so I made lemonade out of lemons.

After living through this moment and coming out successful on the other end, it ignited a fire in me to try to protect people from going through what I went through. It’s one of the reasons I decided to go to law school. It’s the reason I decided to intern for the ACLU when I was in law school. 

It’s part of the reason that I do pro bono work and community service that throughout my career as a lawyer now, I do everything I can to serve the LGBTQ community, serving on boards, marching in the streets, protesting, taking on pro bono work, serving nonprofit organizations. So if I can play just even a small role in helping other people avoid that pain, that’s what I want to do.

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