Dear Civilities: I’m a student applying for a part-time job as a nanny. Should I mention during interviews that I’m a lesbian and live with my same-sex partner? A variety of personal questions will arise throughout my employment (from the children in particular), and I do not like to lie. I would put everyone in an extremely awkward situation if I were to find out after being employed that the family was homophobic.
— Grace, Wellington, New Zealand
A: You’re right to worry about this. The relationship between parents and the caregivers they hire is unique — and uniquely fraught with personal biases and preferences. Some parents posting on a nanny message board were adamant that a lesbian would be a non-starter for them. One mother wrote: “Personally, I wouldn’t want a lesbian taking care of my child/children.”
Now, what could happen if you didn’t come out during the interview, and then your employer found out later? Maybe nothing. But on that same message board, a nanny posted: “A former boss called me freaking out after finding out her [new] nanny was a lesbian. She was a great nanny, but [the boss] was just upset she’d never told her.”
Aha! The root of the problem here is honesty, even though “not disclosing” is a world apart from lying. Parents can more easily rule out candidates based on other prejudices, such as your racial or ethnic background, even your religion. Not so with sexuality.
When I posed your question on Facebook, I found parents divided on this issue. Many sided with this mom who urged candidates to “Absolutely mention it.” While others agreed with this dad: “Disclosing her sexuality without being asked is a bad idea. It suggests that it somehow bears upon her fitness for the job — as if she were disclosing an illness, which could pose a danger to the child. Sexuality is just not a factor here.”
And yet, sadly, it can be, even though it shouldn’t. While child-rearing experts urge parents not to ask nannies about sexual orientation, these interviews tend to be orders of magnitude more personal than those for other jobs. Legal or not, you might be asked if you’re married or have kids of your own. This conversation needs to go both ways. You’ll want to know what the family expects of you, including the values you’ll impart to their kids.
That’s why outing yourself is not the answer. As you get to know a family in an interview, you’ll be evaluating your “fit” in many ways — and it’s not just anti-gay sentiment you’re looking for. Wouldn’t you care if the family were anti-Semitic, whether or not you’re Jewish? Should only people of color be concerned about a racist family? And what about guns; would it matter to you if there were one in your employer’s home?
This really becomes the bigger question: How do you find a family that shares your values?
The best way is through candid conversation. Ask if they have a gun in the house, how they’d want you to answer questions about religion, or what’s their take on the happenings in Ferguson, Mo. You can also say, as this mother suggested in response to the “gay question” on Facebook: “I believe in being honest, while age-appropriate, with children in my care. For instance, if I were asked about two women holding hands, I would say that the two mommies love each other just like their mom and dad love each other. Would that pose a problem for you?”
The most disturbing problem is the underlying — and unjustified — fear of LGBT people as not to be trusted around kids. This is in spite of overwhelming evidence that the majority of pedophiles are straight men. I couldn’t help but note that many of those who recommended self-disclosure did so because, as a different mother on Facebook posted: “A nanny is a guardian of a family’s children.” That’s true, but it only makes sexuality relevant if you think it’s somehow wrong for gay people to be those guardians. If that’s the case, what about teachers, camp counselors and others who work closely with our kids? Should they flag their résumés to say: “Be warned: I’m gay” I don’t think so. Sexuality is not a factor in job performance.
Now, if you’re asked the question directly, either answer honestly or say, “Why do you want to know?” The reaction to either response should tell you what you need to know. And don’t lie, ever. It suggests you’re ashamed of who you are. In or out, be proud!
Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments section.