Steelworkers harrassed due to gender and sexuality
This past April 16, 2014, Anne Balay, English professor at the University of Indianapolis, gave a lecture titled "Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers," the latest lecture from the Sexuality Studies Spring Symposia Series.
Even though there has been a great deal of legal and social victories on behalf of gay rights in the United States, some gay working-class Americans still have to hide in order to protect themselves from violence, and harassment.
The lecture focused on the hardships of being a gay, lesbian, or transgender steel mill worker in the United States.
Balay started wondering about gay steelworkers while driving passed steel mills everyday in her hometown of Indiana, and after not being able to find anything in the government funded River of Steel Archive, she went to the locals.
Balay started her research by frequenting a gay bar in a steel-milling town in northwestern Indiana to get to know the bartenders and regular visitors. Balay was able to interview and record 40 gay steelworkers from the area: 2o males and 20 females.
Most of the names, races and ages of the people interviewed were changed in order to keep them safe from further harassment.
During her lecture, Balay recounted multiple stories from her book Steel Closets about the interviewed steelworkers.
One of the stories in Balay's book spoke of the lack of governmental protection of people based on their sexuality. An individual interviewed by Balay, whose alias in the book is Nate, was a former steelworker who was fired after shortly after the company found out he was gay.
Balay offered a variety of stories that portrayed the harassment and violence gay steelworkers suffer. Brenda, a lesbian steelworker suffered from sexual harassment from a coworker multiple times, who would continuingly tell Brenda that she should try to be with a male. This coworker went to such extreme that he even attempted to rape Brenda, but was stopped by a third coworker.
Balay also spoke about how most gay male workers had to hide their sexuality while at work. One example she gave was of a middle-aged gay worker who lived over an hour away from his job in order to ensure his safety while working at the mill.
Balay also explained that the hours of steelworkers are harsh, and allow little to no time for social life outside of the mill, leaving gay workers no place to form a community.
Overall, Balay's lecture Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers showed the hard reality of gay rights in the United States.
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