Of Color: Employment

There’s a local bar that I used to visit at least weekly. It was my LGBT establishment of choice for the great specials and location. During one of my visits there, I noticed they were hiring for a variety of positions.

Now, I have quite the background in restaurants and serving. I had done banquet serving all through college, working at national conferences, weddings, ritzy golf-club galas, even the G-20 Pittsburgh Summit in 2009. That was a big deal.

Also, I’d been a host at TGI Friday’s. I hated it, but it taught me about accommodating parties, memorizing menus, and working in an environment that can have a two-hour wait time for patrons.

So I thought, wow, this could be kind of cool. I’d get to use those skills, and get to work with, and serve, my LGBT community. I didn’t think twice about applying.

I spoke to several of the staff that day, and had some great conversations. As Pittsburgh is a small place, one of the servers I talked to told me she recognized me from seeing a dance performance of mine at Pittsburgh PrideFest earlier in the summer, and she loved my work! I was happy to hand her my resume, and left that day feeling very optimistic.

Imagine my surprise when I never received an email, a call, a rejection letter– nothing.

I tried not to take it personally, as it wasn’t like I was applying to be the White House Personal Cook, or vying for the spot of Chef Gordon Ramsey’s apprentice. But I couldn’t stop wondering why I hadn’t gotten the job.

Then, it hit me, and it hurt and angered me at the same time. I’m Black.

In the years I’d been going to that bar, I’d never seen a manager of color, nor a worker of color, and interestingly, many times when I’d gone, I’d been the only person of color in the building.

I’d never noticed it before. And I desperately wanted my qualifications to be the reason I didn’t get the job (hey, maybe they had a disdain for TGI Friday’s too).  But this prompted me to do some research and ask other LGBT people of color across the city if they’ve experienced something similar.


Ericka Shelton, 31, Highland Park

“I have never interviewed for a job and got turned down for it,” Ericka admits.  “I’ve been blessed enough to have been offered a job every time.”  

However, Ericka also says that she’s felt ‘pointed, unnecessary, racist and assumptive’, interview questions.

“A few years ago, I interviewed at a call center, and the process took several hours,” Ericka says. “I got there at 10 a.m. for a 10:20 a.m. interview. By the time I actually spoke to a manager, it was 4:30 p.m. and I was exhausted. The manager finally comes into the room where I’m sitting, patiently waiting, and she introduces herself. She asked a few preliminary questions, then she switched to situational questions. She asked me to answer each question as honestly as possible. I agreed to do so.”  

“Her first question was, ‘If you saw Tyrone stealing office supplies, would you report it to your supervising manager?’”.

“I raised an eyebrow at the name “Tyrone,” cuz, like, why Tyrone gotta be the one stealing office supplies? But, I answered and said, ‘If I saw Tyrone stealing office supplies, I would use my persuasive gift of gab to convince him to put the supplies back so he can keep his job and stay out of jail.’”

“She seemed impressed, made notes, and asked another question: ‘If you overheard Keisha gossiping, would you go back and say something to the person she was gossiping about?’”.

Ericka tells me at this point, she could hear the prejudice in the way the question was posed.

“I’m like, ok, this is racist, but, I answered, ‘I would continue about my business and not worry about what Keisha is talking about, because it doesn’t concern me,’ and the interviewer asked similar questions to these for about twenty minutes, and, each time, I reaffirmed a little of my Blackness in her face.”

“While very rare, I’ve been asked similar questions like [the Keisha one] during other interviews, and, each time, I swear they’re asking these questions to see how loyal I would be to my Black coworkers. Like they’re trying to undermine our unity before we even get the job by asking us if we’d snitch on each other, be messy by running our mouths about each other, and if we’d sabotage our friendships for company advancement. It’s awful, unnecessary, and I don’t like it.”

“I don’t dime out my people,” Ericka says. “I mind my business, I’m on time, and I’m here for these coins, not fraternization.”


Aaron White, 21, of Penn Hills

Aaron told me about the time he applied for a sales rep position at an independent firm.

“I’ve worked in retail for over two years, I was in college working on my degree for entertainment management, and I have a pretty good resume,” Aaron explains.

“When I went in for the interview, the interviewer instantly caught this look on her face, like she was surprised.”

Aaron shares that he thinks the interviewer was surprised because he didn’t sound “black” on the phone when they’d spoken before.

“That’s the first ‘gotcha’, the non-verbals,” Aaron says. “I could tell her mind was made up. She couldn’t look at me most of the time. That threw me off, then the monotone, ‘we’ll be in touch’”’.

Aaron didn’t get the job.

He admits that when a person of color is interviewing, he understands it depends on the position in the company. But didn’t foresee any stumbles with applying for a sales rep position.

“It’s a very easily skilled and easily teachable job,” Aaron says.

After talking to a few others, I still haven’t made my mind up. Three additional Pittsburghers of color I interviewed told me that they haven’t faced this problem at all. Though, to be fair, it strongly depends where someone is applying, and positions available.

However, I ask readers, is it presumptive of me to assume that a black staff person in a predominantly white bar could be a ‘turn-off’ to the clientele?

Was I not only the unpreferred color, but not eye-candy enough for this gay establishment?  

I fully recognize this could be about more than color. It could have been how I presented myself that day. Perhaps they simply didn’t like my resume. Or, maybe they had a stack of applications in before mine and had already made a decision. These are all valid. I’m not crying race here. I do have a few suggestions for my people of color across the city when interviewing, however.

1) Check, check, check

One mistake on your resume / cover letter could be your downfall, regardless of the job. Have another set of eyes look over your documents, and after they are perfect, reread once more for good measure.

2) Know What You Bring to the Table

You should be able to talk in detail about your workplace experiences, growth, and accomplishments. Don’t let your resume outtalk you, and don’t lie or embellish. Show your consistency.


This is most important, know the company. Find out their discrimination policies. What brands / labels do they endorse? The interviewer may be giving you an off-putting vibe, but that doesn’t mean the company follows suit. However, the interview could go great, but then you discover hate how you feel working for the company. Research can alleviate some of that.  

4) Remain Level-Headed

Every sideways glance isn’t someone shading your ethnicity during an interview.  However, do pay attention to the interviewer’s energy and questions. The interviewer is the face of the company you’re trying to work for, and they know that and are trained for that moment. This is why we research! If their vibe isn’t giving you a good feeling, follow your gut. If it quacks like a duck, it isn’t a penguin. Assess the situation, and do not break your character to fight a civil war during the interview. In that moment, YOU are the face of your brand. If an interviewer is showing their true colors, they are letting you know that you may not enjoy working there so much. Take note of that.  

5) Don’t take it personally

Some days, you are not the best candidate. Some days, someone simply edged you out for the position. And that’s okay. Again, remember what you bring to the table. Your skills may be much better suited for XYZ Enterprise verses ABC Incorporated. Feel your feels, relook over your paperwork, and apply elsewhere. Keep options open! You never know if you may get a callback (or if you’ll even want to accept that callback, it’s up to you)!

6) Fight the good fight

It is illegal to discriminate against candidates based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. If you can prove that you have been discriminated against, you may be able to file a case with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Collect any evidence you have, and visit the website to find out if you have a case.

Bringing it all back home, the point still holds very true that you don’t see workers of color in LGBT establishments in Pittsburgh. Out of all many times I’ve visited Pittsburgh’s gay bars over the years, there is ONE single time I purchased a drink from a bartender of color. I’m SURE there are more, but I’ve only MET one. That is a problem, Pittsburgh.  And after conversing with members in the community for my previous article here, it’s evident that people of color don’t go to these places. We don’t recognize and welcome diversity in these spaces. I’m just curious why.

This article originally appeared on QueerPgh.com. This article is preserved as a part of the Q Archives project. Please consider donating to help preserve Pittsburgh’s Queer history.