LGBTQ students have specific questions about entering the workforce. These people have some answers.

Bren Cole graduated from Northeastern in 2008 and has returned to speak at the conference year after year. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Two storylines out of last week’s midterms were the election of the first openly bisexual member of the U.S. Senate and the passage of a law that would continue to protect transgender rights in Massachusetts—both big victories for members of the LGBTQ community.

However, the fact that these victories are exceptional—that they’re storylines at all—illustrates how far the United States still has to go. In the meantime, people across the LGBTQ spectrum continue to face unique challenges in their workplaces, in the bathrooms, in schools, and throughout their lives.

That’s where Northeastern’s Reach(OUT) LGBTQA+ Career Conference comes in. The annual event, to be held Friday and Saturday, focuses on the specific perspectives and concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary, intersex, and asexual students who are on the verge of entering the workforce.

“I’m so excited Northeastern has something like this,” said Bren Cole, who graduated from Northeastern in 2008 and has returned to speak at the conference year after year. “It’s exactly the sort of thing that I would’ve loved so much when I was there.”

Cole said that she was “often one of very few women and one of the only visibly queer people at work” when she began her career as a technology journalist 10 years ago.

She said that she considers herself fortunate to have since found a job where she works alongside other LGBTQ people. And as a person who dresses in a way that doesn’t conform to traditional gender norms, she often fields questions from students at the conference who are concerned about how to present themselves professionally while still being true to themselves.

“The first job interview I went to, I wore a woman’s suit,” Cole said. “I regretted having to do that, but I didn’t know what else to do. I think I could’ve really benefited from hearing and seeing older queer people who are professionals, who are being themselves and thriving.”

Sydney Mokel helped to organize this year’s conference. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The speakers at the Reach(OUT) conference provide an example of how the lives of students might look in the future, said Jamie Bergeron, another panelist this year and the former assistant director of Northeastern’s Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.

“For so many of us, we were the first people in our workplace to be out about who we are,” she said, adding that this wasn’t the case for her at Northeastern but had been in previous jobs. “The Reach(OUT) conference is as much about career advice as it is about just seeing ourselves in the next phase of our lives in general.”

This was true for Sydney Mokel, who helped to organize the conference with the LGBTQA Resource Center and will be attending the event for the third consecutive year.

“As a college student, I don’t feel like I’m a ‘real adult,’” Mokel said, laughing. The international affairs major is close, though, set to graduate in May 2019.

“It’s so great to see and talk to real, queer adults. Even just to share stories, to be able to relate, or to ask specific questions that maybe a typical career advisor can’t answer,” she added. “Everyone there is just wondering if they’re doing the right thing, we’re wondering about our futures and what they’ll look like.”

One of the recurring sessions at the conference focuses on teaching students to assess employee benefit packages. “Will [they] cover same-sex partners? Do they cover medical costs related to transitioning?” Mokel said.

In other words, things that might not occur to employers to specifically address without prompting, but that are nonetheless important. Things that other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary, intersex, and asexual people before them have encountered.

Registration is required to attend the Reach(OUT) LGBTQA+ Career Conference.

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