I joined the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) in January 2017. For the first time in my 11-year federal career, I finally felt safe to be my whole and authentic self. That year, I was planning my wedding to my remarkable fiancée, who is now my remarkable wife. OFCCP offered me the utmost support and flexibility to celebrate my complete identity. Without their clear comradeship, I am not sure my wedding day would have been filled with as many happy memories.
OFCCP is an enforcement agency, holding those who do business with the federal government (contractors and subcontractors) responsible for protecting the rights of workers in the United States, including members of the LGBTQI+ community. While working with OFCCP, I was proud to enforce Executive Order 11246 to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but I was even more honored to belong to a team who practiced their commitment and support internally.
After five years with OFCCP, I accepted a position with the department’s Women’s Bureau. The process of making a career change can come with many stressors, but none more than the thought of “coming out” (the process LGBTQI+ individuals use to share their sexuality or identity both privately and publicly) to a new set of colleagues. Luckily, I had already experienced the welcoming culture fostered at the department and I knew I would receive the support to transition into “inviting in” (a term that reflects the power and choice to choose who to share sexuality or gender identity with. This narrative removes connotations associated with “coming out” and supports the idea that sexuality and gender identity are yours to share if and when you want) my new co-workers.
As I settled into my new position, my Women’s Bureau colleagues celebrated my voice and my identity. I have worked both internally and externally to educate and foster dialogue around allyship, gender identity and supporting the workforce needs of the LGBTQI+ community. The Women’s Bureau’s mission is to champion the policies and standards that safeguard the interests of working women in the United States. We advocate for the equality, economic security and quality of work environments for all working women.
Internally, we look for ways to ensure our programming is gender-inclusive, such as ensuring that our grant programs use a more comprehensive definition of “women” to include transgender and gender nonbinary individuals. Additionally, 2023 FARE grant program recipients will undertake projects to assist marginalized and underserved women workers who have been impacted by gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work.
I have reached many of my career goals working as a federal employee, and at the Department of Labor, I’ve found a safe place to grow as an LGBTQI+ professional. The work we do as an agency to support workers in the United States while modeling an inclusive and safe place for authenticity is boundless. I will continually be proud to work towards building resiliency for the LGBTQI+ community through department efforts and identifying new ways to remove barriers and improve opportunities under the Biden-Harris Administration's protections.
Leah Carpio-Hernandez is a program analyst in the department’s Women’s Bureau. Follow the Women’s Bureau on Twitter at @WB_DOL.