Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Marla Peterson

Committee Members

Joy DeSensi, Mark Hector, Cheryl Travis


The decision whether or not to come out is an important one that African-American lesbians face. This decision impacts all aspects of their lives, including their vocational life. The purpose of this study was to understand and describe the experience of deciding whether or not to come out at work. There were five participants in this study, each of whom was self-identified as an African-American lesbian. In order to be selected for participation in this study, each participant had to (a) define herself as African-American, (b) define herself as a lesbian, (c) be employed at the time of participation, (d) had to be at least 18 years of age, and (e) not be enrolled in a college, university, or other training program at the time of participation.

Phenomenological interviews were conducted and participants were asked the one question that guided the study: In as much detail as possible, tell me about your experience deciding whether or not to come out at work. Those interviews were recorded, transcribed, and then returned to the participants for them to evaluate for accuracy. After participants gave their approval of the transcripts, a phenomenological research team analyzed the transcripts for themes. These themes were returned to the participants to ensure accuracy in that the themes represented the experiences of the participants.

The thematic structure of this study was represented by a ground with six figures, or themes, which were contextualized by that ground. The experience of deciding whether or not to come out at work was grounded in relationships. From the ground of relationships, six figural themes emerged: process, perceptions, meaning, mentors, disrespect, and identities.

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