Out at Work

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The documentary "Out at Work" takes place in the mid-1990s. It focuses on Cheryl Summerville, a cook at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Georgia, who was fired for "failing to demonstrate normal heterosexual values." At that time, more than 40 states made it legal to fire workers for their sexual orientation. This documentary tells the stories of 3 workers who seek workplace safety, job security and benefits for gay and lesbian workers.

Out at Work

This movie is 56 minutes long, so it is perfect to watch during your lunch break.  It was made in 1996 but the version on Kanopy has been updated because some of the information has changed since the film was made.  For example, when the film was made more than 40 states made it legal to fire workers for their sexual orientation but by 2009, 31 states had enacted policies that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

But this documentary isn’t all about policies.  It is about personal stories.  The movie starts with scenes at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, an automotive shop floor, and a bookstore.  These are the places where the 3 main characters work.

It starts in Georgia 1991 with Cheryl’s story.  She identifies as a lesbian, has a son, and a female partner (Sandy) who she’d been together with for over a decade at the time of filming.  They talk about the stigma of being a lesbian.  Cheryl really liked her job at Cracker Barrel and wanted to work there forever.  But then, Cracker Barrel started firing people like her for being gay, citing their company policy to fire someone for "failing to demonstrate normal heterosexual values."  She says the manager told her they were really targeting “the feminine men on the floor.”  Yet, she was still fired and, as the ACLU told her, there was nothing she could do about it.

The second story is from Ron Woods, auto plant electrician, in Detroit 1992.  It starts with a scene in Royal Oak.  At the time of filming, he’d been with Chrysler over 9 years.  He had read about the Cracker Barrel incident.  He went to the local UAW president to ask about their position on Cracker Barrel as they were trying to keep the union out of Cracker Barrel.  So, they held a rally that was picked up by the Detroit Free Press.  It was interesting, because the rally was originally about a labor movement but that’s how Ron’s identity as homosexual was made public.  He then encountered significant trouble at work including death threats.

“You got to the point to where just walking into work was major trauma.”  Ron Woods

If you would like to learn more about Ron’s story, check out this piece in The New Yorker or watch the film “Out at Work.”

How to Access Documentaries at MSU

MSU has a lot of great resources in the library.  One place you can find documentaries in the library is called Kanopy.  You can go to Kanopy by clicking here.  You can find other library resources by clicking here.

When you log into Kanopy with your MSU NetID, you will find a basic search box.  You can type anything in the search box to help you find films that are about a topic you are interested in.  For example, you can type "native families" to find several films about that topic.  Or, you can search by subject.  To find the movie "Out at Work," you can search for the term "workplace."

Then, you can either watch the movie or look at related films.

Want to watch the movie now?

You can log into the MSU Library and watch the movie "Out at Work" embedded below.