'It’s harder to hide:’ First openly gay female NYCHA worker says honesty improved workplace tolerance
A New York City Housing Authority employee paved the way for others by staying true to her identity.
When Theresa Bethea first started working at NYCHA in 1985 as a maintenance trainee, she was the only female on site.
"There was no female bathroom, so I had to go upstairs to where the secretaries were,” Bethea says. “There was no female locker room, so I had to go upstairs and change in a small bathroom every day."
Bethea was also the first openly lesbian employee.
"Guys went from 'Are you going to be my girlfriend?' to calling me negative names, gay slurs,” she says.
Still, Bethea says she never wanted to hide her identity. She says by being honest, her workplace improved for the better.
"I think it's harder to hide who you are than just being who you are...NYCHA has been accepting and willing to change and make the necessary changes,” Bethea says.
Over three decades later, Bethea is a regional manager for NYCHA and oversees four housing projects across the Bronx. She says she plans to retire in five years.
"I'll know that when I leave, I'd know that NYCHA is in a much better place than it was when I started, so I'm extremely happy about that,” she says.
Bethea encourages LGBTQ youths to also stay true to themselves.