Privileges in this sense are (usually) slight advantages certain group members are more likely -but not guaranteed- to experience. The groups we belong to do, in fact, change how others see and treat us, which does make a very real impact on our lives (See chapter 1 of Difference Matters by Dr. Brenda J. Allen).
Privileges are not magic bullets, perfectly guaranteeing exact treatment to everyone in a group across all situations. It does not have to be everyday (though it’s probably that there will be very subtle versions most days) or to happen to everyone (though most people in a given minority group tend to express the same issues in general). Privileges are also hard to prove when looking at a given person or situation; however, when looking objectively at American society as a whole, there are clear patterns to how certain groups receive real social and economic benefits that others do not.
The “alternative(s)” (underprivileged or minority groups) also tends to get a lot more attention, and the alternatives tend to be defined by how they are not the dominant group. In this context, LGBT individuals are far more likely to have their sexuality pointed out that the average heterosexual and lesbians are often perceived as less feminine compared to the “normal” (heterosexual) woman.
Think about it like this: a white man and a black man drive home from work in identical situations. The black man happens to get pulled over because something about his age and race may make him seem more likely to deserve police attention than it would have for the white man. When the white man gets home, it would seem really strange for him to wonder if he did NOT get pulled over because he was white. And, keeping in mind that privileges are typically only slight advantages, the handful of times per life-time that the black man may or may not be pulled over might have amounted to delays, stress, and minor financial burdens. If this is a more common occurrence for black people to be pulled over because of race, and being pulled over has slight disadvantages, it would be hard to prove by only looking at a single person, but patterns might exist if we look at many people over the course of a year. This SINGULAR example might be enough to subtly reinforce some of the real differences which exist in our society.
It’s not that the dominant members are intentionally blinding themselves; members of “normal” group tend not to have experienced the issues the minority group faces, if is often harder for them to see, understand, and appreciate the problems. For example, a heterosexual walks into a group of people she knows to be LGBT and is suddenly more aware of sexuality which may create an awkward tension for her. It’s not that she was unaware of their sexual identification: it might be that she was not used to being in situations where she is the “alternative” one. She might also fear how they might think about how heterosexual individuals or how they might not respect her heterosexuality. Still, as a member of societies dominant group, it is far less likely she would be a victim of these fears than if the roles were reversed.
As is the case with many dominant groups, the invisibility of privilege is another barrier to workplace equality. Being the “normal” group in a society tends to be relatively invisible and is almost always comes with other privileges. In this context, not having to confess or be labeled an “other” impacts the LGBT community in the workplace. This means that heterosexual individuals rarely feel pressure to confess their sexualities, wonder if TV shows will have people like them, have it pointed out that they are “normal”, or ask themselves if someone treated them badly because they were a majority group member. If someone announces someone is heterosexual, it is far less likely people in the room will have negative connotations or find it hard not to treat them differently. Depending on the organizational culture, LGBT individuals might need to worry about unnecessary stressors like office gossip, being belittled by coworkers, or how bringing their partner to the Christmas party would be perceived. Remember, none of these added stressors are about job performance, but the added stress and distractions might impact job performance.