This article was published on March 13th, 2021
Companies have come a long way in fostering policies that advance the LGBTQ+ inclusion cause in the workplace. A 2021 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) report revealed that a record 767 of America’s top companies and law firms achieved a maximum score of 100 for “advancing vital workplace protections for LGBTQ employees.”
While this is laudable, there are still underlying issues in how queer employees relate to their heterosexual counterparts. With most workplaces having a dominant heterosexual environment, it sometimes becomes difficult for queer co-workers to fit in with their colleagues.
A majority choose to remain closeted and steer clear of conversations touching on sexual orientation or gender identity. Others are harassed and discriminated against based on the same.
In most circumstances, unfair treatment of LGBTQ+ staff points to implicit bias by their hetero colleagues. Some of the comments or acts directed at queer employees can be degrading and affect their job performance. It’s therefore crucial that workplace allies make an effort to familiarize themselves with LGBTQ+ terms and concepts before uttering words or acting in a way that makes their LGBTQ+ counterparts uncomfortable.
With that in mind, here are five things LGBTQ co-workers wish everyone in the workplace knew.
1. Don’t ‘out’ us without our consent
An LGBTQ+ work colleague coming out to you, and only you does not give you the right to become a blabbermouth and spread the word around the entire office. There’s a reason he/she/they came out to you and not to Brandon in HR or Brenda in Finance.
Coming out is still a sensitive issue that may cost some LGBTQ employees their job. So keep a lid on it. Let the person come out at their appropriate moment to the rest of the office.
2. Do not just put any label on us
Many queer co-workers identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or any other term they deem suitable. However, some might still not have a specific label as they are on a path to exploring their sexuality, and that is okay.
Avoid forcing a label on your queer co-worker as it can be hurtful and demeaning considering that the person is struggling to find their place in society. If anything, the individual will let you know what they identify as whenever he/she feels safe to do so.
3. Avoid asking invasive questions
“Are you the man or woman in the relationship?” “What is your type?” “Do you use the ladies’ or gents’ bathroom?” Ugh! Enough already.
Some of these questions are not only invasive to your queer work colleagues but also put them in an uncomfortable situation. Just like their heterosexual counterparts, queer co-workers deserve privacy in their relationship/sex lives. Unless an individual voluntarily decides to share that information, avoid invading their privacy.
4. We are tired of the stereotypes!
Stereotyping LGBTQ staff in the workplace is an issue that is often overlooked but one that occurs on a large scale.
The idea that such people should dress in a particular manner or should talk in a certain way is misconstrued prejudice and dehumanizing at the very least. Not all gays are effeminate.
Likewise, not all lesbians are masculine or into short hair. Most, if not all, of these assumptions are utterly false and could negatively impact your queer work colleagues’ job performance.
5. We deserve equal opportunities.
While companies strive to create a culture that values all workers, the stats are still damning regarding the unfair treatment given to LGBTQ+ staff.
A Williams Institute research on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy highlights the discrimination and harassment that the queer community faces in the workplace.
Among the findings was that 15 and 43 percent of LGBTQ+ workers have on one occasion been fired, harassed or denied promotions because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The fact that we are queer does not exempt us from getting equal opportunities in the workplace. We deserve that job promotion just like our counterparts or representation in the company’s hierarchy. We are human too and deserve an equal chance.