Pride Month: The Challenges of being out at work & how to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community

It's not easy bringing your whole self to work, especially if you believe you will be shunned because of your identity. I found this out to my cost when in my early twenties, I had a live in role in a country hotel. It was a close-knit staff community, and we had a lot of fun and socialized regularly.

After several months in the role, I fell in love with the chef. Then things started to change.

One of my house mates would tease me endlessly in what she felt was good humour but felt excruciating to me at the time. The other house mate stopped talking to me. The owners of the hotel, a married couple started to take a lot of interest in me and the chef and meeting with us regularly.

The wife tried to talk me out of this relationship, saying it would be no good for me. The husband would take the chef aside and have similar conversations.

When they realized we were resolute in our decision we were told that one of us had to leave. They could not tolerate this relationship as it would undermine the staff and the hotel. The year was 1988 and the offending relationship was between two women.

I left my role and Joy, who is still my partner and the love of my life, stayed in hers. It was a devastating blow, as I lost home and work at the same time and it caused a division in the staff team. Some people became hostile towards me, whilst others became generous and supportive. It left me feeling vulnerable about being ‘out’ at work about being Lesbian, as I was not sure how it would be received.

Times have changed enormously over the last three decades, and being out at work is not the struggle it used to be, but it is far from easy for many thousands who identify with being LGBTQ+. You only have to read the recent uproar about the comic actress Rebel Wilson being 'outed' by a Sydney based columnist, as if it was a reasonable action to take.

Employers are doing a lot to make it easier to declare an identity other than heterosexual, but that does not mean micro aggression, sleights, poor humour or career limitations do not occur.

According to Stonewall,

  • More than a third of LGBT staff (35 per cent) have hidden that they are LGBT at work for fear of discrimination.

  • One in ten black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT employees (10 per cent) have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the last year.

  • Nearly two in five bi people (38 per cent) aren’t out to anyone at work.

Pride month gives us opportunity to reflect on how well we are supporting people who identify as LGBTQ+ and how we can make workplaces more inclusive.

There are several ways that you can be a kinder more thoughtful to LGBTQ+ colleagues (whether out or not) at work.

As an ally for the LGBTQ+ community:

Use gender neutral language when asking about home, life and partners

Consider showing support by wearing a rainbow lanyard

Understand and learn about the LGBTQ community and the various identities within it

Challenge micro-aggressions or assumptions about ‘normal’ relationships

Don’t force the issue. Not everyone wants to be out or outed, so respect people’s privacy

If you identify as LGBTQ+ looking for allies, consider:

Who is a supportive and approachable colleague you could share you concerns with

•Reaching out to other known LGBTQ+ colleagues and get ideas and support from them

•Bringing ideas for sharing family life with colleagues during Pride month (or at other times) and getting support from people you trust to do so

•Consider joining an employee affinity group that supports LGBTQ+ if you have one at work.

My next book The Inclusion Edge, a guide for business leaders on how to make the workplace inclusive for everyone is out in September 2022. It will be a practical guide on creating belonging in the workplace.

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