June is now recognised internationally as Pride month. We take the time to celebrate the diversity that comes from the LGBTQ+ community. I have heard some people ask, ‘Why Pride?’ and it goes back to a time when being identified as Lesbian, Gay or Transgender was seen as something to be ashamed of. For many individuals brought up before the noughties and the relative acceptance of same sex marriages, being gay was often discussed in hushed tones.
I came out as Lesbian in 1987, when I met the love of my life, Joy. We were working in a country hotel in Gloucestershire. As soon as the relationship came to the attention of the hotel owners, it became a major issue. We were both told (individually) that if we did not finish the relationship one or both of us would lose our jobs. We were fairly committed to our relationship, so we sat down and discussed it and decided who would go and who would stay.
I left my live in waiting job and in one decision lost both home and work. The relationship survives to this day and for a long time after this experience I had to decide how ‘out’ I was in each subsequent job. I had to weigh up the risks of my life choices to my career and my income, something that people coming from a mainstream heterosexual relationship would never have to think about. Of course, anyone that knows me now, knows that this is no longer something I choose to hide, but it took about 10 years to build such confidence after such an unpromising start to my working life as a gay woman.
It begs the question, what can you do in your organisations and in your everyday interactions to make it easier for people to be ‘out’ at work. To know that they are accepted for who they are without fear of shame, blame or judgement because of who they choose to love?
There are many ways you can raise awareness and signal acceptance and belonging. For example, in your communications to employees (& indeed external stakeholders) are you promoting Pride and all it stands for? Do you have affinity groups for people from the LGBTQ+ community? Do you have senior leaders who are willing to be allies or speak up about their own experiences if they identify with this community.
I heard from one organisation that had celebrated pride month in recent years, that although there was much fanfare about the event, individuals, especially those who were not out at work, did not feel it was easy. They would overhear colleagues belittling the event and all it stands for and they felt powerless and unable to bring up a challenge, as they did not feel supported to do so.
You can do more than just be seen to support this community, you can genuinely open up your culture to the conversations that promote true acceptance and belonging. Look at what stories you can share, what people you can reach out to and what messages you can share that genuinely show pride for all your employees, including those from the LGBTQ+ community.
A great book I would recommend to help you further the cause is GayMe Changer