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June 01, 2022

Becoming a Truly Queer-Inclusive Workplace

6 minute read

Workplace Wellbeing

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Lucía Etchegaray avatar

Lucía Etchegaray

7-minute read

Each June, we celebrate the dignity, equality, and visibility of the LGBTQIA+ community. Unfortunately, the origins of this celebration are not joyful. 

A few years ago, consensual sexual relations among men or between women were illegal in all states in the USA, except for Illinois. At that time, thousands of queer people were arrested for “crimes against nature” and exposed in newspapers— causing them to lose their jobs and experience social judgment, exclusion, and hatred. 

It was on June 28, 1969 that the police decided to raid the Stonewall Inn: a safe place where the queer community could get together and be themselves.

It wasn’t uncommon for the police to raid queer establishments, but the LGBTQIA+ community decided to fight back that night. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were two trans women among those who fought to stop police harassment and for their right to exist in this world.

The purpose of June Pride

Pride month is a time to celebrate our identities, and to honor and thank all the activists that have helped grant our rights. It is also a time to reflect on what else can be done to make a difference for queer rights.

June Pride is meant to bring our attention to the LGBTQIA+ community, and to be followed by tangible actions all year long. Simply rainbow-washing the logo and social media of your company isn’t enough. 

Here are effective ways for companies to support LGBTQIA+ rights. 

The price of exclusion

Every human is unique, and dealing with their own personal struggles. But for those in the queer community, there are certain aspects—such as gender identity or sexual orientation—that are predisposed for violence, discrimination, and abuse. 

A recent study of suicide attempts in sexual- and gender-minority youth found that 51% were transgender males, 42% were gender nonbinary, 30% were transgender females—while cisgender female and male rates are 18% and 10%, respectively. 

Suicide attempts are strongly related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is also related to minority stressors, including family rejection, hate crimes, internalized homophobia, concealment, stigma, and discrimination.

Around 40% of LGBTQIA+ individuals have experienced rejection from a family member or friend because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Family rejection can lead to being kicked out of their homes, which can also impact access to education.

The high cost of workplace discrimination

Additionally, 46% of LGBTQIA+ employees report experiencing discrimination at some point in their careers, including work harassment, being denied a raise or promotion, being excluded from company events, or termination. One-third of LGBT employees have left a job because of the way they were treated by their employer based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Workplace discrimination has a huge human cost. Imagine being afraid to be who you are, putting up with offensive jokes and bullying on a daily basis, experiencing higher levels of stress—and not being able to escape this because you have to work for a living. 

It’s critical for cisgendered or heterosexual individuals to acknowledge their own limitations, and be empathetic with the queer community and their struggles. 

Establishing the right company policies can make significant strides toward making the workplace safe, fair, and accepting. 

Developing inclusive company policies 

Evidence suggests that workplace policies can be helpful in promoting an inclusive climate for all employees, and improving the mental wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ workers. 

Companies can begin by going beyond diversity quotas and rethinking hiring processes. To sort out these particular difficulties, there are LGBTQIA+ recruitment events and job ads oriented to the queer community that can be very helpful.

Next, establish policies to ensure the wellbeing and mental health of all your employees is supported—which, in turn, can improve productivity and the overall company climate. 

Lastly, if your workplace hasn’t already, consider creating an ERG (Employee Resource Group) for LGBTQIA+ employees. 

ERGs are an opportunity to maximize the development of underrepresented groups (with mentorship, visible projects, and leadership opportunities) while building awareness and both supporting and celebrating these groups.

Putting a stop to misgendering

Organization’s need to respect and validate the sexual orientation and gender identity of their employees, which can put a stop to misgendering. One way to do this is by encouraging employees to state their preferred pronouns in their email signature. 

Furthermore, most companies have established what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, which constitutes a great opportunity to state clearly these new respect-based policies.

Educate employees on every level

It is not enough to recognize pronouns. Organizations also need to provide education and training to employees, especially those with more seniority or higher positions. Workshops can be included within regular business hours to encourage employee attendance.   

Being queer-friendly also involves structural updates. One of the ways to do this is adapting restrooms so all employees can use them. 

This does not require construction. Gender neutral restrooms can be easily included by changing the restroom logo. If desired, restrooms for men and women can stay the same, but clearly state that they are not only for cisgendered people.

Become an ally

Our need for belonging is universal, and extends beyond our closest relationships to our workplaces, communities, and cultures. 

That’s why ‘othering’ hurts so much—it violates this human need and creates feelings of disconnection, misunderstanding, and loneliness. Especially at work. 

Becoming a true ally is an antidote to ‘othering’ and a way to strengthen belonging. 

Modeling this essential leadership quality at every level of your organization is a powerful way to drive action and accountability, and ensure all employees feel safe and supported. 

5 ways to be a supportive ally

Listen. The first and most important part of being an ally is developing your ability to listen. Recognize that when it comes to a particular group’s experiences, you may not be the authority. Make room for other voices and opinions that may make you uncomfortable.

Do the homework. Don’t claim to support a group’s cause without knowing its history and theirs, and don’t go to a friend from this group to ask for help. It’s not their job to educate you. Instead, spend some time doing research online. 

Don’t practice performative allyship. Your allyship is important, but you shouldn’t use it to amplify your own image. Ensure you’re not broadcasting your allyship more than you’re acting as an ally. Don’t let a hashtag, and emoji, or an enamel pin be the only way you support a cause.

Speak up in your own circle. If someone you know exhibits hatred or prejudice toward these groups, speak up. Explain why this doesn’t sit right with you. Remember, you can call out someone’s negative language or behavior without criticizing them as a person. Be friendly but firm.

Learn from your mistakes. You’re willingly going outside of your comfort zone and relearning how to look at issues and interact with people in respectful ways. Mistakes are natural. Acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them.

A truly queer-inclusive company

Being queer-inclusive means getting involved, educating ourselves, encouraging respect, and stepping out of our comfort zone. 

Doesn’t this also constitute a way of personal growth and flourishing as human beings? We cannot really improve if we keep doing the same thing forever.

As we kick off June Pride month, I hope you’ll commit to making your company more queer-friendly, and continue to support the LGBTQIA+ community through your company policies throughout the year. 

There is always more that can be done. Reach out to your queer employees to ask what they need to feel fully supported and included, and considering hiring a consultant with gender perspective that can help you work on further policies.

Read this blog next for more ways you can create an inclusive workplace, along with where and how to start.

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About the Author

Lucía Etchegaray avatar

Lucía Etchegaray

Lucía is a clinical therapist focused on LGBTQIA+ community and anxiety disorders. She is trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Lucía is also a University Professor in the Psychology and Psychopedagogy Degree in Buenos Aires, Argentina.