My Simple tip for LGBTQ+ Allyship at Work
One day, I was chatting with a friend about what her company was doing to celebrate Pride month. She excitedly told me that her company had passed out Pride flags to all of the employees at her work for visible support to the LGBTQ+ community. “What a great gesture!” I thought. She then disclosed that one of her colleagues complained about this because it felt like they were forcing people to openly support a topic that they were not comfortable with talking about, let alone letting other people know that they support. I was quite stunned at my friends’ colleague’s reaction. She didn’t seem to make the connection between the values that her company was promoting and her personal bias.
I began to ponder how such a perspective could be built, asking myself if it was due to a religious belief, if she felt it was too persona of a topic, or something else.
This woman who feels embarrassed to be wearing a Pride flag and views it as coercion, ironically, feels the same kind of insecurity of those who are in the LGBTQ+ community at work. In this instance it can be argued that she has the privilege to ignore it because it does not directly affect her. The company has attempted to promote their values for inclusion and diversity through action, but the employee is still unconvinced that she has a role to play in helping her company implement these values at work.
Most of the time, our personal lives don’t really creep into conversations at work until it becomes the subject of banter in coffee corners, explanations to your boss about time off, or during lunches and afterwork networking events. These are all places where the topic of your private life will ultimately come up at some point, and often these are the ways that really help us build relationships with our colleagues. These relaxed settings are where we more naturally open-up to others.
As with a parent who cannot attend an afterwork event, or a person with a disability who cannot move around so easily, these events and situations do not fair as equally well with the LGBTQ+ community. People who have a same sex partner at home or live as another gender outside of work may feel they cannot join in on the conversation freely out of fear of spilling a “secret” about a part of their lives that everyone else discusses with ease. Often, the perception of the LGBTQ+ person is the same as those who have the bias i.e.; believing they should not disclose information they think would make people feel uncomfortable. It surely must be exhausting working your way around phrases like, “My wife works here.” or “I went to the lake with my partner and his family this weekend.”, without using pronouns that disclose a gender.
So, what can we do as individuals to be a better allies and influence those around us who may not be so willing to wave a flag? One thing I have learned from many years living in a large LGBTQ+ community, is to get in line with habits in your everyday conversation. A simple tweak in your dialogue has the potential to let others know that your conversation is safe space and is contagious to others. I keep the options open when asking friendly questions about the personal life or weekend plans of people I may not know well. For instance, I won’t assume the gender when eluding to a person’s partner i.e.; “I am very sorry to hear your partner is sick and you have to leave early. I hope he, she or they feel better.” You can keep it simple by just saying he/she and you can always stick with they but throwing out the option of he/she, I subtly, but deliberately signal that I do not have specific expectations about their response and that I am accepting and comfortable with it either way. My aim is that the other person feels more comfortable sharing a pronoun without fear of judgement if they want to. Since I’ve already said it out loud and made it clear I am ready for any response, I have made the conversation a safe place.
I think habits for more inclusive conversations are beneficial in any scenario. In my experience, they are best implemented without prior assumptions and expectations of disclosure from others and applied equally to all our conversations. In the end, I hope this small tip helps allies continue to promote safe and open everyday conversations, because we risk never overcoming the stigma that oppresses so many people in the workplace without it.