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How to Make Your Workplace a Safe Space for LGBTQ Employees

How to Make Your Workplace a Safe Space for LGBTQ Employees
Updated October 21, 2022
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June is Pride Month, which means celebrating LGBTQ identities and the rights that activists have fought for through the years. While the movement has been corporatized and pinkwashed in recent years as companies fall over themselves seeking the profits that widespread LGBTQ support promises, it's essential to recognize what Pride Month actually stands for — standing by the LGBTQ people in our lives and treating them with the respect they deserve.

What every LGBTQ person wants, more than a rainbow shirt from Target or even a glitter-bombed float in a Pride parade, is to be treated with kindness and decency in their daily lives. A large part of ensuring that LGBTQ people have the rights they deserve is making sure that they can work in a job that accepts and even celebrates them for who they are.

What Protections Exist for LGBTQ People in the Workplace?

In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace in Bostock v Clayton County, Georgia. Before the ruling, it was legal in over half of U.S. states to fire employees for being gay, bisexual, or transgender. The new ruling states that LGBTQ discrimination violates the Civil Rights Law of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination.

While Bostock v Clayton County, Georgia makes it clear that a person cannot be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity, there's still a long way to go to ensure that every workplace is a safe space for LGBTQ employees. Here's how you can make changes to your workplace and ensure it's a comfortable environment for people of all orientations and gender identities.

Everyone wants to do the right thing by their employees and coworkers. Part of that is ensuring that your workplace is a safe space for everyone, including LGBTQ people.

Be an Ally

Being an ally to the LGBTQ people you work with is just common decency, and you don't have to have a master's degree in LGBTQ studies to be a good person. Cornering that obviously queer person you work with and letting them know that you're so totally cool with their identity is probably not the best way to go about it. The best way to be an ally is to listen, empathize, and work on bettering your understanding of LGBTQ identities. If an LGBTQ employee opens up to you about their identity, try to listen without offering dismissive comments.

If a female employee or coworker tells you about her wife, respond in a way that feels natural, as you would if a male employee did the same. The most important thing to validate someone's identity is to treat them as you would anyone else. Their experience isn't some exotic thing; it's their day-to-day life. Treat it as such.

It's okay to admit if you're not well informed on a particular identity. If a coworker is trans or nonbinary and you're not super familiar with those experiences, feel free to let them know you're still learning but want to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

You can ask if they have any resources for you, but be aware that it's not their job to educate you. A quick trip to Google can supply you with plenty of knowledge without being a drain on another person's time or energy.

The most important thing about being an ally is making sure you offer space for your LGBTQ employees or coworkers. Ensure that they're able to speak up in meetings or be included in workplace discussions and socialization. Stand up for them when they're met with criticism about their identities and be an advocate, which leads to the next point.

Call Out Inappropriate Language

Sometimes people make hurtful jokes or snide remarks about LGBTQ people and expect others to laugh or agree. It's crucial to shut down this inappropriate language every time, and explain why it can be hurtful. Even if you don't believe the offending person will change their mind or agree that they were wrong, you're making it clear that that kind of language is inappropriate in the workplace and shouldn't continue.

Even more, you're communicating to whoever is listening that you're willing to stand up against bigotry. There might be an LGBTQ person present who feels uncomfortable outing themselves or defending themselves in a workplace situation. By calling out hurtful language, you're making it clear that someone will stand with them.

Calling someone out can be tricky to navigate without bruising egos. Try pulling the person aside to have a one-on-one if you don't feel comfortable addressing the situation in front of a group of peers.

Sometimes, however, it's best to confront the problem immediately and directly. Make it clear that the language used was inappropriate and try to offer more correct verbiage instead. If it's clear the problem won't go away on its own, a trip to HR can be effective, but it's always best to try to work it out directly with the person first.

Encourage Pronoun Usage

Using someone's preferred pronouns is a fundamental part of affirming their gender identity. In general, if you don't know what someone's pronouns are, just ask. Then employ them in your speech going forward. This is good practice for anyone, even if they don't appear gender-nonconforming. In fact, it can be beneficial to introduce yourself with your preferred pronouns, even as a cisgender person.

By encouraging sharing pronouns, either in conversation, email signatures, or on office placards, you're normalizing what can be an othering experience for transgender or gender-nonconforming people. If everyone in a workplace shares their pronouns, it can be less daunting for a trans person to speak up about theirs.

Host Workshops

"Sensitivity training" gets a lot of flak these days, but workshops can be invaluable in making sure everyone is informed and on the same page in your workplace. Reach out to HR to see what options are available in your organization. If no existing infrastructure is in place, reaching out to outside consultants is an option.

LGBTQ+ Workplace Education Center is an excellent resource for training in any organization. They offer webinars, half-day and full-day seminars, discussion panels, and more. You can work with them for your needs and host workshops to bring the whole team together around issues for LGBTQ employees.

Establish Gender-Neutral Restrooms

While male and female restrooms are the norm, not everyone falls into the gender binary, and everyone needs to pee. It can be triggering to some trans and nonbinary people to have to choose a gendered restroom based on their perceived sex when a gender-neutral option would suit much better.

This isn't a viable option in some workplace settings, but it's an important step to take if you can. Even if you rent an office space with traditionally gendered restrooms, try talking to any trans or nonbinary employees or coworkers to get their perspective on what options should be available when they have to use the restroom.

Make Progress Last

Making sure every employee feels comfortable and proud of who they are in your work environment should go beyond just one month. There has been so much hate against the LGBTQ community throughout history and continuing through today that committing yourself to justice and equity is a year-round activity. It's essential to treat everyone with respect and help overcome past and current prejudices.

Start simply by being aware of your everyday actions. Through education, understanding, and direct support, we can make company culture safe and accepting for any and all.

Originally published on October 21, 2022, and last edited on October 21, 2022.

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