Ally companies put LGBT-friendly policies and business practices into place. But they don’t stop there knowing that policies are not enough. They create a workplace culture of inclusiveness and celebrate the differences that make each employee great. They actively recruit LGBTQ employees and welcome constructive feedback on how they are doing can how they can improve.
Employment discrimination and LGBT workplace equality have always been something of a personal issue and now my it is my focus with OutBüro.
My Personal Story
Professionally, I’d say that I’ve always been conservatively out. I have never made my sexuality a huge deal wearing it on my sleeve, but I have never tried to overtly hide it either – besides my time in the US Army in the late 80’s. When I’d start new jobs or client projects I’d be invited to the social after-work functions. Then as my sexuality became apparent those invites were reduced to only the super gay-friendly staff who wanted to do all the gay-things in the city. So the limited inclusiveness was layered with stereotypes of going to gay dance clubs and helping them shop for home décor, clothes, and gifts. Sure I’ve got style but at the time didn’t realize how I was being excluded and superficially used.
In my work and projects, I felt like I always had to go above and beyond the norm to prove myself to my employers and clients. I even had to deal with sexual harassment from a female senior executive that knew I was gay but seemed to feel that was a challenge she wanted to see if she could win. Right now what are you thinking? Check yourself. Are you thinking, “poor him a woman was hitting on him”? If so, that’s a problem.
It became so bad I loathed going to the office, my days were filled with trying to avoid her and her excuses to be at my desk where she’d lean over from behind to point at my computer screen so that she could rub her breast against my back. This was coupled with many other innuendos and overt comments several times a week on how she liked how my pants fit and which ones didn’t hug my butt or crotch. I had no way to voice my frustration, anxiety, and anger too. No one took me seriously. When I tried to raise my concerns and issues I was literally laughed at by the Human Resource manager. He told me to toughen up and that he wished that executive was interested in him. REALLY With the rude and crude gay jokes from many male team members and the overt sexual harassment from the female top executive, my work-life was stressful, and ultimately had to leave that employer. I felt I had no recourse. It was a nightmare.
This caused me to enter corporate consulting where my Fortune 1000 and government clients changed every few months. I put myself in a position of swooping in, doing my job, and leaving so that I was nowhere long enough to have it matter. If it was bad, as it was several more times, I knew I had an exit and on to the next project. On a government project, the main contact was not only very religious, her husband was a preacher. I did the best job they have ever had anyone do – literally. I turned the staff around from underperforming to over performing. The contract was going to be lost until I swooped in and did my thing. The firm was thrilled as they were rewarded the long term contract they thought they were sure to lose. The client management was thrilled with the progress and performance. But one day, the guy I was seeing dropped me off after lunch. The main contact saw him giving me a pretty quick innocent kiss good-bye. That afternoon she kept making reference to God, Jesus, and her church. Then she started making negative comments about gay people and that she saw me kissing my boyfriend. I stated that the kiss happened outside the office and likewise she needs to keep her religion outside of the office too. Within a week I was laid off from the contract claiming there wasn’t enough budget – the budget I wrote and contact I saved. So gay employee became unemployed over the religious views of a US Federal Government employee.
After a couple of years of living out of a suitcase and hotel rooms, I again began to hate my work-life and my life in general with no roots and no real connections. It was difficult to make and maintain friendships and relationships traveling 75-90% of my work-life for 13 years. It was isolating.
Corporate LGBT-Friendly Policies
Today, corporations are leading the charge of LGBT rights and protections for employees. Companies of all sizes are implementing LGBT-friendly policies that include:
• Sexual orientation non-discrimination-policy
• Gender identity non-discrimination-policy
• Domestic partner benefits
• Transgender-inclusive benefits
• LGBTQ inclusive education
I share the above story of being sexually harassed to point out that in the United States Sexual Harassment policies have been in place since the mid-70’s. Yet it still happens today. Not only to women but also to men like me with both female and male perpetrators. My own incident may have happened quite some time ago, but just turn on any news station of your choice and within a week’s time you are sure to see a high profile case in the news today – right now. This clearly demonstrates that having company policies alone are not enough to remove and eliminate the root problem, change minds or culture.
Why Will LGBT-Discrimination Remain an Issue
I’d like to concentrate on the larger picture and examine why irrespective of anti-discrimination policies and legislative changes, LGBTQ employment discrimination will stay economically divisive, socially permissible and sadly common. Naturally gaining heterosexual allies to recognize this issue as a legitimate and continuing struggle for everyone regardless of sexual orientation is paramount to lasting equality for all. It all boils down to getting to know others and trying to empathize with their perspective. We have to keep in mind it isn’t LGBTQ people that are responsible for homophobia, thus ponder the sociological ecosystem of implicit homophobia that still does not permit queer people to thrive within it.
During my business travels working in hundreds of companies and government agencies I and found that my queer colleagues have nearly uniformly been and are more dedicated to performance and excellence in comparison to our heterosexual counterparts. This is not new or news. It’s fairly common knowledge. Why? It seems that in addition to overcoming any economic hurdles, their particular internalized homophobic programming and assorted trauma connected with a multitude of other societal disadvantages, disapproval, and rejection, they continue to be cautious and quite concerned about how others view about them to a much higher degree than their heterosexual peers. They are addressing a reality that their best will not be good enough, it will be discounted, simply because of who they are. Having experienced this in myself and observing so many others, I believe this bears “real-world” workplace significance.
Undermining Statements From Human Resources and Management
In an uninformed and apathetic manner, I’ve had the below statements made to me numerous times along my career journey. We need to re-frame the understanding of how gay, lesbian, bisexual transgender and queers struggle (not an exhaustive list):
1) Are you sure it was discrimination?
In other words: “Aren’t you just playing the gay card because it’s easier than nursing a bruised ego?” This is an invalidation that stems from a lack of desire to listen, learn and expend some true effort to assess the actual situation. Playing ones part within a discriminating culture means you don’t have to actively discriminate, however, you can certainly assist by remaining quite yourself and further silencing and demoralizing those who object to oppression. With this action, you also don’t have to stop and evaluate the experiences of other people in systems that you might incidentally thrive in, and therefore have no personal objections to. Allies do not show up for the party and then try to argue that the battle is not constant and affects everyone in the workplace. Thoughtfully listen to the full story, even if it shatters your own insecurities and past learned beliefs. Don’t enforce your narrative into it and emphasize your vantage point as the universal default. Become self-aware of when you are doing so and realize that it is not helpful and in fact perpetuates discrimination or worse.
2) Discrimination will be a hard thing to prove.
If an organization discriminates against a person, it’s the organization that must establish in court that it did not discriminate. Why is it so easily deemed that there ought to be a different set of rules for LGBTQ people, implying that it is up to them to prove that they are not lying, omitting facts or being oversensitive? Queer folks are actually all exceptional individuals. This thinking negates the fact that the injustice is being carried out by the perpetrator and not the victim. It dismisses the possibility that not all queer folks can financially afford to challenge discrimination in a court of law. Allies could educate themselves on systems of oppression and verses supporting dismissive statements.
3) But women – or insert race/gender/religion/nationality here – are discriminated against too.
If we are attempting to change a culture of discrimination specifically against queer people of all genders, races, nationalities, and heritage, it’s very diminishing to try and argue that there are simply more important problems, and by assuming gender/race/religious/nationality equality is explicitly heterosexual. Queer equality crosses all other equality categories. Listening is a really important part of supporting. We might use listening to build a sense of common purpose, silently recognizing similarities and then sharing approaches instead of falling into the trap of compartmentalized divisive thinking. Listen, get to know and understand your fellow human and co-worker.
4) Women are discriminated against all of the time. You are a man, so toughen up.
This type of statement is indeed binary, and once again fails to comprehend both why and how gay men and women are discriminated against so broadly and effectively. When you are a guy with perceived feminine qualities or a woman with perceived masculine traits, then gender stereotype fetishization and glorification of male masculinity and female femininity is used to discount, ridicule and isolate individuals and groups. Often a “hetero-passable” receive a pass or partial acceptance because they “fit” the environment cultural norm. This causes the employee to feel devalued again feeding into the idea that they have to work harder to prove themselves to be worthy.
5) You seem very angry. You may not wish to alienate or anger straight people.
I never want to purposely anger anyone, per se. However, I do want to upset the damaging hierarchies and power systems that all of us so effortlessly accept and preserve without any people ever receiving any real advantage from them. Frustration can lead to anger. But put yourself in that person’s perspective. Would you be frustrated and/or angry if the situation was directed at you? Oppressed people are generally exhausted from persevering it for the time until they’ve reached their tipping point to bring it to your attention. It is likely not an isolated event that has pushed them to the point of finally reaching out for help. Listen, analysis, empathize and rationally decide actions to take to address the current situation and prevent it from happening to others in the future.
Allies must acknowledge personal accountability, empathize with another person’s situation and then attempt to modify their thoughts and actions to grow from new knowledge and personal connections. Allies question their past learned beliefs and accept that their own thoughts and ideas about others may need to change. They take a proactive approach to empower and affect change within themselves, within coworkers and within the companies and organizations they work in and participate in.