Author: TL McMinn
The 2SLGBTQIA+ community has been dealing with issues of discrimination and harassment for as long as there have been words to describe us. We’ve been labeled as mentally ill, as perverts; we’ve been imprisoned, mocked, beaten, and killed; we’ve been denied access to military careers, equal wages, and promotions; all in all, we’ve been denied a right to our own identity. And as life as a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community improves in North America, our history cannot be denied. In the workplace, teachers have been the target of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ laws since the 1950s, primarily because of the influence they are seen to have over the children they teach. For example, between 1957 and 1963, 2SLGBTQIA+ schoolteachers and professors in Florida were actively pursued, interrogated, fired, and had their professional credentials revoked (Graves). In 1978, a proposed law in California would’ve prohibited openly 2SLGBTQIA+ teachers from working in the state’s public schools (Machado). From 2013 to 2021, over 100 teachers, most in the United States, have been either fired, forced to resign, had offers recinded, or threatened, because of 2SLGBTQIA+ identity (DeBernardo).
I came out as gay at the age of 15 and have identified as androgyne since the age of 17. Many of my work, educational, and career choices have been influenced by my identities, both positively and negatively and I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to conceal my identities and am able to be proud of who I am. However, I am also aware that being “out” influences how others perceive and treat me, and as an “out” Queer person, I have faced harassment, bullying, and sexual exploitation as a result of my perceived female gender and gay identity. For instance, I’ve had coworkers ignore and belittle me because they disagreed with my “disgusting lifestyle;” I’ve been sexually propositioned by coworkers and managers who thought they could “turn me;” and I’ve also missed out on career opportunities because of my gay identity.
My experiences with discrimination are not uncommon among 2SLGBTQIA+ folks, particularly by those who choose to be “out” in the workplace. For instance, 62.8% of “out” workers have experienced either verbal or physical harassment in the workplace, versus 14.8% of non-“out” workers. Furthermore, 10.9% of “out” workers (2.2% of non-“out” workers) continue to face discrimination at work, even after Bostock v. Clayton County (which concluded that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are forms of sex discrimination and are prohibited under Title VII). 2SLGBTQIA+ women are also 58% more likely than straight women (41%) to experience sexual harassment in the workplace, which may explain why 2SLGBTQIA+ women are less likely than 2SLGBTQIA+ men to be “out” at work (58% versus 80%).
The choice of whether or not to be “out” is deeply personal and can, as seen above, make some aspects of work-life easier, however, the difficulties of concealing one’s identity or a portion of one’s identity (also known as “covering”) can be equally distressing. Covering is common among trans and BIPOC team members, for instance, 36.4% of trans team members and 28.8% of BIPOC team members change their physical appearance while at work, 30% of trans team members and 31% of BIPOC team members alternate their mannerisms and voice, 35.4% of trans team members and 27.7% of BIPOC team members change how they dress. In addition, 27.5% of trans team members feel the need to change how often they use the washroom. These facts influence our sense of belonging and feelings of psychological safety at work, which have a direct correlation to an individual’s work performance and how long they plan to stay with an organization.
There are a lot of ways to make a workplace more inclusive to 2SLGBTQIA+ folks, but whatever you do, you need to be intentional about your actions and how you protect 2SLGBTQIA+ wellness in the workplace. The following are some suggestions on how to increase 2SLGBTQIA+ wellness.
- Having a formal policy outlining your position and the expected behaviors of all people in your employ is essential to creating an inclusive environment. As such, anti-harassment and discrimination policies need to include the terms “sex,” “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” as protected categories (Pride at Work, Out and Equal).
- Ensure that all policies and documents use gender-neutral/inclusive language as gendered language enforces gender stereotypes and erases the existence of genderqueer and non-binary people. “They/them” is preferred over of “he,” “she,” or “he/she”). Dress codes should also be examined for gendered language; look for policies that dictate what is appropriate and professional dress for men and women. State what is and isn’t your professional standards, without enforcing who can or should wear skirts or pants (Pride at Work).
- Consider revising policies that require employees to use their full legal name, this will accommodate employees who use their chosen names. When legal names are required, attach an internal addendum, otherwise companies should have their own internal systems for recognizing and using a person’s chosen name (Out and Equal).
- When reporting misconduct, employers must have a clear process in place for investigating and addressing policy violations, including anti-retaliation policies. This is significant since 2SLGBTQIA+ team members are less likely to report instances of discrimination because they don’t think anything will be done about it (HRC).
- 2SLGBTQIA+ team members often have specific needs when it comes to medical coverage, parental leave, bereavement, etc. To be inclusive, benefits packages should include coverage for drugs related to HIV/AIDs (including PrEP) as well as coverage for transition-related costs (including gender affirmation surgery) (Pride at Work).
- Benefits should also be using gender-neutral and inclusive language (e.g., “spouses/partners” instead of “husband/wife”), and all benefits should be able to be utilized by married and unmarried partners (Pride at Work, Out and Equal).
Employee Resource Groups (ERG), Affinity Groups (AG), and/or Diversity Council (DC):
- ERGs, AGs, and DCs are voluntary and employee-led groups that have the objective of fostering a sense of community, diversity, and inclusion within their organization. Having a 2SLGBTQIA+ ERG or similar is integral to an organization’s ability to create an inclusive environment and can help boost employee experience, satisfaction, and innovation.
- ERGs and affinity groups are voluntary spaces intended to foster community within an organization; they should not be expected to improve DEI within an organizational space. That type of work should be passed on to a Diversity or DEI Council, which anyone from an ERG or Affinity group can join if they want to do it. ERGs and affinity groups exist to provide benefits rather than to perform work.
- Engaging with members of 2SLGBTQIA+ ERGs, AGs, or DCs helps to retain long-term volunteers by supporting them to advance their careers, develop leadership skills, and gain visibility with senior leadership. It also helps to foster the development of new recruits.
Supporting the 2SLGBTQIA+ community:
- Determine your organization’s motivation for advocating for 2SLGBTQIA+ issues, as well as its track record and previous stances on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues, and decide whether internal work should be prioritized over external advocacy.
- Work with 2SLGBTQIA+ team members and their allies to generate ideas for partnerships and philanthropy that support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Many corporate entities are now supporting Pride in one way or another, however, many fail to move past superficial acts.
Want to increase wellness for your 2SLGBTQIA+ team members? Book a meeting with us for more tips on how to accomplish this.