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Being a member of the LGBTQ community can be difficult especially in work environments. There are still, unfortunately, some issues of discrimination and harassment. The bigger issue at hand is the subject of diversity and how coworkers are learning to better interact with each other. For many people, this is a subject that is very uncomfortable. Starting the dialog about interacting with each other is the only way for everyone’s awareness to start growing. The end result will ultimately be a journey of inclusion and acceptance.
Life is a journey. If you are a member of the LGBTQ community, it might seem to be a long road to openness and acceptance in your work environment. Take a moment to think of the friends, family and colleagues that have already taken the journey to accept you for who you are. It is extremely gratifying to watch them as they have had new experiences and have processed all the information about your sexual orientation and gender identity.
While your loved ones are moving smoothly on the path to acceptance, there is still significant work that needs to be done so that there is acceptance for LGBTQ people at a higher level. At the most basic of levels, acceptance is acknowledgement of who you are as a person and your sexual orientation and gender identity as a human being, just like everyone else in the world. It is critical that acceptance be present in order to have a healthy work environment for the organization and the people who work there. Organizations need to have LGBTQ friendly policies in place and/or offer benefits to partners of LGBTQ employees in order for the organization to take the lead in diversity and acceptance. If companies and coworkers take a positive approach to continually change and be accepting of all people, then they are heading in the right direction.
One factor that is critical to understanding the acceptance of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities is that a visual component may not be evident. For example, even though it is not always the case, oftentimes race, gender and disability have a visual component. Like other diversity discrimination issues, there are many stereotypes that are associated with being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
If a group of people are surveyed, you might be surprised how many people will state that they have had almost no exposure to anyone in the LGBTQ community that they are aware of. In fact, most people have had more experience with the LGBTQ community than they realize – but that seems obvious to those in the community (wink-wink). In many areas, people do not feel it is acceptable and safe to be open regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity. Yet, acceptance of LGBTQ people in organizations and in general is relevant to everyone’s lives.
Most employees state that they are satisfied in their place of work when the company takes interest in their personal lives so that they feel like a valued member of the group. This is exactly why it is so important for an LGBTQ employee to feel included and accepted. When colleagues make simple conversation like “How’s your family?” and “What did you do on vacation?”, if the LGBTQ employee is not comfortable and does not feel safe, that employee will often answer the questions with extreme care to keep information vague, and use pronouns so as to not appear to be part of the LGBTQ community.
The fact that an employee’s personal information needs to remain a secret implies that the organization would condemn an employee for being a LGBTQ individual. In order to have coworkers exhibit acceptance of all employees include the LGBTQ community, the organization and management must take leadership roles to initiate professional development. If a company mistakenly addresses all the groups of diversity except for sexual orientation and gender identity, the acceptance of LGBTQ employees will be greatly slowed. Every employer’s and supervisor’s comfort level will be different based on personal life experiences.
Transgender and gender identity can become even more complicated for those unfamiliar. The level of societal acceptance is so small that it makes this issue extremely sensitive even among LGBTQ members themselves. There are some helpful tips for interacting respectfully and effectively with a transgender or gender queer employee. Supervisors and coworkers should never assume that they can tell that someone is transgender. Many times, transgender people do not visibly appear as a transsexual.
One should never make assumptions about the sexual orientation of a transgender employee. Sexual orientation is different from gender identity. The gender a person is attracted to determines a person’s sexual orientation. The gender that a person most closely identifies with is a person’s gender identity. Transgender people can be lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual or straight.
Both coworkers and supervisors should never tolerate anti-transgender humor or remarks in the workplace. Think of strategies that can be used to confront transgender remarks. Look for allies and resources to support the issue. Regardless or your race, religion, sexual identity, sexual orientation, gender or disability, your workplace should be accepting of your personal lifestyle and characteristics. We all have to work hard to be respectful and understanding in the face of diversity issues.