LGBT in the Workplace
Some may think that sharing a workplace with a person who has different life experiences than us can be challenging, and it does not have to be. When it comes to being in a workplace with LGBT+ people, we want to let them know we are an ally and, more importantly, an effective ally. As a cisgender, heterosexual person, however, we may not know precisely how to “deal” with an LGBT+ coworker. The secret is: empathy. Empathy is the key to “dealing” with any kind of coworker, and our LGBT+ colleagues are no different.
The first thing we will want to do is avoid microaggressions. A microaggression is a (usually) verbal slight against a minority community, that people say every day. These things are usually small, but institutionally harmful to the minority in question. When it comes to the LGBT+ community, this usually comes in the form of asking a gay couple which one of them is the “woman,” asking a butch lesbian why she never wears dresses, or asking a transgender/nonbinary person whether they are a man or a woman. If you don’t understand why these are not such great things to say to someone, try to imagine being on the receiving end. If a guy is in a relationship with another guy, obviously neither of them are the “woman.” That’s kind of the whole point. So, it’s a bit stupid and offensive whenever straight people ask this question. Then, when asking a girl why she never wears dresses, ask instead: why do we care? Imagine a stranger came up to you and asked you if you’re a man or a woman. What would your reaction be? If we would be confused and a bit offended, then maybe we don’t ask other people that question either. If we really can’t tell what someone’s gender is, a better thing to do would be to ask them what pronouns they use. Don’t feel awkward about asking this question, the person you’re asking will likely be very glad they were asked about their pronouns instead of what is in their pants.
When it comes to many minorities words can have a big impact. It costs about $0.00 to not offend someone. We don’t have to use the F slur or the N word. We don’t have to make racist or homophobic jokes. Personally, I’m of the opinion that if we can’t be funny without offending someone then we are not very good at comedy. In the workplace, it is especially important to create a safe space so people can come to work and feel comfortable, as work is where they spend the majority of their lives. As stated before, creating this space is all about empathy. Before speaking, simply consider the feelings of others. It’s that simple! Before engaging in water cooler gossip about your trans male coworker, imagine how he would feel if you called him “she” (hint: he’d feel terrible). To the trans community in particular, words are especially important. We might not think that being mistaken for a girl is that bad, but when someone has been actively trying for years and years to not get mistaken for a girl and yet constantly are anyways, it gets, well, bad. It can be hard to empathize with transgender people, as this is an experience that very few people go through, so I will try to make it more relatable. Imagine someone is making fun of your worst insecurities. That’s what it feels like for a transgender person to be misgendered, and it happens on a very regular basis to many trans people. If you mess up and use the wrong language or pronoun for a trans person, it’s not the end of the world. Correct yourself, apologize, and move on. But if you don’t even try to get it right, you’re making that person’s day, even their life, that much worse.
Another big part of empathy is listening. It is vitally important to be able to listen when people tell you things they have problems with, and recognize when the problem is within ourselves. If someone tells us that something we said offended them, it is not up to us to decide whether or not it was actually offensive. What’s most important is how the other person feels. If an LGBT+ person is telling you about one of their struggles with being LGBT+, even if you don’t quite understand it, listen to them and validate their feelings. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s not valid. Another thing we can do to help create a safe working environment is to listen for when other people make slights or mess up. If we hear our boss misgendering a transgender coworker, I guarantee your coworker will be forever grateful if you stand up for them and correct your boss. Not only will doing this kind of thing help create a safe working environment, it will also flag you as a “safe person” in the mind of the LGBT+ person.