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How to be a better ally to your LGBTQ+ colleagues

By Rob Barrie

Jun 15th 2021

People often think coming out is a one time thing. But it isn’t — it’s something you have to do over and over throughout your life, whenever you meet new people. 

That can be pretty stressful, especially if you’ve had a bad experience in the past.

The workplace can magnify these stresses. After all, you don’t pick your colleagues like you pick your friends. And with a constant supply of new starters, it can feel like you’re playing a game of roulette — always one newbie away from a homophobe.

The good news is, you can help. Here are a few things you can do every day to make life easier for your LGBTQ+ colleagues:

1. Don’t make assumptions about someone’s sexuality or gender

Remember what I said up top about coming out? That’s because being straight and cisgender is often seen as the default. It means LGBTQ+ people are under pressure to correct new people they meet, right out of the gate.

It can be pretty tricky to know when to drop the bombshell, especially if it means derailing some banter. 

You can take away some of that stress by not assuming anything about people when they join your company. For example: instead of asking someone if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, use a gender-neutral term like partner. It’s a simple change that can make a pretty big difference.

2. Let people know you’re an ally

35% of LGBTQ+ people have hidden their sexuality at work*. But knowing you’re around supportive and accepting people can make a huge difference.

So make it obvious! Don’t be quiet about your support for the LGBTQ+ community. Let new people know you’re a good person to be around.

Adding your pronouns to social media platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn is a great place to start. It’s an easy way of saying: I’m on your side — without making too much fuss. 

And if your company is holding any talks or events for Pride, make sure you attend. Just seeing people support LGBTQ+ events can be incredibly uplifting and reassuring.

3. Make an effort to respect everyone’s identity

When I join a job, people usually ask me “Rob or Robert?”. I tell them I prefer “Rob” and that’s what they call me. 

But when was the last time you asked someone what pronoun they prefer?

Making sure you’re addressing people in a way that makes them feel comfortable is common courtesy. So if someone tells you they prefer a certain name or pronoun, you should make every effort to respect it.

It takes very little effort, costs you nothing, and can make a big difference. So why wouldn’t you do it?

That’s why adding pronouns to social media and messaging platforms is so great — it lets everyone know how you want to be addressed, without having to start conversations that make you feel vulnerable.

4. Think about your language

When you’re part of a minority group, you end up hearing the same things over and over again. Often, they’re a reminder that you’re different. Sometimes they’re a reminder that some people view being LGBTQ+ as a step down from the straight-cis standard. 

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people describe things as “gay”, only to justify it by saying “oh no, I didn’t mean gay, like gay, I just meant gay, like bad”.

Hopefully that doesn’t apply to you — but just in case: making a link between things being bad and people being gay is quite obviously homophobic. 

So it pays to think carefully about the things you say. Ask yourself if it’s appropriate, or offensive, or if it’s even the right time and place. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you’re interested in some of the more functional aspects of LGBTQ+ life, you can always try Google first.

5. Speak up when you see something wrong

Tackling homophobia, transphobia, biphobia etc. can be difficult for LGBTQ+ people. There’s always a worry that things might escalate, get out of hand.

That’s why it’s so important for straight people to speak out when they see or hear discrimination. It doesn’t just help diffuse the situation in the moment — it’s a powerful signal that you won’t tolerate that kind of behaviour.

6. Educate yourself and get involved with Pride month

Think of this month as a good opportunity to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community. 

There are loads of resources out there, but here are a few places to start:

  • The British Library — this timeline of LGBTQ+ history in the UK is a fantastic way to learn how long progress can take and how far we’ve come

  • Stonewall — check out this page on inclusive workplaces for more information on creating an environment where people feel comfortable being themselves

  • Netflix — this month is a great time to dip your toe into the waters of LGBTQ+ movies and TV — you’ll likely find specific categories on all the major streaming services, so get stuck in

So that’s a very quick look at how everyone can step up their game for Pride month and beyond. By reading this, you’re already a fantastic colleague, so keep up the good work. Have a fabulous Pride!

knowing you’re around supportive and accepting people can make a huge difference.

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