The opinion that ‘we should all have the right to not live in fear and be treated fairly’ might seem like a given. The days of people not being free to be openly lesbian or gay without having to hide or fear repercussions or discrimination might seem long gone. You might see LGBT+ flags displayed proudly in shop windows and same-sex couples in adoption adverts and assume LGBT+ inclusion has been achieved. Legislation, representation and normality – job done.
Yet, across the world, the picture is looking very worrying indeed for the LGBT+ community. And not just those in the 11 countries where it is still possible to be given the death penalty for being gay, or the 71 countries that criminalize same-sex consensual sexual activity. Across Europe, the USA and the UK we are also seeing rights being rolled back and hate crimes rising.
Indeed, gender identity and sexual orientation have become a political battlefield once again. It is hard to open a newspaper at the moment without seeing a story, from whichever angle on whether gender identity is a social contagion, whether schools should have books with LGBT+ characters in their libraries or whether a politician feels that transgender women should or shouldn’t compete in sport. For such a small community, nominally around 10% of the population, the noise and focus of debate is huge. For them, LGBT+ inclusion is lacking and change needs to be made.
I am not going to get into the politics or give a view on why we are here. But instead, highlight the two things that so often get forgotten in these conversations; we have been here before and most importantly, behind all this debate, argument and polarised views, are real people’s lives.
Today, the trans community (making up no more than around 1% of the population and yet one of the most marginalized groups in society) are experiencing the questioning of their existence, intentions and validity. Everybody seems to have a view and wants to share it.
The non-binary community is being told they don’t exist and it is in their heads.
I grew up in the 80s, at a time when, in the UK, section 28 (clause 28 of the Local Government Act, 1986) was in force. This banned schools and public bodies from ‘promoting the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’ following fears that a new book being used in schools about a young girl who grew up with two dads would encourage young people to all want to be gay. The legislation was put in place under the guise of protecting young people so that they could concentrate on their education and not think about things like relationships and sexuality (at that point gender identity wasn’t discussed at all) until adult life. As a young person, realizing I had feelings towards other girls rather than boys in the midst of this, that wasn’t how it worked out for me, or many like me. I grew up believing that I must be bad, I must be sinful and importantly, I must never speak of it. Of course, like all teenagers trying to navigate their identity and keep it a secret, rather than being able to put it to one side until after my education, it was then all I thought about and I used many a lesson pondering, worrying and struggling to make sense, rather than listening and learning. Section 28 was repealed nearly 20 years later, but the damage to a generation is still very much felt and talked about today. Yet today we see similar legislation in Hungary, Poland, Russia and now parts of the USA in the recent ‘don’t say gay’ bills.
Whatever your view, whatever you want the outcome of these challenging times to be, I think it is fundamentally important to remember that the current climate will be creating feelings of uncertainty, otherness, fear and worry. Not just for LGBT+ people in your workplace, but also for those who have LGBT+ children or loved ones. The concept of weathering – first coined to understand Black women’s inequality in healthcare, but now expanded to explain how social and political othering and discrimination of you or people like you (even if not directly you) eats away at your wellbeing – is well tested and proven.
The unkindness and polarisation of social media can easily spill over into the workplace and cause conflict and divides that can feel difficult to manage without feeling like you are poking a hornet’s nest. But at times like this, it is vital to stick to the basics of LGBT+ inclusion in order to create a workplace where everyone feels valued and can thrive.
Here are some steps you can take to achieve better LGBT+ inclusion in your organization:
- Firstly, remember that inclusion is not a pie. Creating inclusion for one group does not take it away from another, especially if done well.
- Create and maintain simple messages like ‘we can all hold our own views but must always be respectful and kind to each other’. Remember that beyond the 10% of people who vocalize their views at either end of the opinion spectrum, don’t forget the quiet middle – the ones who want to work in an organization that aligns with their values, and who they see impacting positively on the world, climate and society.
- But most importantly of all, remember that the LGBT+ people in your organization, whether you know who they are or not, need some extra TLC at the moment.
So, whilst for so many people the right to love whoever they love and be safe might seem a given, for many, the lived experience is that it is still very much not the case. Introduce LGBT+ inclusion training to your workforce with our brand new equality, diversity and inclusion collection. Find out more.
Claire Harvey is an experienced senior leader, inclusion expert and Paralympian. Currently working as Global Inclusion Lead for Vodafone Claire is recognised as a world leader in diversity, inclusion and culture, incorporating change management and leadership behaviours into impactful change.