Finding Your Voice: Speaking Up as an LGBTQIA+ Individual in the Workplace and Being an Ally

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In today’s workplaces, it is essential for LGBTQIA+ individuals to find their voice and feel empowered to speak up. Additionally, fostering allyship within the broader community is crucial for creating an inclusive and supportive environment. As a young, closeted queer person beginning my career in my deeply conservative home state of Texas, I found myself in a precarious position where my sexual identity and my career were on a collision course that could end my career and place me in an unsafe work environment due to being a gay man.

In one of my first jobs out of college, I was handed a document by our HR department that required that I provide my signature stating that I would not participate in ‘homosexual activity.’ You might be asking yourself, ‘how is that legal?!’ I am not a legal expert, but I can tell you my experience during that time in 2018.

There was no federal law in the United States explicitly prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, some states and municipalities had their own laws protecting individuals from such discrimination. Texas did not have state-level protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity at that time.

When looking at this form in my hand I knew that I would never be able to build any meaningful relationships while at this organization. I knew that in order to be able to provide for myself financially and protect myself emotionally, I would need to keep much of my life in the dark when at work.

Thankfully, my time at that organization was fairly short lived and I have had the opportunity to experience genuine and authentic relationships with colleagues and supervisors that fully embrace the fact that I am part of the LGBTQIA+ community. In the years since exiting that organization I have made notes of what kept me going during my loneliest hours staying closeted at work, what I would do differently if I could go back, what I looked for in allies in the workplace, and what I share with people who want to be allies to the community.

For LGBTQIA+ Individuals:

Self-Awareness and Confidence:

It is important to develop self-awareness and confidence in your identity and experiences. Understand that your voice and perspective are valuable, and you have a right to express yourself authentically in the workplace. Embrace your unique perspective as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Continually Seek to Educate Yourself:

Stay informed about LGBTQIA+ issues, advancements, and workplace rights. Having knowledge about relevant policies and laws empowers you to speak up more effectively and advocate for your rights. This understanding also helps combat misconceptions and stereotypes.

Find Support Networks:

Seek out supportive colleagues, employee resource groups, or LGBTQIA+ networks within your workplace. Connecting with others who share similar experiences can provide a safe space for sharing ideas, discussing challenges, and gaining advice on navigating workplace dynamics.

Speak up Respectfully:

When faced with discrimination, microaggressions, or biased remarks, it is crucial to address the issue constructively. Consider speaking privately with the person involved, expressing how their words or actions affected you and explaining why they were inappropriate. Focus on educating and promoting understanding rather than engaging in confrontation.

Seek Allies:

Identify allies within your workplace who are supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community. Allies can help amplify your voice, challenge discriminatory behavior, and advocate for inclusive policies. Engage in open conversations, share your experiences, and ask for their support in fostering a more inclusive environment.

For Allies:

Listen and Learn:

Actively listen to the experiences and perspectives of LGBTQIA+ colleagues. Seek to understand their unique challenges and concerns. Educate yourself about LGBTQIA+ terminology, issues, and history to better support and advocate for their rights.

Be Vocal and Visible:

Use your privilege and position to be a vocal ally. Speak out against homophobia, transphobia, or any form of discrimination. Use inclusive language and challenge offensive jokes or comments. By actively showing your support, you help create a safer and more inclusive environment for LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Educate Yourself and Others:

Continuously educate yourself about LGBTQIA+ issues, rights, and advancements. Share this knowledge with colleagues to promote understanding and combat misconceptions. Encourage diversity and inclusion training programs within your workplace.

Offer Support:

Be available to listen and offer support to LGBTQIA+ colleagues. Create a safe and confidential space where they feel comfortable discussing their experiences, concerns, and challenges. Respect their confidentiality and offer resources if needed.

Advocate for Inclusive Policies:

Advocate for policies and practices that promote LGBTQIA+ inclusion, such as gender-neutral restrooms, inclusive healthcare benefits, and nondiscriminatory hiring and promotion practices. Engage in conversations with HR or management to ensure workplace policies align with equality and diversity.

Speaking up as an LGBTQIA+ individual in the workplace and being an ally to the community require both courage and empathy. By developing self-confidence, continuing to educate yourself, seeking support networks, addressing issues respectfully, and finding allies, you can make your voice heard and effect positive change. Allies, on the other hand, must actively listen, educate themselves, be vocal and visible, offer support, and advocate for inclusive policies. Together, we can create workplaces that value and celebrate the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community, fostering an inclusive work environment.

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