If you work with other people, chances are you work with someone who identifies as LGBTQ (and probably more than one someone). Even though acceptance of LGBTQ people has been steadily increasing in recent years, we still live in a generally homophobic society. Our culture is designed around the idea that people are straight – that’s why coming out is even necessary for LGBTQ folks. Even if you’re not LGBTQ, you can care about these issues as an ally.
When you’re an ally to a marginalized community, you give your support and use your privilege to support that community. There’s a common misconception out there that you can call yourself an ally and the work is done, but that’s not the case. Being an ally requires action. There are a lot of ways to be a good ally, but for today we’re going to focus on how to be an LGBTQ ally in the workplace. Everyone deserves to feel comfortable at work, and as an ally, you can help make that true for the LGBTQ folks you work with.
You might be wondering how to start showing your support for the LGBTQ community in the workplace. Here are some suggestions for how to practice allyship at work:
Use your voice
As a straight person in the workplace, you have a voice that your LGBTQ coworkers may not have. You can make sure that even when there isn’t an LGBTQ person in the room that folks are still being respectful and inclusive. Being an ally doesn’t stop when you’re no longer around a queer person. As a straight person in an office, your voice has privilege. Use it! If someone misgenders a coworker around you, remind them of the correct pronouns to use. If someone uses derogatory terms for LGBTQ folks in front of you, tell them to stop. Queer folks are constantly having to defend themselves for being who they are, so having an ally step in can go a long way.
The burden of educating you about LGBTQ issues shouldn’t fall on LGBTQ people. With the internet and millions of reliable sources a click away, ignorance is a choice. It can be tempting to ask the queer people you know to teach you what you want to know, but that is asking for a lot of free labor from an already marginalized person. If you want to learn more, take the time to educate yourself. Once you’ve learned what you need to know, you’ll be in a better position to educate others, so it doesn’t end up on the shoulders of your queer coworkers.
Shift your language
One easy way to make LGBTQ people feel welcome is to shift your language. Switch from gendered terms to gender neutral terms. This can feel tough at first, but it gets so much easier with practice. Instead of addressing a meeting as “Ladies and gentlemen,” try saying something like “Welcome, everyone!”. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when shifting your language away from gendered terms. Instead of saying “men and women”, say “people”. Instead of “he or she” say “they”. Little shifts can go a long way.
Put your pronouns in your email signature
We often think that only queer people need to clarify their pronouns, but that’s not the case. It’s actually incredibly helpful for straight allies to state which pronouns they use so that asking someone’s pronouns becomes more normalized. This is a quick and easy way to help shift our cultural thinking. Don’t limit it just to email either – include your pronouns in your bio on the website, and offer them up freely when you speak face to face. Introduce yourself with your name and your pronouns, and it will become a habit.
Use your privilege
If you’re in a managerial position, use your power in the workplace to advocate for LGBTQ coworkers. Reconsider dress codes that enforce gender norms and punish nontraditional presentation. Advocate for policies that are inclusive of LGBTQ employees, like expansive benefits that cover nontraditional families. If you have coworkers who are not being respectful of their LGBTQ colleagues, speak up or speak to HR. Show that you’re not afraid to use your voice to stick up for others.