June marks Pride Month in Australia. And yet, despite progress and increased public support for LGBTQ+ equality in recent times, many people who belong to the community are still discriminated against, in the workplace and outside of it. Data from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation found that 46% of people are still closeted at work. Some of the main reasons for this are fear of being stereotyped (38%), worries over making others feel uncomfortable (36%), and concerns about losing friends (31%). In many territories across the world, being or behaving in a way that implies you’re LGBTQ+ can still have sever consequences with 71 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, with eight countries even using the death penalty as a punishment and in more than half of the world, LGBTQ+ people are not protected from discrimination by workplace law.

One of the few spaces that can have real impact in improving LGBTQ+ equality is the workplace. And unsurprisingly, being an LGBTQ+ inclusive employer is great for business too. It “positively impacts recruitment, retention, engagement and, overall, total revenue”. But it takes effort – and it’s not only up to LGBTQ+ colleagues to change the workplace culture. It’s up to the rest of us, too.

Being an Ally to LGBTQ+ Colleagues
You don’t have to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community to support it. It’s not even difficult to do. It takes respect, and the ability to listen (properly listen without interrupting) and learn. So, if you want to show your support but aren’t sure how to do it, here are a few things you can do to become a true ally to your LGBTQ+ colleagues:

1. Learn About LGBTQ+ Life
Pride Month is a great opportunity to learn so why not take some time to discover the story behind how Pride started. Brush up on terms, too. We use the term LGBTQ+ frequently, but do you actually know what it stands for? LGBTQ+ is an initialism for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer, while the “plus” includes other sexualities and identities, such as pansexual, intersex and asexual. While the term is relatively new, remember that LGBTQ+ people have always existed – from way before this term became popular.

Over the years, Pride has become much more diverse to encompass many different sexualities and identities, some of which are still not fully understood. This can at times feel confusing. It’s also important to remember that the LGBTQ+ community itself differs in opinions and beliefs, sometimes widely and strongly. Be open and respectful to these varied opinions. As long as they’re not hurtful or abusive, they can tell you a lot about the unique perspectives of the LGBTQ+ community and the issues facing it.

2. Avoid Assumptions
Unless a colleague specifically mentions their sexual orientation, it’s unprofessional and inconsiderate to make assumptions. After all, you may be wrong. There’s no way of knowing whether someone is LGBTQ+ without asking them. Assuming that you have “gaydar” can actually perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

Even if you know that one of your colleagues is LGBTQ+, it’s important to let them decide if and when they want to let others know. They may be very private. Keep in mind that they need to make this decision repeatedly – whenever they start a new job or meet new people.

Avoid putting your LGBTQ+ colleagues in the uncomfortable position of speaking for the whole group. Just because your colleague is transgender doesn’t mean that they want to talk about transgender issues all the time, or that they’re some kind of spokesperson for the transgender community.

3. Use Inclusive Language
Use language that recognizes that people have diverse lifestyles, relationships and families. For example, instead of asking about someone’s “husband” or “wife,” you could ask about their “partner.” Or instead of “mom” and “dad,” say “parent.” If you still aren’t sure what terms you should be using, ask. This is a sign of respect and an easy way to demonstrate your support for LGBTQ+ colleagues. No matter how well-intentioned you are, chances are you’ve used gendered words in the workplace. But using non-inclusive words regularly can have a negative impact on people who already feel that they don’t fit in to what’s perceived to be the “norm.” Just think about the following phrases:
• guys and gals.
• ladies and gentlemen.
• brothers and sisters.
• sir/madam.
• he/she.
The above are gender assumptive. They only recognize two main genders, but the truth is that some people don’t belong to either. They might be gender fluid or non-binary. So try using more inclusive language instead, such as:
• friends and colleagues.
• esteemed guests.
• they/them.
• everyone.
4. Be Respectful of Pronouns
The pronouns that we use (he or she or they) are tied intrinsically to our identity. So it’s important that we get these right – particularly when it comes to our colleagues. Some people may be trans; others may be gender neutral. And yet, far too often people assume pronouns for other people. Often this is reflexive, but getting it wrong can cause people upset (even if it’s unintentional). So, if you’re unsure, ask someone, “What’s your personal pronoun?” This is an open, low-pressure question that allows someone who’s in the process of transitioning or has already transitioned to affirm their identity.

5. Tackle Discrimination and Harassment
Intolerance in the workplace can take the form of overt abuse or microaggressions. Obviously, overt abuse and harassment have no place in the workplace, and a zero-tolerance approach should be taken. They might seem like small things; but, over time, they can have a serious impact on a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. Furthermore, ignoring them can serve to perpetuate inequality and undermine inclusion.

Common examples of microaggressions are things like, “You don’t look gay,” or, “How did you turn gay?” They can also include misgendering, tokenization, failure to acknowledge LGBTQ+ relationships, or exclusion from social groups.

When perpetrators are called out on their behaviour, they might qualify it with things like, “You’re being oversensitive,” or, “I was just joking.” This can make it tricky to tackle this kind of behaviour. Victims and witnesses ask themselves five questions to help them decide how to respond:
• If I respond, could my physical safety be in danger?
• If I respond, will the person become defensive, and will this lead to an argument?
• If I respond, how will this affect my relationship with this person?
• If I don’t respond, will I regret not saying something?
• If I don’t respond, does that convey that I accept the behaviour or statement?
If you do decide to take action, respond assertively rather than aggressively. Calmly talk to the person about how their words and behaviour have affected you. Use “I” statements such as, “I think what you just said was very hurtful,” instead of attacking statements like, “You’re homophobic,” which will likely cause the person to become defensive. Finally if you feel that microaggressions are constant and persistent, even when you’ve done your best to address them, you may want to talk to HR. Also, talk to your allies – people who you know to be trustworthy and who will listen to you without judgment. Share with them the emotional impact of the situation and how it’s affected you. This can be crucial in allowing you to work through negative feelings that the microaggression has caused, such as low self-confidence or self-worth, anger and even depression.