The float’s been booked, the #lovewins T-shirts ordered, the progress flag hoisted and the drag brunch is in the diary. Rainbows are appearing around the business, not just on the lanyards around the necks of colleagues you occasionally see in the corridor. Zoom backgrounds, reception walls and email signatures are suddenly bursting with six bold flashes of colour. This frenzy of activity is gearing up for one key event – Pride month.
For many LGBTQ+ people, Pride is a critical opportunity to be unashamedly and unapologetically themselves; it’s a chance to celebrate who they are and the progress towards equality that has been made. However, whilst painting a fantastical picture of revelry and fun, the reality is that Pride for many was – and remains – a protest. It’s a stand against historical wrongs, a spotlight on international setbacks and a challenge to today’s societal injustices.
Organizations seek to use Pride as an opportunity to showcase their support for the LGBTQ+ community, their queer employees and this fight. Whilst noble, the risk is that it remains exactly that – a series of virtue-signalling events that only have a limited lifespan within four short weeks in the summer. Organizations that fall into this trap fail to realize how hollow these efforts appear, particularly once July arrives and any trace of Pride vanishes.
With the likely introduction of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the UK’s “debate” on transgender identity and the expansion of “LGBT Free Zones” in Poland, recent events continue to demonstrate how fragile LGBTQ+ equality is globally. This a fight that persists long after the “party” in June ends and one where organizations can stand up for the rights of their people who add real value to their work. It requires consistent and authentic effort, always.
Showing Authentic Support
What does it mean to be authentic when it comes to supporting Pride? This is a critical balancing act between displaying support publically and extending it to interventions internally. Sadly, many tend to come up short time and time again.
To be rather simplistic, authentic support is essentially walking the talk; backing up the rainbow sentiments with meaningful actions. Where organizations falter, is that they publically support Pride, whilst at the same time operating in markets where being queer is illegal, where they march in parades but have parental leave policies that don’t anticipate same-sex or transgender parents, where Pride flags are on show but incidences of homophobia and transphobia still persist without reprimand.
This is not rocket science, there simply needs to be a common thread running between the events taking place in June and the work being delivered internally throughout the rest of the year. Critical questions that organizations should be asking themselves are:
- Are the events justified, given the progress we have made in the last year?
- Can we demonstrate solid foundations of support for our LGBTQ+ colleagues?
- How transparent are we being about the interventions that we have in place?
The answers to these questions (and more) will shed light on how deep the foundations of support for the community go and the viability of your Pride efforts. Of course, there are many interventions and initiatives that can be put in place to maintain momentum and underpin any public declaration of support for Pride. Here are some ideas:
- Design and publish an LGBTQ+ specific anti-discrimination policy that outlines the specific challenges faced in the workplace.
- Rollout programs on key topics such as inclusive language, pronouns use, the LGBTQ+ acronym and effective allyship to raise awareness and inspire action.
- Overhaul healthcare, mental health, parenting and wellness policies/programs to include LGBTQ+ contexts and themes so that the community feels anticipated and catered for.
- Host quarterly listening circles for LGBTQ+ colleagues to share moments of celebration and opportunities for improvement that can be considered and acted upon.
- Mark other key dates across the year such as Transgender Day of Visibility or International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia – a consistent show of support.
On top of the activities outlined above, more and more organizations are now being compelled to embrace LGBTQ+ allyship as a visible counter to today’s climate, positioning it as a potent aspect of their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy and something that endures during Pride month and beyond.
Cis/straight allies in the workplace can be champions of the community by simply engaging in key issues, creating safe moments for listening and conversation, and standing up for colleagues who feel marginalized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In the workplace, this means taking action to challenge homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia across the everyday systems, processes, and behaviors that are followed and the systemic injustices they normalize.
The first step to being a cis/straight ally is believing in the equality and fair treatment of LGBTQ+ people in society and in the workplace. However, anyone can say they believe in the right of the community – but actions speak louder than words! Actually practicing allyship, affecting change through action, and challenging perceptions is what we are really talking about.
Allyship is hard and the standards that the LGBTQ+ community expects of its allies are high. Allies need to be dedicated, educated on key issues affecting the community, humble when listening to lived experiences, and take key opportunities to stand up and stand aside for their LGBTQ+ colleagues.
It Takes Work
Is this work? Sure it is! Is it vital? Absolutely! Is it worth the effort? Simply ask your LGBTQ+ staff if they think so. The answer is probably “it shouldn’t even be a question”. Yes, celebrate Pride loudly and proudly in June. Raise the flags, host the parties and attend the march. However, remember throughout it all that Pride is simply the tip of the iceberg, the showcase of all the other interventions that work year-round to support your LGBTQ+ people. Be authentic, be consistent, be transparent, and be proud.