Kate Barker thinks everyone should be out at work. Here’s how ✅
BY KATE BARKER
Everyone should be out at work. Every. One.
Partly because ordinary questions like “How was your weekend?” are devilishly difficult to navigate through a fog of gender-neutral pronouns.
And lying is exhausting. Especially on a Monday morning.
But I do appreciate it’s not always that easy. Statistics from Unhealthy Attitudes (2015) and reported by Stonewall, show that 26% of lesbian, gay and bi people do not feel comfortable or safe being out at work. For trans people that rises to a distressing 42%.
As an employer, I bust a gut to make the work environment work welcoming for everyone. If your boss is swerving their responsibilities, there’s plenty you can do to make them step up.
Ask – no, insist – that they sponsor an LGBT event or host a speaker. Find a diversity training programme online and send them a link. Offer to work on an induction programme for new staff to make the company’s commitment to equality clear. Challenge and report “banter” that makes you feel uncomfortable.
It can be a battle but it’s not one that you should have to fight alone.
The good news is that attitudes are moving in the right direction. Back in 2010, the reported figure for people who felt unable to be out at work was closer to 34%. But if we accept that a measure of progress made is that our sexuality or gender identity is no longer the most interesting thing about us, it stands to reason it might not be the very first thing you tell your new co-workers.
Unless you have your orientation printed on your business card, or your neck, there’s a gap between your colleagues not knowing and knowing that must be bridged.
So how do you do it?
You could insert your announcement into the middle of a Tinder chat:
A colleague: D’you think he’s hot?
You: I’m a lesbian.
A colleague: Oh, right. Well, that’s fine.
You: Of course it’s fine. I don’t need you to validate my sexuality and lifestyle.
A colleague: Er, I know. I’m not. In fact, I have cousin who’s a lesbian and she’s absolutely brilliant.
You: Why wouldn’t she be? God! What’s wrong with you people?
(Leaves kitchen in a massive huff.)
Or, you could take a deep breath, grab your moment and make a bold, life-affirming declaration:
You: I won’t hide a moment longer. Mine is the love that does dare speak its name. I am a loud, proud queer woman who loves women. Yes that’s right. I. Am. A. Lesbian.
A colleague: Yeah, I thought so.
The solution is to remove the expectation that it is our responsibility to do the telling. Instead, we need to make changes to the workplace to ensure that heterosexuality is not the automatic assumption.
In my experience, a little education gives most people the tools they need to act sensitively and to challenge their own preconceptions about gender and sexuality. To the genuinely unreconstructed bigots lurking in the corners we say – your days are numbered. We are in the ascendancy; employment law, and more importantly, right, is firmly on our side.
As a boss, I’m certain that inclusiveness works best when we really do include everyone. Your colleagues who assume that you are straight aren’t always being awful. Sometimes they’re well meaning but flummoxed by the way the world is changing around them.
We can speed the pace of change by showing them that equality, by definition, is a good thing for everyone. Do demand that your boss treats you fairly. But be kind to the straight people in your workplace too.
Not all heterosexuals are weird or frightening.
In fact, I have a cousin who’s straight. And she’s absolutely brilliant.
Kate Barker is a writer, political activist and parent. She is the founder and owner of the award-winning London creative agency Dekko.
This article first appeared in the January 2018 issue of DIVA – grab your digital copy right here!
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