When Being an Ally Makes a Difference …

I was recently “targeted” on LinkedIn for a little gay bashing. The details I’ll save for another post, but it boiled down to someone telling me that the word lesbian was not appropriate in a profession environment. It went downhill from there.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered this mentality. I’ve been asked to “tone down the gay”  “not make everything about being gay” put in a position where my being gay is somehow at odds with the fact that other employees are Christian or black (not their pov, but the pov of management) and so forth (By the way, that last bit is pretty racist IMHO.) I’ve had my office vandalized, my items stolen, my professional work derailed. I’ve had to sit and listen/watch gay slurs. I’ve found my website blocked by corporate filters simply because it contains the word lesbian in the URL, not for content. I’ve had offensive lesbian porn images sent to me. I’ve been told not to associate the word lesbian with my professional work – even as people reference their spouses in the very next email.

And I’ve rarely (if ever) found allies. Coworkers commiserate but the forces that keep me from being supported by upper management keep them from speaking out. Other LGBTQ folks share their own stories.

Getting back to LinkedIn, I reached out to about 12 professional contacts and asked them to basically stand up against this homophobia. I had posted a polite, firm rebuttal to the original assertion. I simply was looking for some backup.

One person posted a comment. No one else even acknowledged my request.

Wow, right? One person. That’s about on target with my experience in the actual workplace.

Mind you, most people seem to be allies. They ask about my partner, come to me with questions, try to be careful to use respectful language, agree with domestic partner benefits, etc. They also have jobs to protect so I can understand on some level not standing up to your boss about this. I can.

But LinkedIN? Is it bad for your professional reputation to say something like “I believe Pittsburgh’s corporate environment is respectful of the LGBTQ community and to suggest that the word ‘lesbian’ is inappropriate in a professional setting is the inappropriate act.” Or whatever. I was happy enough with the “Go Sue” that I did get. LOL.

Folks, allies matter. Its great if you want to be couple friends and go out to dinner and introduce my partner to your kids and you vote for LGBTQ friends in office. Its great that you affirm LGBTQ folks and rally in the face of homophobia.

But there’s a middle ground between a couples night out and attending a vigil for an LGBTQ person who didn’t survive.  There’s the ground where you use your “straight privilege” and speak up in the corporate world.  Your simple actions can prevent those sad vigils. It may be uncomfortable and awkward and maybe you aren’t sure what to do. But it does matter.

How can you have an impact?

  • type in pghlesbian.com to your work computer (if you are allowed to view personal websites) If its blocked, ask your supervisor or the IT team to explain. Typically, its a built in web filter that can be adjusted just like any other setting. For comparison, type in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. Hooters. The PA Lottery. Sites that probably have nothing to do with work and could arguably be considered very unprofessional activities. Don’t do this is you  might actually get in trouble.
  • listen. if you hear the LGBTQ joke, say something. speak up to the group. speak the joke teller privately. tell your supervisor. reach out to the LGBTQ folks (or family) in the office and offer your support. do something and acknowledge that you are listening.
  • look for opportunities to make a statement. join the office LGBTQ affinity group  or attend their events. suggest an LGBTQ charitable project for a team building exercise. post a little sticker in your cubicle. send a message of inclusion and welcome. you never know who might seek you out.
  • check the company policies. do they have a nondiscrimination statement? do they offer domestic partner benefits? are they ranked on the HRC Corporate 100 Index? (large companies only) does the company advertise the LGBTQ community? promote openly LGBTQ employees? if not, can you impact these things?

Being informed is a good first step. Determining how you can impact the workplace culture based on your own position and authority level is another good step.

I appreciated the “Go Sue” comment, I did. But the situation escalated and I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if those other people had responded. If I went to them now with the follow details, I’m sure they would be appalled. But could they have helped to prevent a negative outcome with a few well chosen words of support in a public forum?

I believe that yes they could. I doubt the actor wanted to be perceived as intolerant or homophobic by their peers. That could have quelled the situation.

And I hope next time that they will say something.