Over the last decade, members of the LGBT community have become more and more visible. Gay marriage was legalized and transgender people have access to more affirming care, encouraging them to be open and honest about their identities. Still, coming out can be a stressful time in an LGBT person’s life. They’re not sure how their family, friends, place of worship, or workplace will react.
At work, this can make coming to the office stressful and even dangerous. Fewer than half of the states in the US have state-wide workplace protections for LGBT people. That means that, until these protections are enacted, it’s up to you to make sure people at your company know that they don’t have to fear being fired or harassed. Now that more and more people in the LGBT community are “coming out,” how can you make them feel loved in the workplace?
I reached out to Chriss Nelson, founder of Trans Minors Rights, an organization that aims to help transgender youth access puberty blockers. Chriss has given speeches and trainings covering topics such as being LGBT in the workplace, educating on LGBT topics in schools, and the legal rights for LGBT people. I asked Chriss what we can do as entrepreneurs to help our LGBT team members feel more loved in the workplace.
Have a Non-Discriminatory Clause
“If your business doesn’t already have a non-discriminatory clause, ensure that one is implemented. Whether or not your state has the aforementioned protections in place, adding a non-discriminatory clause to your company policy is a powerful statement of your commitment to protecting your employees who belong to minority groups.” says Nelson. “This can, and likely will, make current and future employees of any minority status feel more comfortable. It lets them know that this is a safe place to work where they won’t be discriminated against or harassed, and gives them the ability to fight discrimination or harassment should it appear.” In order to protect LGBT people when a non-discriminatory clause is implemented, it should include sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression under protected classes. These four cover the bases for people attracted to the same sex, transgender people, nonbinary people, gender-nonconforming people, and other members of the LGBT community.
Avoid Asking Invasive Questions
Both inside and outside the workplace, LGBT people are often bombarded with invasive and ignorant questions by people unfamiliar with their identity. “What’s your REAL name?” “What’s in your pants?” “So how do you two… y’know… do it?” These are some examples of questions LGBT people are asked far too often. “Make sure you and others at your company are aware of this and don’t ask too many unsolicited questions. It can be tempting if you’ve never met an LGBT person before, but it can often get very personal and invasive. LGBT people are just people trying to live their lives and go to work like everyone else. If you have a burning question, try asking Google!” Nelson advises.
Respect Names and Pronouns
Oftentimes, transgender people will change their pronouns (he/she/they/etc) in order to connect more closely to their gender. Someone you meet at work might let you know you used the wrong pronoun when referring to them. Or maybe someone you know at work will tell you that they’re changing their pronouns. If this happens, be respectful and say “thank you for letting me know.” Try to catch yourself often if you slip up and use the wrong pronoun and never use the wrong pronoun to be malicious. “Gender dysphoria (the feeling of incongruence between a person’s gender and sex) can be detrimental to a transgender person’s mental health.” says Nelson. “Being affirmed in their identity by others can help alleviate symptoms, and has a profoundly positive effect on the person’s wellbeing.”
Make Name Changes Easy
Many transgender people will change their names to something they feel better expresses their gender. Changing a name on legal documents takes a lot of time and money, and these policies differ in every state. Implement something at your company where the name displayed at desks, in email addresses, and on any social or communication platforms can be different than a legal name. The only people that information is relevant to are payroll and HR departments.
These are just a few ways to help create a more open and affirming workspace for LGBT people. “You never know who at your company could be LGBT, so it’s a good idea to have these policies in place and to make every employee aware of them. Doing so will help to make your work environment more welcoming for all current and future employees.” reminds Nelson.