Is Your Employer Doing Enough to Confront Biphobia, Homophobia and Transphobia?
A positive space is a healthy place…
By Colin Druhan
For many of the people who are outside the LGBT community looking in, things appear pretty good. In a survey of people who do not identify as LGBT (performed by Pride at Work Canada and the Canadian Centre for Diversity & Inclusion), we found that almost 70 per cent of respondents said they didn’t think LGBT people in Canada face any workplace discrimination whatsoever. This is contrary to the experience of most members of our community.
A recent survey commissioned by Fondation Jasmin Roy found that three quarters of LGBT Canadians have faced bullying, threats and unkind comments. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, LGBT people experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic disorders, suicidality, self-harm and substance use because of the effects of biphobic, homophobic and transphobic harassment, discrimination and violence. The fact that much of this type of discrimination is played out in the workplace is one of the reasons why more than half of LGBT people in Canada are not out to everyone they work with, and why unemployment and housing insecurity disproportionately impact LGBT people.
An increasing number of Canadian employers advertise themselves as inclusive and supportive of LGBT people. However, in order to have any true impact on the challenges facing our community, this visible support needs to be backed up by substantive action. A Pride flag means significantly less if those who are flying it aren’t supporting a culture that tackles biphobic, homophobic and transphobic discrimination and bullying head-on.
Whether you have a job or are looking for work, there are a few things you should be looking for in an employer, especially if they communicate support for the community.
Policies set standards of behaviour
Employers are obligated to take appropriate action against any employee who harasses someone; otherwise, the employer can be held responsible for harassment committed by their employees. An employer’s anti-harassment and discrimination policies need to specifically address sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to support LGBT workers. Pride at Work Canada finds that even among employers that have these policies, many disproportionately focus on sexual orientation, leaving gender identity and gender expression completely unaddressed.
Policies make sense
Employees need to understand how their behaviour fits into the language of any policy about harassment and discrimination. Many people don’t understand that disclosing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their permission is a form of harassment that could put that person at risk. It’s common for people to ask intrusive questions about LGBT peoples’ sexual relationships, bodies and medical histories, not realizing that their curiosity is not a licence to behave inappropriately. This is why a certain amount of education should accompany any written language.
Employees need to know how to get help
If someone believes they are being harassed, mistreated or bullied at work, it’s important for them to know that they aren’t alone. An employee might understand that they are protected against biphobic, homophobic or transphobic harassment through legislation and their employer’s internal policies, but if they are harassed and don’t know where to go to report the situation, issues can go unaddressed. Additionally, if those receiving complaints don’t fully understand what constitutes forms of harassment and discrimination against LGBT people (such as outing or consistent social exclusion), they aren’t in a position to truly help.
Companies empower people to transform the culture
Giving employees tools to speak confidently about issues facing LGBT people can prevent bad situations from arising, and allow individuals to model good behaviour. This goes beyond understanding simple definitions, and should include how to have positive interactions and confront inappropriate behaviour as it happens.
Pride at Work Canada offers an online Workplace Inclusion Certificate program for those ready to take a stand against biphobia, homophobia and transphobia in their workplace. For more information, visit education.prideatwork.ca.
COLIN DRUHAN is the executive director of Pride at Work Canada, a not-for-profit organization that empowers employees to foster workplace cultures that recognize LGBT employees. For more information, visit prideatwork.ca.