A close friend and I were catching up on call — after you hit the mark of a certain age, marriage and career become two important topics of discussion — inevitably, we must’ve been discussing something about the latter when she asked me, my colleague prefers the They/Them pronouns, what does that mean?
I tried to answer this the best I could, then redirected her to Richa’s Instagram account. Richa Vashisht is a mental health professional with a rich work-experience with the LGBTQ+ community. An IGTV discussion by her on workplaces as safe-spaces was in-fact an eye-opener for me; it made me question, “Am I not settling for less? Aren’t we all?”
Please watch this if you want to understand and make a change:
Few things I noticed about my previous workplaces that shriek ‘not a safe-space!’.
First and the most alarming one, when one (closeted) Queer individual shames another in the same organisation (for being queer).
This signifies FEAR on many levels of the person’s psyche; but one thing’s for sure, the office is not a safe-space because people are able to do this.
Second, straight colleagues trying to out someone.
I may be ambiguous about my sexuality in my communication because I may not be out yet (a very personal decision). The work-place needs to make sure that every employee knows that no-one will be forced to come out. In fact, the person who tries to do that will be penalised and not the Queer individual who becomes the target of it.
Would you, as a colleague, be sexually excited by listening to me mention about my husband? No, right? Then why should me mentioning my same-sex partner become erotic, or a sexual fantasy?
Changes I’d like to see instead, to slowly make workplaces ‘safe-spaces’:
HR Initiative: My previous workplace was fantastic when it came to employee-needs. Once I got a call from my regional HR-head who was surveying people who might have fallen victim to body-shaming and similar such things. A colleague had passed a comment on my grey-hair, and somehow that got noticed by the HR. Similarly, the HR noticed fat-shaming done to another colleague and sexist comments passed in groups. They tried to intervene and correct all of these things. Amazing work, no? I’d love it if I can see such a check for Queer slangs and comments too. Call out people (politely) for passing homophobic or offensive remarks; you don’t have to be an HR to do it, just a sensible human being.
POSH: Sexualising your colleagues should not be acceptable, whether gay, straight or anywhere in between. Therefore, Sexual Harassment Policies should include provisions for same-sex harassment as well. I’m not saying the perpetrator is always a straight person; it might be a queer individual as well. But fair policies need to be in place.
Sensitisation: Talking about your partner or about community events that excite you like going for Pride, participating in and organising sensitisation workshops, etc. should be effortless.
Acceptance: An amazing feat would be people just being out at work. In one of my previous organisations, I saw a non-binary individual coming to work in the identity of their choice and being completely out and proud about it. A great news is that that organisation recently announced equal insurance benefits for partners of their queer employees. Yay!
Equality: Acknowledge relationships of same-sex partners. Acknowledge that they have to devote time to their partners too, you cannot excuse someone who is married but not excuse someone you think is single, or know is queer and committed. Give them equal opportunities with the equal benefit of doubt given to married employees.
Kindness: Be kind! Just like you would be to any other individual. Don’t be homophobic and hence aggressive toward queer folks.
Why Is It Important?
We all deal with many difficulties at workplace, homophobia (and the accompanying aggression) is an additional burden on individuals from the LGBTQ+ community. Sometimes so much so that an un-safe workplace becomes toxic and unbearable to work at. Would you like going back every morning to a place where you have to constantly be on guard?