How to celebrate Pride month at work
2022 marks 50 years since the first Pride march took place in the UK on 1st July 1972. In this blog, Jane Farrell, Co-Founder of EW Group, discusses how to celebrate Pride at work and what organisations can do to support their LGBT+ colleagues.
Before Pride month celebrations begin, it’s worth pausing. It’s great to celebrate, but it’s also important to understand and acknowledge why we are celebrating.
What is Pride month and how does it relate to the workplace?
Pride began as a response to structural discrimination and prejudice. Sexual orientation is an organisational issue because of discrimination and prejudice, not because it is in and of itself interesting. Your or my sexual orientation is our own business, however, if we are harassed and bullied because of it, it becomes an organisational issue, and in some cases a criminal matter.
Essentially it is the discrimination and prejudice that make LGBT+ issues a company issue, not the sexual orientation or the way we choose to identify. Great companies want to create an inclusive culture where their workplaces are ones in which everyone can feel safe and respected.
As a result of the ground-breaking and courageous work by lesbians, gay men, Trans people and their allies over many decades, in some parts of the world it is now so much better for many in the workplace. Partly due to changes in legislation in some countries, painstaking policy work, and training and development, it is less likely that LGBT+ people will experience verbal and physical attacks or be on the receiving end of the dreaded ‘banter’ (a word that is often used to excuse homophobic, racist or sexist comments) in the workplace.
Pride month celebrates this progress. It is also a sobering reminder of what some have suffered, and how much work there is yet to be done across the globe.
Why do Pride month celebrations matter?
Pride month celebrations matter because the reality is that many LGBT+ people in the UK and across the world experience harassment and discrimination, regardless of the many differences within the community. Groups that have this shared experience sometimes want to gather and gain strength and support from one another.
They have a shared experience of, for example, being overlooked for promotion, stereotyped, having ‘jokes’ made about them, being physically attacked, suffering poor mental health, and being imprisoned. It is also a time to acknowledge those that have lost their lives because of who they are.
Pride also matters because it recognises the hard work and struggles endured to win some legal protections. It is a time to celebrate the people that have fought hard, often at great cost, for the right to exist and be respected. We should all be able to celebrate who we are and be able to love who we love openly. It is still the case in 69 countries that sexual relations between people of the same sex is illegal.
Fundamental change has been achieved since the first Pride celebrations and demonstrations started over fifty years ago. But we’re not over the hurdle of discrimination just yet. Unfortunately, it’s still not unusual to hear about prejudice and abuse taking place because of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Six in ten LGBT+ people in Europe avoid holding hands in public for fear of harassment and abuse.
Revisiting Section 28 again recently, I was reminded just how frightening it was for LGBT+ teachers and Heads at the time. Coming into force in 1988 and only repealed UK-wide in 2003, the legislation created an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship, far beyond its legal remit. During this period many young people at school were denied support against homophobic bullying and abuse, and teachers were afraid to reference the very existence of LGBT+ people for fear of being accused of ‘promoting homosexuality’.
I realise this might not sound like a great lead-up to Pride month celebrations, but there is lots to celebrate. Some significant progress has been made. In the UK and elsewhere gay men are no longer imprisoned because they are in a sexual relationship with another man, there is some protection for Trans people (gender reassignment) in the Equality Act, as well as protection from discrimination for those of us with same-sex partners. It is far from perfect, but it is progress.
Imagine writing a sentence that said, ‘it is now lawful for men to be in a relationship with women’. Flipping sentences in this way can be helpful to those people who have never really thought much about their sexual orientation because they haven’t needed to.
What can organisations do to celebrate Pride month at work?
- Educate staff so people understand that Pride was established as a defiant response to discrimination and prejudice.
- Create authentic communications to ensure there is a balance between celebrating hard-fought rights, and the joy that we all feel when we are acknowledged and respected at work.
- Listen to diverse LGBT+ voices. There are very different and sometimes clashing views within the LGBT+ community, and sometimes competing rights. We have different experiences and histories and are not ‘as one’ on many issues. Why should we be? We are diverse.
- Discuss Pride month with different people in your staff networks or affinity groups and think about a range of activities to engage with your colleagues.
- Fundraise to support local groups who support young LGBT+ people experiencing mental health issues. One of our global clients is fundraising to ensure LGBT+ people have legal representation in countries where it is illegal to be LGBT+.
- Be prepared for the usual ‘what aboutery’ moments (e.g. ‘when are we having a month of celebrations for heterosexual people’). These moments tell us that there is more education and training to do. They are also opportunities to explain that heterosexual people often ‘come out’ in the first few minutes of meeting someone as they, naturally enough, talk about their partners, wives or husbands if they have one. If we are LGBT+, we often need to think very carefully about ‘coming out’ not because we are secretive but because we know it might result in discrimination or prejudice. It is the nature of privilege that if we are advantaged it’s difficult to spot, and if we are disadvantaged, we spot it in a microsecond as it is so familiar to us.
Champion equality beyond the Pride month celebrations. Truly inclusive organisations avoid appearing tokenistic and are committed to diversity and inclusion year-round. One month a year is not enough.
Recognise that the experience of LGBT+ people are vastly different, and sometimes conflicting, just like all other communities. There is no ‘one voice’ nor should there be.
Now, let’s start celebrating!
A final note on LGBT+ discrimination, prejudice and intersectionality at work
As we often say, it can be genuinely difficult to spot when we are advantaged by our social identity. When we are disadvantaged because of the way society treats us (due to our ethnicity, sex, age, religion, gender etc. or a combination of these things) we spot it immediately because it is so familiar to us.
It is great that so many organisations have policies and processes that recognise the potential for discrimination and prejudice and ensure their staff understand why these policies are needed. The best organisations also make clear the intersections with social class, race, and disability because most people in the world are experiencing discrimination for more than one aspect of their social identity. For example, disabled lesbians face compound challenges because of the assumptions that are made about their sexuality, the sexism they face as women, and the discrimination that disabled people face when traveling on public transport for example. Black gay men face racism and homophobia, sometimes at the same time.
It’s also important to be aware that the LGBT+ community is not homogeneous. There are different views and beliefs, and these are sometimes conflicting and contested. Beliefs about sex and gender are an obvious case in point. Some believe sex is a biological fact and some do not. These differences can be compounded by other differences – race, religion age, sex, nationality, cultures, for instance. This is familiar when structural inequalities are being considered and some will remember (or still experience) disagreements between some religious groups and LGBT+ groups, between some disabled people and those wanting rights to assisted suicide.
To sensitively manage and address disagreements such as this, it is crucial organisations:
- Recognise and acknowledge that these differences exist.
- Listen to the different views and then think their way through with sensitivity and skill keeping a focus on what can be done in this organisation.
- Focus on what can be done to ensure that those that identify in different ways are able to feel comfortable, safe and respected in this workplace. Focus on practical steps that can be taken, rather than the differences between people.
- Regularly emphasise that everyone at work should be treated with respect and dignity and work through what that means. As David Ruebain said in a recent blog discussing contested issues and intersectionality, much of human rights law focuses on fairness and dignity. If we maintain a culture of respect in the workplace, this will help avoid assumptions and conclusions which maintain conflict.
- Avoid conclusions which represent ‘a zero-sum game’ – ‘for my identity to be respected yours must be denied’.
There are very few organisations where hard and fast policy decisions on sex and gender for example, are needed or enacted. Just as we know there are differing and opposing views within the disability community, organisations should start from the same assumption about the LGBT+ community, including debates on whether it is one community at all.