“Well, I’m so glad you asked”, said no lesbian ever. In much the same way as most straight people would be equally taken aback if someone asked them about how they have sex. It’s no wonder that people are worried about the reactions they will get from people for coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, when quite often the responses are naive and somewhat offensive. Imagine if you got a reaction like this for coming out as straight:
“Oh my god you’re straight? I had no idea. You seem so normal to me. Did you know that James is straight too? You two should get together. I can’t believe you’re straight. You could be my straight best friend. So how long have you been straight for? Your whole life? No way!”
While patronising and not wholly realistic, that would be one of the friendliest reactions you could get anyway. For many LGBT people this is not the reaction they fear receiving. In fact it is the hostility, potential abuse, and the possible discrimination that they may face that is the most compelling reason preventing them from coming out.
Although there has been a noticeable shift in outdated attitudes towards gay people (no help from the likes of Tim Farron) and increasing acceptance and understanding of the LGBT community, there is still a long way to go before there is equality. Arguably the most important place to improve equality is in the workplace, as that is where most adults spend a large majority of their days. So what part can straight people play in creating equality and making a workplace a more comfortable environment for LGBT people?
Don’t make assumptions
If someone is telling you about their partner, do not automatically assign that person with a pronoun in your head. If a woman mentions that she spent the weekend celebrating her partner’s birthday, resist from asking, “Oh what did you do for his birthday”? Your colleague might feel too embarrassed to correct you about the fact her partner is a woman, as opposed to a man. As this woman didn’t correct you, from that encounter onwards, every time your colleague passes you she may feel anxious about the fact you may ask further questions about how her boyfriend is..
Become a straight Ally
A common misconception is that you have to be part of the LGBT community to speak up about tackling the discrimination they face. I think the message is even more compelling when it comes from straight people. It is all well and good saying you support LGBT rights, but it is also necessary to take positive action to help overcome the discrimination LGBT people face. A ‘straight ally’ is used to describe a heterosexual person who believes that LGBT people deserve equality in the workplace.
Many LGBT people feel unable to be completely themselves at work as they feel they have to conform to the ‘norm’ and what society perceives them to be. It is important in any job to be your ‘whole self’, as this allows you to be more focused on your job and improves your chances of reaching your full potential. Many LGBT people feel that the secret of keeping their true self hidden is incredibly burdensome. LGBT people may be less likely to get a promotion at work because their performance is not as high as it could be, because of this additional burden. Having to keep their true self hidden means it is difficult to engage honestly with colleagues, clients and managers. If an LGBT person could be their full self at work, they would not have to think about their secret and could focus better on their work.
Consider creating a straight allies group within your workplace that actively advocates for LGBT rights and a workplace that stands for equality and diversity. By placing a straight allies mug or flag on your desk lets others know you support LGBT rights and are someone they can feel comfortable being their ‘whole self’ around. Promote a culture that is inclusive and allows everyone to be themselves without the fear of any negative repercussions.