We have made huge strides in embracing lesbian, gay and bisexual colleagues in the workplace, but there is still a lot of work to do.
Looking at the global map of gay rights it’s easy to see why that is the case. It’s illegal to be gay or lesbian in more than 80 countries in the world- punishable by imprisonment, physical violence, or even death. But what isn’t so clear is how we move forward in the countries where we already have seen progress.
One barrier to progress is the notion that being gay is about the bedroom. After all, who you love is a private matter and should remain ‘private’ – right?
In the heterosexual world, it is rare that one has to consider the implication of sharing stories about our families, loved ones and life outside of work without fear. For heterosexuals, the norm is a constant state of being ‘out’. Walking into work, the supermarket, the movies or the bank you can be yourself without the need to edit.
For a lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals, ‘out’ is not something that happens once. Out is an on-going state of decision making. In every meeting, new client, team, or interaction, individuals must decide if it’s ok to be themselves. Even when you are open about who you love, the range of emotions from others can be anything from awkwardness, unease, embarrassment, discomfort, shame or even fear. Sometimes just being yourself can be time consuming and emotionally draining.
It takes conscious effort to create a workplace culture where gay colleagues no longer have to spend time and energy hiding their personal lives at work for fear negative repercussions. When we create an inclusive culture where everyone, regardless of who they love, can simply be themselves and flourish, we eliminate all the wasted time and energy spent on editing and move on to more important things.