Before 1969, homosexuality was deemed a criminal act in Canada. It wasn’t until 1973 when the North American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. In 1996, sexual orientation was recognized as a protected class under the Canadian Human Rights Codes. The Supreme Court of Canada finally legalized same-sex marriages in 2005.
More recently (in 2016), gender identity and expression was recognized as a protected class. Despite these positive changes in legal protection for the Canadian LGBT2Q community, sexual minorities still fear the possible stigma associated with their sexual orientation and gender identity(ies). This fear is especially prevalent in the workplace.
A population study conducted by polling firm CROP found that 75% of Canada’s LGBT2Q community has experienced discrimination or bullying due to their sexual orientation. According to the same study, 40% of this discrimination occurred in the workplace.
Many Canadians are not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity on the job due to the risk of being judged by their co-workers and managers. Our careers are a big part of our individual identity and we should be able to be ourselves at work, whether we identify with the LGBT2Q community or not. To accomplish this, employers should be more aware of how to create friendlier and safer workplaces for LGBT2Q staff. The following are some tips that should be considered:
1. Become Familiar with the LGBT2Q Alphabet
Employers should become more aware of LGBT2Q identification terms. For instance, “queer” was once used as a defamatory term but it is now used as an encompassing term for individuals belonging to all aspects of the LGBT2Q community or in the process of questioning. However, some LGBT2Q members can still be offended by this term due to its once offensive meaning.
2 spirited is a term for an individual who identifies with both male and female energies. It is a term commonly used by individuals who are First Nations when describing their gender, sexual orientation or spirited identity.
Transgender individuals are people who choose not to identify with their biological sex whereas transsexual individuals are people who choose to live permanently as the opposite sex typically after undergoing reassignment surgery. It is important to know which pronouns that staff members would like to be addressed by, whether it is he or she, him or her, or they, etc.
2. Keep Personal Feelings in Check
Some staff members may not support the LGBT2Q community. Staff should still be able to respect each other’s work aptitudes regardless. Ask yourself, ‘If I knew a paramedic was transgender, would I still allow them to treat my injuries? If I knew my accountant was gay, would I still let them do my taxes?’
To foster better harmony in the workplace, we need to be able to keep our personal feelings in check.
3. Display More Office Media that Advocates for the LGBT2Q Community
To show that your workplace supports LGBT2Q staff members, try to incorporate a few of the iconic rainbow LGBT2Q flags around frequently visited office areas. Furthermore, depending on the business, try to incorporate some images of LGBT2Q couples in promotional ads for your workplace (e.g., a same-sex couple and their children enjoying a dinner together for a restaurant ad).
4. Have the Option of Gender-Neutral Washrooms
Staff members who are transgender or transsexual may feel more comfortable with the option of using gender-free washrooms.
5. Inclusive Staff Events
Instead of encouraging staff members to bring their boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife to staff events, use encompassing terms such as “significant others” or “partners” instead. This way, a staff member’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not assumed during event planning.
LGBT2Q civil rights have come a long way, but there is still more work to be done. The above tips alone may not solve the ongoing stigma associated with sexual minorities in the workplace altogether, but they are definitely a start. If we can keep an open mind while remaining professional, anything is possible.
Jeremy Leo Stanley is an Employment Specialist at The Career Foundation-Weston Hub and a Career Counselling Connoisseur.