Happy LGBTQ+ History Month!
I grew up in an environment and education system where sexual orientation was never mentioned, except when being used as an insult. To be honest, I didn’t even know that being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender was ‘a thing’ until I went to university; it just never came up in conversation.
LGBT History Month in the UK was started by the education charity ‘Schools Out’ in 2005 to bring queer history to light. It is held in February in celebration of the month Section 28 was repealed in 2003. Section 28, a piece of legislation introduced in 1988, stated that local authorities were not allowed to “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”. It left a generation of teachers and young people in the shadows and marginalised in society. LGBT teachers feared for their jobs and students were left without support or a forum to explore and learn about alternative sexualities and gender identities.
Also in 2003, the UK passed the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations which introduced protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. This was the pre-curser to our current Equality Act 2010 which enshrines protection against discrimination into UK law. The Equality Act 2010 also specifically addressed discrimination because of Gender Reassignment, expanding discrimination protection to the Trans community. More recently, it has been indicated that protection against discrimination because of Gender Reassignment is not limited to those that have undergone medical transition and is relevant for the spectrum of the Trans community.
I have seen a huge change in attitude towards the LGBT community in the last 15 years. I would never have felt safe “coming out” at school but I know of many young people for whom it’s a natural and normal part of discussion and development. In 2019, after many years of campaigning, LGBT-inclusive Relationships and Sex Education was introduced in England’s schools and now allows express discussion of alternative forms of relationship and identity from an early age.
However, despite these changes a research report published in February 2021 by CIPD Inclusion at work: perspectives on LGBT+ working lives has revealed that, over a twelve-month period, more than 40% of LGB+ workers and 55% of trans workers faced conflict in the workplace. There were reports of workers being humiliated or undermined, facing discriminatory behaviour or experiencing physical or sexual assault. 18% of trans workers reported feeling psychologically unsafe at work (unable to be accepted, valued, or voice their concerns) and 16% of LGB+ workers felt the same way. This figure fell to 10% for heterosexual workers. The data revealed that trans workers are particularly unsafe in the workplace, with 12% of trans workers experiencing unwanted sexual attention at work and 2% experiencing sexual assault, and at least 50% of workplace conflicts experienced by trans people remaining unresolved.
More work clearly needs to be done to build LGBTQ+ inclusive workplaces and you’ll find some information on ways to build an inclusive environment in my previous post here https://howarths-uk.com/lgbtq-inclusive-workplaces/
There’s no doubt that if an employee can be themselves, bring their whole self to work and not have to hide fundamental parts of who they are, they will be more productive and bring a diverse and alternative perspective to business development.
Louise Rogers, Sales and Marketing Manager here at Howarths says:
During my career, I have been fortunate and never felt directly discriminated against due to my sexuality. That said, I have heard a number of discriminatory comments over the years, mainly before my “coming out”, but not only then. I have heard ex colleagues use homophobic slurs to insult people, I have seen people pull faces of disgust when someone mentions gay / trans (or other) issues in relation to discrimination and the most disappointing experience was when a business owner I was in a meeting with, said he would never recruit “gays” and actually asked people before hiring.
Although I haven’t felt discriminated against, I am always wary of having to come out to people on a regular basis. I’m a pretty chatty person and I have only just realised that as part of getting to know the people I am talking to, I virtually never refer to my partner by her name, or say “She”. I generally just say “my partner”. I think it comes from a place of fear; fear that if they knew I was in a relationship with a woman, it might prevent them from wanting to work with me / us. I’m quite embarrassed by that and I’d like to say that will change, but it may take some time for me.
Although the issues above highlight the problems I have seen, my experience has been positive, great colleagues, fantastic leaders and good friends all judge me on who I am and the work that I do, not who I go home to. I’m lucky to be at a company that embraces us all as individuals and I know that I would be supported if a situation were to arise like I mentioned above.
I have to concur with Louise; I always feel a rush of anxiety if I mention ‘my Wife’. I can’t help wondering whether it will inform the person’s opinion of me professionally, whether it will impact adversely on the business or undermine a client’s faith in my advice. I am often guarded in my conversation until I know that it’s “safe” to be more open. If I feel this way, having had a relatively positive experience during my working life, it’s clear to me that, for those who do perceive or experience negative behaviour linked to their sexuality, it will have an impact on their work and overall wellbeing.
Taking positive steps to build an inclusive workforce will not only help the business to meet it’s legal obligations but it will also facilitate business growth. We have a number of training options available to guide your team and management on equality and diversity in the workplace and do not hesitate to contact us if you would like further information.
In the meantime, I love a quote; from Barbara Gittings who said “Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.”
Author: Sarah Edwards, Senior Employment Law Solicitor at Howarths