A year to celebrate and educate our LGBT+ allies

Every year in June we have a month, week or day dedicated to the uplifting of LGBT+ voices and culture. Our support to LGBT+ rights, either as a member of the community or as an ally, gets louder and our fight against discrimination feels invigorated. More and more, organisations around the world celebrate pride internally as part of their commitment to diversity and inclusion. But is it enough?  

If the pride month has become a global celebration and the rainbow flag, the community’s most conspicuous symbol, a widely recognised icon even beyond the LGBT+ sphere, progress in terms of legislation is moving at a slow pace. Yes, sure, there are little wins such as including equality measures to protect intersex people against discrimination. But, according to ILGA’s rainbow Europe, an annual benchmarking tool run by the NGO ILGA Europe, there was 0% of progress on LGBTI people’s human rights during the past year.

While your gut reaction has likely made the COVID-19 effect responsible for stagnation, a quick look at 2019 and 2020 results proves otherwise:

  • There has been no positive change in 49% of the 49 studied countries.
  • For the second year in a row, countries are moving backwards on the Rainbow Index, as existing protections are disappearing.
  • Trans rights is the area where most of the current movement in terms of LGBTI equality is happening, sometimes for the good but also for the bad.
  • Regression is most visible when civil and political rights are being eroded. For instance, LGBTI human rights defenders are increasingly at risk and authorities are taking active measures to undermine civil society associations in certain countries as well as attempting to ban public events (Source: ILGA)

The result is an increasingly unsafe and unsustainable environment for LGBTI organisations and human rights defenders in a growing number of countries, not to count the 69 countries that still criminalise homosexuality.  

On LGBT+ matters, there is still little room to be complacent. In this article we build the case on the importance of allyship and education while going through a bit of Pride history that explains why celebrations are the way they are. We also provide you with some tips on how to be a good ally and small actions you can take. Pride is a great opportunity to celebrate the LGBT+ community and enhance their visibility in our workplace. It is also the perfect moment for allyship and to learn more about how to become more inclusive.

LGBT+ in the workplace: the road is still steep 

Judging a book by its cover is rarely a smart idea. Diversity and inclusion matters are increasingly present on corporate agendas but LGBTQ+ employees still feel discrimination and discomfort at work. For true inclusion to happen, the day-to-day interplay is as important as well-intentioned organisational policies. After all, the latter don’t capture, by any means, the little whispers and side smiles that may be occurring in detriment of LGBT workers. 

That’s why at PwC we’re committed to creating a fully inclusive workplace where everyone can be themselves. That includes our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and everybody else! This is not just because it is the right thing to do, but because an inclusive workplace enables us to embrace the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of all our people to create better outcomes for our clients and society.

Celebration through education

After a sabbatical year due to COVID-19, and many virtual events later, Pride parades are resuming around the world. It calls out for a celebration after all the difficulties the pandemic caused to the LGBT+ community and, in a certain way, to retake the activism once more. 

A big challenge of the LGBT+ community is to educate everyone surrounding them and explain what they are or whom they love. In this Ted talk, a transgender person explains how LGBT+ people never truly stop coming out, and how exhausting it is. He even developed a .zip file with all the information he thought people might need to know and would email them after each coming out episode. 

As far-fetched as the case may seem, and even if it meant a lot of work, it was worth it. Getting informed and being open is what helps battle the misconceptions and stereotypes that still surround LGBT+ people. It isn’t a one directional task; on the contrary, it requires several stakeholders to act, and one of them is the allies front.

LGBT+ talks: It’s not about sex

Many people think that talking about LGBT+ is opening a door to sex and sex practices that are “not appropriate” as sometimes certain Pride parades have been described as “buck-naked men running down the street”. 

Let’s dissect the matter a bit. First, historically, Pride has only been around for 51 years and it started a year after the Stonewall riots although similar events happened all over the world. In fact, these raids would happen in bars, clubs, bath houses or places where the LGBT+ community felt free to express themselves. It resulted in the “airying out” of this lifestyle which was condemned by society, so what better way to reject this than by expressing yourself as freely as you can?

Second, it’s a celebration. Many people wonder why Pride is so “out there”, but they forget that until not that long ago the people in this community were so persecuted for the things they did in private. When you can’t express yourself safely in private, there is no more powerful act of civil disobedience than doing so in public. The thing with public nudity is that it wants to challenge the straight-society’s normative behavior about what you can do with your body and what you can show.

Third, it’s generational. Not everyone supports nudity at the parades. While, to some, it’s an expression of freedom, to others it’s a way to affirm dangerous stereotypes that damage the image of the LGBT+ community and that can sit wrongly with supporters. And if one looks more carefully at who the “defenders of nudity” are, one can see that most of them are above 40 years old, namely, the population that were in the raids described previously. We might be seeing an older generation that sticks with tradition while the younger one wants to stay away from it.

Lastly, like everyone else, LGBT+ people will not discuss their sexual practices with you if you don’t ask or if they don’t feel comfortable, and certainly won’t discuss it in the workplace, during meetings or in unrelated contexts or situations. Most of the time, people fear that talking about LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace will turn into a “sex talk” but they are just false beliefs linked to stereotype.  

Celebrating Pride Month 2021

Be the best LGBT+ ally you can be

An ally, according to Cambridge’s dictionary, is someone who helps and supports other people who are part of a group that is treated badly or unfairly, although they are not themselves a member of this group. This makes sense, and it’s a need for a lot of groups that don’t always see the face of equality. You can be an ally for women, for Black Lives Matter, and even for the environment. 

An ally in the context of LGBT+ is a person who has a deep understanding of the community issues, choosing to align themselves with LGBT+ individuals and represent their needs, especially those who are unable to do so themselves. It’s also a person who speaks out, who promotes a sense of community with LGBT+  individuals, teaching others about the importance of these communities and encouraging others to also provide advocacy.

Allies are some of the most effective and powerful voices of the LGBT movement. Ironically, it isn’t uncommon that people sometimes believe more in you if you’re not directly affected by what you’re preaching about. Not only do allies help people in their coming-out process, but also help others understand the importance of equality, fairness, acceptance and mutual respect.

This is particularly important in the workplace. Since LGBT+ people are a minority in most spheres, having representation and / or allies can be critical to create a welcoming and inclusive work environment. The process of “coming out” can be very hard for some people, but others don’t even venture into doing it at work for fear of repercussions such as offensive remarks, losing promotions, clients or opportunities abroad, harassment, and many others. By having a speak up culture and a network of allies, organisations can significantly reduce the risks that LGBT+ people can have at work, and foster a work environment where everyone can be themselves. 

The thing is, you probably know someone who belongs to the LGBT+ community. It doesn’t really matter if they have come out to you or not but, by supporting this movement, by raising awareness, by reading and educating yourself,you are creating a safer environment for that person and you’re building the trust that person might need to be his/her/theirs true self. It has been proven that diversity and inclusion are boosters for businesses, but these can’t exist if someone doesn’t feel they can bring their full self to work.

Each of us can help the LGBT+ community, check what you can do!

Being an ally is important for everyone, not only for the communities each of us support but also for the society we’re building. Here are some tips and small actions you can do in support of the LGBT+ community:

  • Educate yourself → Knowledge is the key to everything. Before jumping into any movement you should check a bit of its history, why does the movement exist and where does it want to go. Depending on your background, you can have certain “blind spots” or biases that will need to change or adapt to better understand the social vindicacion. Keeping an open mind goes a long way.
  • Find your ally phrase → One of the main characteristics of an ally is advocacy, but what to do when one doesn’t know where to jump in, what to say or even how to start a conversation about certain comments that could be problematic or detrimental for the LGBT+ community?  You can start by going with your gut. Sometimes, feeling uneasy before a comment is already a sign that it was insulting or disrespectful. Then, speak up! A simple “that’s not nice”, “why did you say that?”, “that’s not cool” can generate a dialogue around the matter that, ultimately, will have a positive impact on the LGBT+ community. 
  • Do your stereotype check → Stereotypes are shortcuts that our brain does when it sees a situation that it  already knows. You might think they are easy to control, but you can also check this test designed by Harvard University and see that your brain makes associations on levels that you can’t control. Being an ally is rebuilding your answers to certain concepts and modifying them, so you can develop, little by little, an inclusive mindset. It’s a never ending process, so don’t be too hard on yourself or get discouraged if it doesn’t happen immediately. 
  • Ask your questions → Most LGBT+ members will be happy to have more people involved and supporting the movement. Whether you have doubts or aspects you need to better understand, address them respectfully, and they’ll likely give you informative and honest answers. One (common) awkward moment described by transgender individuals is that people don’t know how to treat them because they aren’t sure if,  “they are talking with a man or a woman”. As in many other fields, if you’re not sure of something, just ask!
  • Watch out, your privilege might show → Being an ally also means you need to know yourself and recognise the advantages, opportunities, resources, and power you might have automatically been given according to certain characteristics, social or physical. If you’re a white man, you are basically sitting at the top of the social pyramid which means you’re probably not familiar with the inequalities that happen at the bottom. Of course, you can use your “privilege” to help raise awareness in LGBT+ matters and to be a voice for the community. 

What we think

Maria Bravo, Diversity and Inclusion Officer and Shine Ally
Maria Bravo, Diversity and Inclusion Officer and Shine Ally at PwC Luxembourg

I’ve always been very fond of inclusion and diversity, so when the opportunity of becoming an ally and participating in the LGBT+ group of PwC came, I just jumped in. I truly believe that everyone has a part to play for the movement to advance and achieve equality. So, what are you waiting to join?

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