Pride month: more than rainbows
We know it’s Pride Month when companies publicly display rainbows, messages, and hashtags on social media to support the LGBTQ+ community.
This helps raise awareness, but awareness without action is an empty shell. It’s people’s mindset we must shake to drive real change.
The data behind the experience and discrimination the LGBTQ+ community suffers is disheartening and an eye-opener.
According to the 2023 US National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People by The Trevor Project:
Nearly 1 in 3 LGBTQ young people said their mental health was poor most of the time or always due to anti-LGBTQ policies and legislation.
Fewer than 40% of LGBTQ young people found their home to be LGBTQ-affirming.
I live in Hong Kong, where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized.
PS: the year is 2023.
How do we change people’s mindset?
Here are some specific initiatives organizations and individuals can implement to drive real change:
What does LGBTQ+ stand for?
What is cisgender?
Why are people posting their pronouns on social media?
Many people don’t understand the nuances of sexual orientation and gender identity. We are unfamiliar with new concepts and lived experiences that often differ from ours. Providing education through workshops, eLearning, and resources can help people understand a reality different from theirs.
Companies can host sessions and workshops to discuss topics related to the LGBTQ+ community, socialize the terms and normalize the conversation.
The Genderbread Person, by the Genderbread organization, is a fantastic illustration to explain gender identity, attraction, sex, and sexual orientation in simple terms.
Understanding is the mother of acceptance. I can’t accept what I don’t understand.
2. Review internal policies
A little story…
Marcus is excited to find out his new company extends insurance benefits to domestic partners. He lives for years with his long-term boyfriend, Tom. However, he discovers the policy only covers legal spouses.
Some companies offer certain benefits, such as medical insurance, exclusively to legally recognized spouses. This automatically excludes people who are not married or allowed to get married.
By extending company policies and benefits to ‘partners,’ we ensure we protect the employees’ loved ones, regardless of whom they decide to love.
Another little story…
Larissa wants to apply for a job. They are non-binary, and when they fill out a form for the recruitment team, only male and female options are available. What should Larissa do?
By reviewing the internal processes and languages, companies can create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all.
3. Create effective forums
Many sizeable companies have some type of ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) where members and allies of specific under-represented groups (LGBTQ+, women, disability, etc.) gather to discuss challenges, share experiences, provide support, and ideate solutions.
Unfortunately, many of these ERGs have proven ineffective in recent years. The commonality in their failures is, first, the lack of human resources. Most employees join these initiatives on top of their regular job, and although they bring a lot of passion and positive intent, they often lack the technical capabilities required. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community (or any other) doesn’t qualify you as an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion, the same way being Spanish doesn’t qualify me as a Spanish language teacher (I’m rubbish at teaching languages).
The second problem of these ERGs is that they often lack funds: besides the human capital and expertise, without a proper budget, these groups can’t have a long-term strategic approach and tend to function ad hoc, planning events with limited funds that often get cut when it’s time to tighten the P&L belt.
Last, many members of ERGs report diversity fatigue. It’s exhausting to be the one constantly waving the diversity flag and seeing little long-term progress in the organization and society overall. These groups run the risk of becoming eco-chambers if the leadership doesn’t get involved to act to amplify their voice, turning positive intent into tangible outcomes.
Inclusion must be built both from a top-down and bottom-up approach.
4. Adopt and promote inclusive language
A not-so-funny joke:
‘Of course, Alex got the job; he ticks the diversity box, ha-ha,’ said Molly laughing after a meeting, eluding to the fact that Alex is gay.
These types of jokes in which humor plays against marginalized communities are widespread. They are often unintentional and don’t mean to harm anyone, but these instances, called microaggressions, cause damage and perpetuate inequity and discrimination.
The way we speak matters. It can make people feel included or excluded, discriminated, othered, and even bullied. Educating employees on speaking inclusively is crucial, from adopting the correct pronouns to using terms that are neutral, bias-free, and that don’t exclude anyone.
Humor is not a vehicle to justify non-inclusive language, and that’s where education is so important.
In February 2023, Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida fired one of his top aides for homophobic remarks. Read the article here.
Leaders must lead by example, and organizations can’t tolerate or condone double standards when advocating for inclusion.
Advocating with kindness
It’s hard for people to accept a world different from the one they were taught. So many factors come into place, from generation to religion, culture, personal beliefs, and more. There’s a lot of unlearning before we can accept something new.
The most powerful way to advocate is through storytelling.
It’s easier to understand the transgender world and have empathy when we read the story of the unconditional love of a dad whose daughter became a son. Read
It’s easier to understand what non-binary means and show compassion when your friend nervously explains why they decided to use the pronoun ‘they’ and asks for your support.
We can relate when someone tells us they had their heart broken, without needing to know if it’s a he, she, or they. A broken heart is a broken heart.
Stories are powerful; they help us connect, relate and inspire us to look beyond the rainbows.