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5 Ways to Be a Good LGBTQIA Ally at Work

How to be a good LGBTQIA ally at work
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There’s nothing worse than trying your hardest to be a supportive ally, only to realize that you’ve accidentally let an offensive joke slip into conversation at the office. If you’re interested in showing your LGBTQIA co-workers—and everyone else, too—that you’re an ally, both on and off the job, these five steps are a great starting point.

1. Don’t make assumptions about others’ gender or sexuality.

All too often, people make basic assumptions about what genders others identify with, or what the sexuality of their co-workers may be.

If you’re talking to a colleague about her fiancé, for example, don’t automatically assume that “fiancé” means she’s with a man. Similarly, if you’re bringing up the subject of your co-workers bringing their significant others and children to a work party, be careful not to use gendered language such as, “You can bring your wife, Harry!” By keeping language gender-neutral, you’re opening up the possibilities that everyone is welcome, regardless of their personal identity.

This can be tricky with gender pronouns, so the easiest way to navigate this is to use their first name, at least until you’re comfortable enough with a co-worker to ask. If a co-worker addresses how they would like to be identified, respect their preference.

2. Don’t make jokes at the expense of the LGBTQIA community.

If you truly want to support the LGBTQIA community, the best way to start is by eliminating any queer-related jokes from your arsenal.

Even if you hear your LGBTQIA colleagues making their own jokes about it, remember that you’re an ally, not a part of the community. They’re making those jokes because they experience the oppression of being marginalized directly, and they’re taking back the right to laugh at themselves a little bit. Don’t take this as an invitation to start making similar jokes.

Related: 8 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started My First Job

3. Never ask your LGBTQIA co-workers personal questions you wouldn’t ask someone else.

Just because a colleague comes out to you doesn’t mean it’s an open dialogue about the most intimate details of their relationships, sex life, gender identity, and more. If someone trusted you enough to share it with you, you should give them the respect they deserve by not asking for additional information they may be uncomfortable sharing.

It’s not appropriate to ask bisexual co-workers which genders they’ve had sex with, to ask intersex co-workers what genitals they have, or to ask transgender co-workers whether they have undergone a medical transition. If someone wants to share these details with you in conversation, they will.

One instance where you might consider asking questions is if you are also questioning your gender or sexuality, or dealing with a friend or family member who is, and you’re looking for advice. Even in that situation, please make sure that your colleague feels comfortable answering your questions before you start asking.

4. Remind your colleagues that work is a safe space.

It may seem obvious to you that the workplace is a safe space if you’re not LGBTQIA, but people in the community don’t always know this. Especially if you’re in any sort of managerial or supervisory role, it’s key to make sure your colleagues understand that work is a safe space where they can feel free to be honest and open about their identity.

If it’s something that any other co-worker would feel comfortable sharing in the break room, such as a fight with a significant other, health issues, or other non-work-related chat, you want your LGBTQIA co-workers to know they can share too. They may worry that bringing up their same-sex partner or gender identity in the workplace isn’t acceptable.

Making work a safe space goes a long way as far as making people feel supported and comfortable.

Related: How to Thrive in a Male-Dominated Workplace

5. Be supportive when a colleague does bring up sexuality or gender identity.

If your co-worker chooses to bring up their own identity as an LGBTQIA individual, either by coming out or just sharing relevant stories, make sure to be supportive in the moment. Ask the same sort of follow-up questions you would ask a straight, cisgender colleague. Find points of connection between the two of you.

For example, if a colleague is asexual and they’re talking about a recent dating debacle and how difficult it is to find someone who’s accepting of their sexuality, try to find something to say rather than staying silent. You can simply say, “Yeah, that does sound hard. How do you deal with that?” if you can’t find any other point to connect on. Responding to what someone else has shared with you is the easiest way to make them feel supported and accepted, even if the two of you have differences.

The most important part of being a good LGBTQIA ally at work is to be an ally when you’re not at work, too.

Listen to the stories of the people in your life who are a part of the community. Hear their voices and show your support. Offer to get dinner with a co-worker and her partner, or have a girls’ night out with your transgender colleague. Make a space for the LGBTQIA community in your life when you’re not at work, and you’ll find it even easier to be an ally when you’re in the office.

Last modified on November 9th, 2016

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