What Comes After Pride

Photo by  Peter Hershey  on  Unsplash

By Kim Tran, Ph.D

As someone who specializes in building workplaces that are equitable and healthy for LGBTQIA+ people, June is a busy month. My inbox is flush with invitations to happy hours, commemorative dinners and Pose watch parties. For LGBTQIA+ people, Pride Month is the celebration of a community that rarely gets to herald its existence, especially outside of a corporatized, sanitized context. It is also a time to take stock. Pride gives us an opportunity to recognize how far we’ve come and far we have left to go. And the road—especially in the workplace—is long.

Recently a homophobic hate crime made international news. Two queer women on a subway in London were brutally assaulted: Dr. Melania Geymonat and another woman we know only as “Chris.” Hate crimes of this nature have spiked in both the U.K. and the United States with the resurgence of the political right wing. But unlike the thousands of hate-fueled incidents that occur on a daily basis, this particular incident went viral. It graced the social media accounts of celebrities and instigated outrage in a manner unseen for queer people in recent years. For one of the victims, the unexpected notoriety was telling. In the Guardian, she wrote:

“I have evaded much of the violence and oppression imposed on so many others by our capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal system because of the privileges I enjoy by dint of my race, health, education, and conventional gender presentation. That has nothing to do with the merit of my character.

The press coverage, and timely law enforcement response, was not coincidental to our complexions. Neither was the disproportionate online reaction over the victimisation of a pretty brunette and blonde. The commodification and exploitation of my face came at the expense of other victims whose constant persecution apparently does not warrant similar moral outrage.”

It’s important to extend Chris’ argument about intersectionality to the workplace where we spend the majority of our time. It is here that we find a snapshot of the reality LGBTQIA+ people of color face everyday. For many, going to work is defined by high rates of bullying, harassment and workplace discrimination.

In 2017, the Kapor Center published a landmark ”Tech Leavers” study. In a collaboration with the Harris Poll, they surveyed over 2,000 U.S. people who have left a job in a tech over the last three years. What they found is striking: overall, nearly 80% of employees report experiencing some form of unfair behavior or treatment. For LGBT people, this can mean something very specific. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans employees report the highest rates of public humiliation and bullying of any group.

In tech, straight and cisgender employees are bullied and publicly harassed at a rate of 13%. For LGBT identified people, the rate is nearly double, 20% and 24% respectively. This means that nearly a quarter of LGBT people experience repeated, intentional and unceasing negative behavior from their superiors and peers in the tech industry. The numbers in the tech sector mirror those in the workplace more broadly.

People of color who are LGBT identified report higher rates of workplace discrimination compared to their white, straight and cisgender peers. Half of all Black LGBT people report workplace discrimination due to their sexual orientation. That number is almost double (75%-82%) for Asian Pacific Islander people who are LGBT. For trans people specifically, the workplace can be particularly toxic.

Over 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender. Research shows that 78% of trans people report mistreatment and discrimination in the workplace.

What do we do with these numbers? More importantly, what are we to do with this reality as those dedicated to work environment that is equitable and just?

When it comes to making organizations more equitable for LGBTQIA+ people, particularly those who are multiply marginalized, it’s critical to go beyond culture building. Both interpersonal and institutional measures are key to ensuring LGBTQIA+ people feel welcomed, valued and secure in the workplace.

Yes, lunch & learns, pronoun workshops and trans literacy trainings are a vital first step. However, it’s equally important to think about inclusion beyond learning and development. For instance, does your organization’s parental leave program only serve cisgender straight families? How would a trans person would engage with their team, manager, and the company if they were to undergo gender affirming surgery? If you’re scheduling travel, how do you acquire someone’s sex assigned at birth? Asking these kinds of questions from day one can go a long way in alleviating the types of marginalization LGBTQIA+ people often face in the workplace.

The number of LGBTQ identified people is rising. A 2017 Gallup poll found that the percentage LGBT people of color has risen sharply in the last 10 years. In America, 40% of the LGBT community is people of color. The most notable increases have been amongst Asian Americans and Latinx people. In addition, millennials are twice as likely to identify as LGBT; and an ever increasing number of young people—the incoming workforce—is gender non-conforming. An equitable workplace is one that engages with this reality, and its implications, every month of the year.

Pride is a rebellion. It is an uprising begun by trans women of color who endured legal and lethal forms of marginalization. As Pride Month comes to a close, there are few better ways to celebrate than to break down some of the barriers that make this month necessary in the first place.

Willie Jackson