Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What Does a Company Need to Do for LGBT Employees?

I’ve been thinking about this one a lot over the past few days.  I work in a very rural area with people that predominantly occupy an older, whiter demographic.  Many of my coworkers consider their religious beliefs to be very important to them.  Now, none of these things necessarily mean anything from individual to individual (and I want to highlight that I am making no assumptions), but I am well aware of the demographics and percentages.  As you would expect, it is not the most naturally welcoming environment in which to come out, or advertise any aspect of being LGBT.

The company and (most of) the people aren’t overtly anti-gay or even uncomfortable with gays.  It is, without a doubt, far more welcoming an environment than a lot of places.  But those questionable groups remain.  What is a company to do when they have an environment that might feel closed off to LGBT?  Sure they have to abide by state anti-discrimination laws, but that’s of little comfort to most.  An unforgiving culture will do in time what those laws prevent the company from doing immediately.

I don’t believe in special privileges for LGBT (or any other minority for that matter).  If we want to give weight to the claim that we’re just like everyone else, we need to expect to be treated like everyone else.  We can’t go looking for special concessions.  But it can be difficult to draw the line between special concessions and necessary protections.  Is promoting LGBT-friendliness a special concession, or is it evening out the bombardment of straight culture that many LGBT feel they’re subjected to every day?

When viewed through an objective lens, how significant is that bombardment?  Is it there in partnering with the Salvation Army, an organization known for its anti-gay policies and discriminatory tactics?  Is it in holding company blood drives, something in which gay men cannot participate?  Obviously I’m not viewing things through an objective lens (and probably none of us are) so I can’t provide that answer.

What I can do is work off of my feelings and the feelings of others.  Aside from myself, my company of around 600 employees (at this location) has zero out LGBT employees that I am aware of.  Now I haven’t personally met and conversed with all 600, but somewhere between fifty and a hundred seems reasonably accurate.  Statistically speaking there should be between two and ten LGBT individuals given those figures.  That there is one (myself) isn’t necessarily damning, but it is troubling.  It suggests that the assertion that the company is an uncomfortable place to come out or be out has some validity.

A response to the “straight bias” doesn’t have to swing wildly in the other direction either.  Something as simple as posting the dates of local pride events would go a long way towards telling LGBT individuals that they can safely be themselves at work without stepping on the toes of anyone (reasonable) that might have religious reservations.  I don’t think much is necessary, or even warranted.  Like I said, I’m not looking for any special favors.  However I do think that a lot of our “cultural norms” are biased in favor of non-LGBT individuals, and that can make things difficult for us.  That will likely change in time as people become increasingly aware of and comfortable around LGBT, but right now we could use a small olive branch.

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