SELF HELP RESOURCE - Work / Workplace Relationships


Vaibhav and Sunil, both 26 years old, worked together in their organization and had known each other since their training days. One day, Vaibhav decided to confide in Sunil and tell him that he identified as gay. Sunil was shocked and upset as he had been brought up in an environment where the term "gay" was used only to mock or insult others. He immediately began distancing himself from Vaibhav, but in doing so, he also experienced a lot of guilt as he knew that he was hurting his close friend.

This is not a unique experience. A lot of us may feel similarly if we find ourselves in this situation. Some people can accept this information in a calm, matter-of-fact way, but for others, it can create a whole range of reactions, especially if this is their first such experience.
Some of the initial reactions you may experience when you come to know of such information are:

  • Shock and disbelief: You may initially find it hard to believe that this person identifies as LGBTQI+.
  • Doubts and questions: You may be wondering how long they have known for themselves and why they are only coming out now. Or why would they choose to come out to you.
  • Acceptance: You might be someone who has experienced this before and are open and accepting of orientations other than yours.
  • Awkwardness/discomfort: You might be wondering how to behave with them now and may also change how you interact with them.

Just as you are going through this discomfort, your colleagues who identify as non-binary, queer or LGBTQI+ are probably going through even more stress. They are probably worried about others' reactions and wondering if they will be judged or be subjected to jokes and gossip. Also, they would be concerned about the impact on their working relationships and any possible effect on their career. So you must respond carefully and thoughtfully.
Some statements that we might make unintentionally can be insensitive and inappropriate. However, it is essential to remember that we are working in a professional environment, and the expectations of appropriate behaviour still apply.

Some of the things you can do as a colleague:

  • If your LGBT colleague has confided in you, it's because they think of you as an ally. It would be ideal if you could approach the news with openness sensitivity and maintain confidentiality.
  • Be supportive and accepting. You can show your support by being there for them when they need to talk. Listen without making judgements or giving unsolicited advice.
  • Once you have gotten over the initial awkwardness, focus on being yourself, and try not to let this new piece of information affect your already existing work relationship. Remember, a person's sexual orientation is only one aspect of the person; they are still the same person, and you can relate to them just as you did before.
  • Be aware of your prejudices and biases. Try not to allow them to get in the way of a healthy work environment. Do seek the support of a counsellor if you feel the need to discuss your perceptions regarding this.

  What to avoid saying/doing if your LGBTQI+ colleague has disclosed their orientation to you:

  • Showing judgments and stereotypes, for example, responding with "I always knew you were gay."

  • Statements such as "I am sorry to hear that" should be avoided. There is no reason for you to feel sad or sorry for someone's sexual orientation.

  • Sexual questions and comments are always off-limits at the workplace. It applies in this situation as well. Even if it is said with curiosity/concern; such as "Are you sure? How did you know you are attracted to the opposite gender?"

  • Avoid jokes and participating in gossip. Instead, you can promote openness and acceptance.

According to a leading charity organization working for LGBTQI+ equality, "concealing sexual orientation at work reduces productivity by up to 30 per cent." Hence, managers and leaders themselves must ensure that LGBTQI+ employees feel safe to embrace and talk about their orientation at the workplace. Let us look at another example;

40-year-old Neha was a manager at a multinational organization. One of her team members revealed to the entire team that she was a lesbian. Initially, Neha was taken aback upon hearing the news but eventually reflected on her prejudices and decided to be supportive. She was determined not to come across as a biased manager. She spent a lot of time with the employee and constantly rated her very high. This led to a lot of discontentment and complaints from the other employees.

If you are a manager, especially do keep the following aspects in mind:

  • First, work on accepting the person and treating them like everyone else.

  • Offer them the same opportunities to learn and grow like any other employee.

  • Ensure that your stereotypes/biases do not affect any reviews/appraisals. Remember that showing favouritism towards the person is also a type of bias and is neither acceptable nor helpful. What is important is being fair.

A person's job is considered a part of an individual's identity, and the workplace environment plays an essential role in ensuring that one's self-esteem remains positive and healthy. Remember that accepting or supporting your LGBTQI+ colleague isn't an unusual exception that you are making. Equality, sensitivity, and fairness are part and parcel of any environment, especially in a professional working environment.

Latest Comments

poojarajasekharan on 15 Jun 2021, 21:38 PM

The article is simple and powerful. I especially loved how it is highlighted that equality is supposed to be the norm.

vidushir on 02 Jun 2021, 12:36 PM

I really enjoyed reading this article. I appreciate how well-written it is and how it explores both sides of a reaction one may have towards an LGBT colleague. It is absolutely imperative that one supports such individuals and avoids both discrimination and favoritism. Including the examples gave the article a better perspective on the subject.

shylendhirakumar on 02 Dec 2020, 18:29 PM