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:
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:
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.