Before going into language and labels and identity, start with a question from Diversity & Inclusion 101: “does the difference make a difference?” Before deciding “what label” to use, realize that someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity is subjective, personal and private, and that labeling may be a form of discrimination.
That said, language around gender and gender identity is evolving in an exciting way, with discourse that separates gender from sexual orientation and embraces a “continuum” model over a previously “binary” paradigm.
LGBTQIAPWith the idea you can’t understand something for with there is no language, here is insight into how language is evolving to match reality, and how all of this is helping with better inclusion for LGBT individuals, including in the workplace.
LGTQIAP includes Lesbian; Gay, Bisexual; Transgender; Queer (or questioning); Intersex; Asexual (or Ally); Pansexual/Polysexual. The extension of letters is driven by the community, and continues to evolve to cover people of all genders and sexual minorities: People whose sex is neither male nor female, whose gender is neither male nor female and whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual.
Beyond the Binary
The language has evolved along with the evolving conversation about a broader gender spectrum, sometimes referred to as “beyond the binary,” meaning the traditional paradigm of two gender options, male and female.
Another term more in popular use now is cisgender–denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex. This is opposed to transgender–denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. It is a way for language to be power neutral—e.g. it’s not the norm and everything else, but simply different self-identities: cisgender, transgender pangender, etc.
Preferred Gender Pronoun (PGP)
Not sure what someone’s PGP is? Ask! You can also listen first to see how someone refers to themself. Speaking of “themself,” gender pronouns are developing to be gender neutral, including use of they/them/theirs to refer any gender, not just plural, as well as the development of new pronouns.
Be a Gender Pioneer
72 countries around the globe prohibit discrimination in employment because of sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the United States is not one of them.
Many people assume that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes Federal Government protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Title VII “prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.” It applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments. In court, cases for transgender and LGBT plaintiffs have been won under Title VII, but often under the argument of sex discrimination (a protected class) based on gender non-conformity—not specifically on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Many states (22 states plus the District of Columbia) have filled the gaps inherent in Title VII with laws in place that protect against discrimination on this basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment in the public and private sector. Marriage equality is federal law. But that does not preclude discrimination or harassment at work. According to a study by UCLA’s William’s Institute, 21 percent of LGBT employees reporting said that they have been discriminated against in hiring, promotions and pay. That number jumped to 47% for individuals who identified as Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming.
You can help by ensuring there are Gender Affirming Policies at your place of employment, or support those policies that are in place.
Things your company can do include:
- Having a written, visible diversity and inclusion statement that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Creating an LGBT Employee Resource Group (ERG)
- Providing training for leadership and staff
- Including the company’s non-discrimination policy in new employee orientation
- Recruiting, mentoring, promoting, including LGBT employees
- Demonstrating a public commitment to the LGBT community
Things you can do include
- Respecting your co-worker’s privacy.
- Letting the employee decide who they tell and when.
- Use names and pronouns as requested by employee.
- Be vigilant against subtle forms of harassment: wrong pronoun use, exclusionary behaviors, etc.
- Don’t assume sexual orientation