By Dan Gephart, June 16, 2021
On his first day in office, President Biden made diversity and equity a key initiative, and he made it clear that he expects the Federal workplace to lead the way. So it’s no surprise then that the first week of the Pride Month this year was marked by tweets, declarations and announcements of support from leaders at more than a dozen agencies, including the FBI, and the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and more.
That is a terrific start. This kind of leadership is critical. But the real work will be done onsite, in each individual workspace, team, and office.
Everyone deserves to feel valued at work, and to have the same opportunities as every other employee to further their careers. And, it should go without saying, everyone should feel safe at work. You may think this responsibility is above your pay grade, or that you have little influence on such matters. You’d be wrong. You can make a difference in creating an equitable and inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ Federal employees simply by being an ally.
How can you be an ally? Some think it means participating in marches and flying flags. But there’s so much more to it, especially in the workplace. Use this Pride Month to assess what you can do better to be an ally. We suggest your start by listening and learning.
This sounds simple, right? Yet, it’s an immensely challenging skill that has few masters. Too often, when others are sharing their experiences, we are rummaging through the backrooms of our brains to find suitable replies instead of comprehending what the person is saying. It’s estimated that 8 in 10 Americans know someone who identifies as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. But having a friend, sibling, or acquaintance in the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t make you an expert. Don’t assume you know what your colleague thinks, wants or needs.
What if you have questions? Before burdening your coworker with the responsibility of being your source for all things LGBTQ+, ask if they’re comfortable answering the question.
Your colleague may tell you his/her/their preferred pronoun. Use their preferred pronoun when addressing them directly or indirectly. This will take some adjustment on your part, especially if the individual previously went by a different pronoun. You might sometimes inadvertently use the wrong pronoun. Accidents happen. But it’s important to correct yourself before you move on.
That said, be on the lookout for individuals who deliberately misgender employees, or share an offensive joke, a slur, or misinformation. This would be the time to speak up – and where your role as an ally can make the most impact. Immediately correct the person spreading wrong or hurtful information. Inform the offending person in private why what they said is hurtful. If it continues, report it, no matter how small the problem may seem. Microaggressions and microinsults could lead to legitimate claims of discrimination or harassment. Whether they rise to that level or not, they create an unhealthy environment.
The other important thing an LGBTQ ally can do is learn more. And, fortunately, there is no shortage of websites, documentaries and books. If your agency puts on any workshops or seminars, sign up. Take part in events, not just during Pride Month, but all year long.
Here are just a some reading lists and resources (hat tips to Meghan Droste and a fellow Gephart) you may find helpful in your quest to become an ally:
- The Stonewall Alliance Center Recommended Reading
- Lambda Literary Award Winners
- Transgender Reading List for Adults
And, as you probably expect me to say if you’re a regular reader of my articles, FELTG has you covered here, too. Next week – June 23 to be exact – FELTG Instructor Meghan Droste will present a two-hour virtual training event Honoring Diversity: Ensuring Equity and Inclusion for LGBTQ Individuals. On September 1, Meghan will present another two-hour virtual training Honoring Diversity: Eliminating Microaggressions and Bias in the Federal Workplace. Both training events will run from 1-3 pm ET. We can also bring these courses to your agency. Contact me if you’d like to find out more about this option.
There is no secret to being an ally. Listen and learn. Stand with your colleagues in the face of discrimination and bias. And remember it’s not about you. Gephart@FELTG.com