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Interacting with and being inclusive of LGBTQ+ people

Published by: LifeWorks,

Pride colours for LGBTQ+ awareness

You probably know many LGBT people in your personal and work life. But you may still be unsure about how to act around them or how to best communicate with them. How can you be more inclusive? Show your support? Choose the right words? Some suggestions follow.

Communicating with one another

The more openly and clearly you communicate with others, the better your relationships are. That’s true in all relationships, including relationships with LGBT friends, relatives and co-workers. You’ll communicate more openly and honestly if you

  • Educate yourself about issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. Become familiar with basic terms like “coming out”, “homophobia”, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression”.
  • Be mindful of the words that you choose.
  • Try to use inclusive language that doesn’t assume everyone is heterosexual. For example, instead of using the words “husband” or “wife”. use “partner” or “spouse” when referring to a LGBT friend’s “significant other”. “What did you and your partner do this weekend?” Instead of asking a new friend, “Are you married?” ask, “Are you in a relationship?” or “Do you have a partner?” When in doubt, listen to what term the person uses. Or simply ask, “How would you like me to refer to your significant other?”
  • Don’t use words like “fag”, “dyke”, and “queer”. You may hear people – even LGBT people – use these terms, but it is inappropriate to use epithets. Many LGBT people find these words offensive even when used by other LGBT people.
  • If your child uses an insulting playground epithet like, “That’s so gay!” or “You’re so gay!” or the others listed above, use this as an opportunity to teach your child that these words are offensive and inappropriate.
  • Remember that it takes practice to break old habits of speech and that most people are very tolerant of someone who is trying to learn. So don’t worry too much about saying the wrong thing.
  • Don’t make jokes about LGBT people (just as you wouldn’t make racial or ethnic jokes).It is important to understand that you never know if you are in the company of LGBT people or not, or of people who have LGBT friends and loved ones. And it is important to help break the cycle of assuming such jokes are all in good fun or acceptable.
  • If you are in the company of others who are telling such jokes, let them know you don’t think they are funny or appropriate.
  • Be honest and admit if you don’t know what a word means or what language to use.Don’t be nervous about using the “right” language. If you aren’t sure what words to use or what to say when talking with your LGBT friend or relative, ask for help. “What words do I use? What’s the correct language?”

Being supportive at work and in your community

One of the most difficult and painful realities that LGBT people face is homophobia – the fear or hatred by others of homosexuals. LGBT people may encounter name-calling, harassment, jokes, intimidation or even acts of violence. Here are some ways to be inclusive and supportive:

  • Lead by example. Don’t be afraid to speak up when other people act in a discriminatory way toward LGBT people, tell offensive jokes or engage in anti-gay behavior. Let your children know that you support gay civil rights and that you are against prejudice and discrimination.
  • Avoid making stereotypes. The stereotypes society places on LGBT people regarding dress, demeanor, physique and speech are just that: stereotypes, which are by definition oversimplified and often false. They also tend to be a powerful way of enforcing narrow expectations about gender behavior and expression that are harmful to LGBT and heterosexual people alike. Holding on to stereotypes prevents rather than encourages real listening and understanding between people. Avoid making assumptions based on gender role or sexual orientation.
  • Be inclusive. Instead of telling a co-worker, employee, relative or friend to bring a “spouse” to an event, ask them to bring a “guest”. The LGBT person may then choose how to define the guest they bring – as a friend, date, or partner. Not everyone may feel comfortable identifying a partner as such in a public setting. The term “guest” allows people to bring a guest and identify him or her as they so choose.
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated. Remember that actions speak louder than words.
  • Communicate to co-workers that you are supportive of gay issues. Show your support of LGBT issues. Talk about a film you have seen featuring a LGBT character. Recognise contributions by LGBT co-workers. Invite a LGBT co-worker and his or her guest or partner to a social function. Use the words “gay”, “lesbian”, “bisexual” and “transgender” when you talk about diversity.
  • Be respectful of people’s privacy. Don’t pry. Understand that some people may choose not to disclose personal information.
  • Support gay-friendly stores and businesses.
  • Participate in a gay rights fundraiser or other “Pride” event. Or volunteer at a support group or organisation. Consider bringing your child to one of these events.
  • Join efforts in your community to raise awareness about LGBT issues and to work for equality and non-discrimination.
  • Join your LGBT family and friends in efforts to affect local and government policy making. As a straight ally to LGBT people, your voice is incredibly important to helping policy makers understand that equal treatment and protection under the law for LGBT people are important to more than the LGBT community.

Gay/straight friendships

LGBT people want the same things heterosexual people want from life: to live and work in a world that is free from discrimination. When interacting with LGBT friends and relatives

  • Relax and be yourself.
  • Don’t treat the person any differently.
  • Be inclusive and use inclusive language.
  • Share who you are. Share family milestones, personal and work news, and celebrations with LGBT friends, just as you would with heterosexual friends.
  • Be open to and embrace diversity.

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