Guest blog by Debi Linton (Student Recruitment and Outreach) and Allán Laville (School of Psychology and Clinical Language Science).
Earlier this year, on 26 April, four members of the University’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group, Yasmin Ahmed (the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor in HR), David Ashmore (from Procurement), Al Laville (from SPCLS and Co-Chair of the LGBT+ staff and PhD network), and Debi Linton (from Student Recruitment and Outreach), attended the Stonewall Workplace Conference 2019, Europe’s leading conference on lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) inclusion in the workplace that takes place annually in London.
This is the first of several blogs reflecting on the sessions that this group attended and the discussions had at this meeting. This particular blog focuses on supporting inclusion for employees representing particular letters of the LGBT+ community.
The LGBT+ “umbrella” exists because many people of diverse gender identities and sexualities share similar challenges and experiences of discrimination, and the community has historically faced these difficulties together. However, every identity within the community also faces their own specific challenges, and especially gender identity and sexual identity are different parts of a person’s identity: your gender identity is not necessarily linked to who you find attractive.
Some key identities within the LGBT+ community include: lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and asexual, but not everyone within the community identifies fully with any one of these. At the Stonewall Workplace Conference, we attended workshops specifically focusing on inclusion of trans, non-binary and bi employees.
Stopping to enjoy the view on the way to the Stonewall Workplace Conference at the QEII Centre
Stonewall’s “LGBT in Britain” (https://www.stonewall.org.uk/lgbt-britain-work-report) report in 2018 painted a bleak picture for being trans in the workplace. One third of trans people report having been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues because of being trans, compared to “only” one fifth of LGBT staff as a whole (still an unacceptable figure.) More worryingly, one in eight trans people reported having been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the year preceding the report. 15 percent were also not being addressed by their correct name or pronouns.
These various experiences obviously contribute together to a potentially stressful and hostile working environment for trans people, often exacerbated by stresses and difficulties outside the workplace, such as discrimination from friends and family members and within faith and cultural groups, which might otherwise be relied on to provide support in times of difficulty. Access to healthcare, and sports and physical activities which can help reduce stress in cis people present their own barriers to trans people, and the current hostile media environment is an additional burden on its own. So it’s important for us as colleagues and employers, to help contribute to an inclusive and welcoming environment for our trans colleagues.
The benefits to having an inclusive and friendly workplace are self-evident: if everyone feels comfortable being themselves and can come to work without fear of discrimination and harassment, we can all work more effectively and, as a University, provide a safe and inclusive space for our students as well.
According to the Stonewall report, one in four trans people aren’t “out” at work, so it’s important to recognise that we may currently have colleagues who are trans but haven’t told us yet, and we can help to improve their working experience by creating an inclusive workplace without knowing everyone’s precise gender identity. There can be a perception that trans inclusion doesn’t matter if no one in the office is visibly trans, but without asking everyone we cannot be sure, and it’s always best practice to have working structures in place when new colleagues join.
Non-binary (often abbreviated to nb, or “enby” to prevent confusion with other uses of the abbreviation) people are those that do not identify as either of the two predominant “binary” genders (male or female). Some nb people identify as trans and some don’t, but they face many of the same challenges trans people face (see above) as well as some that arise specifically from not conforming into two specific genders.
There are many different identities within the non-binary “umbrella,” including people who identify as having more than one gender (e.g. bigender or pangender), no gender (e.g. agender or genderfree) a specific third or other gender, or fluctuating between genders (genderfluid). You don’t need the specific way a person identifies in order to use their correct name or pronouns, but it helps to be aware that not everyone will have the same needs or expectations.
In addition to the challenges faced by trans people in general above, the Stonewall report showed that 31% of nb people didn’t feel comfortable wearing clothes to work that accurately reflected their gender expression (compared to 18% of trans people) and two in five aren’t “out” at work (compared to one in four trans people). There is clearly additional stigma attached to nb identities on top of that associated with being trans.
As a University, we’re working to put in place policies and procedures that are inclusive of all gender identities: for example, there are trans awareness training courses available, and of course there are the pronoun badges many of us now wear. (See an earlier blog https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/diversereading/2019/02/26/pronoun-badges-at-the-university-of-reading/ for more information on these, including why cis people also choose to wear badges.) Additionally, many buildings around Whiteknights and London Road campuses now have gender neutral toilets, which can be identified on the campus maps https://www.reading.ac.uk/about/visit-us.aspx.
For those people who require flexibility in the way they are identified, duplicate employee cards are available to wear over your main campus card, showing the photo and name that most fits your current expression.
As a university community, we can support our trans and nb colleagues by recognising the range of gender identities and expressions within our community. The University and RUSU have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and harassment (#NeverOK: http://student.reading.ac.uk/essentials/_the-important-stuff/values-and-behaviours/never-ok/never-ok-campaign.aspx) and we can support our colleagues by standing up for them, which includes gently correcting when a colleague is misgendered. (For guidance on how to do this, see the University’s online Diversity and Inclusion training session.)
We can also help by normalising the use of gender neutral language. If you’re not sure which pronoun to use, and it’s not appropriate to ask, “they” or “them” is often a safe alternative. When talking to groups of colleagues or students, be aware that terms like “ladies and gentlemen” or “guys” do not always apply, and gender neutral language such as “everyone,” “folks” etc make sure no one is excluded.
We use the term Bi as opposed to Bisexual here as following Stonewall’s guidance: ‘Bi is an umbrella term used to describe a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards more than one gender. Bi people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including, but not limited to, bisexual, pan, queer, and other non-monosexual identities’.
According to Stonewall’s work report (link at beginning of article), nearly two in five bi people (38%) aren’t out to anyone at work. A potential reason for this is biphobia. Stonewall, the largest LGBT charity in Europe, states that bi individuals suffer from dual prejudice. This is from within the LGBT community and outside of it. This prejudice can lead to mental health problems and risk taking behaviours. A related concept is that of the ‘bi erasure’, which is when your bi identity is ‘erased’ as others can view your sexual orientation to be one and the same as your current relationship status. For example, if someone who identified as male was in a relationship with another male, often the conclusion is that they are a gay man. These assumptions are dangerous as the individual has not shared their sexual orientation, which could well be bi.
In relation to improving bi visibility and awareness, the University published in 2017 a blog (https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/diversereading/2017/09/22/seeing-the-b-in-lgbt/) on Bi Visibility Day, which is 23rd of September each year. There are various events held across the UK (as well as internationally) to encourage and promote bi visibility. At these events, you will often see the Bi Pride flag which was created by Michael Page in 1998:
“The pink color represents sexual attraction to the same sex only (gay and lesbian), The blue represents sexual attraction to the opposite sex only (straight) and the resultant overlap color purple represents sexual attraction to both sexes (bi). The key to understanding the symbolism in the Bi Pride Flag is to know that the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the pink and blue, just as in the ‘real world’ where most bi people blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities.”
Therefore, it is very important to have bi awareness training within the workplace. However, according to Stonewall, only 5% of workplaces currently provide this. At the University, we are exploring the possibility of creating and subsequently delivering bi awareness training. If you are interested in contributing to this training, please contact Al Laville (LGBT+ Staff Network Co-Chair and Stonewall Bi Role Model) at firstname.lastname@example.org for an informal conversation.