The 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality has provided an opportunity for employers to encourage their employees especially those from the LGBT community to bring their whole self to work, to be themselves. There are many reasons for this; The company may want to record and promote the diversity of its employees and promote a strategy of inclusion. Or the company may also recognise that people who have to spend their working day pretending to be living a life that is different to their reality could be damaging their own mental health as the pressures to maintain the pretence increase. Linked to this, if people are able to be themselves at work they are likely to be happier, and as a consequence are also likely to be more productive.
Regardless of what motivates an employer, the result, should contribute to a more inclusive society.
I recently saw a play at Slung Low, the pay what’s right for you, theatre in Leeds which explored how people change the way that they treat people after they know that they are LGBT.
In the play, Gypsy Queen, the two main characters are both boxers and both gay. There are a couple of differences between them though. One Dane ‘The Pain’ Samson played by Ryan Clayton is a champion in the conventional Queensbury Rules style and comfortable with his sexuality. The other, ‘gorgeous’ George O’Connell, played by Rob Ward, is a member of the travelling community and a champion bare knuckle street fighter.
When the play starts it is Gorgeous George, who is struggling with his sexuality. It is his meeting with Dane the Pain and their relationship that gives him the confidence to accept and acknowledge his sexuality.
One day, George is the hero, but when he ‘comes out’ he is shunned and goes from hero to less than zero just for being himself.
It is a truly painful watching Rob portray this process, powerless to both move towards living his own life and fight the abuse.
The final consequences are perhaps as predictable as they are tragic.
An HR Perspective
What is interesting about Gypsy Queen from an HR perspective is not so much the process that George goes through, but the way in which the supporting cast of characters change how they treat him as they become aware of his sexuality. He is not fulfilling their perceptions of the type of man that a boxing champion should be, and he has to endure both physical and verbal abuse.
The treatment of these two gay men does not match the image an outsider watching the media coverage of the increasing acceptance of same gender marriage, and the increasing number and size of Pride events all over the country would have of the United Kingdom.
The UK does seem to have adopted the mantra of President Obama of the United States that everyone is entitled to the equal protection of the law regardless of who they love.
Whilst there may be support for LGBT equality in the annual reports of big business and the establishment of an array of support mechanisms the issue for HR and learning and development professionals is how do we transfer this commitment in to the work place that is often more likely to reflect the experiences that George had.
Research from the Trades Union Congress indicates that more than a third of LGBT workers in the UK has experienced harassment, bullying or discrimination at work. More than 5,000 people responded to the survey, almost 30% of this was perpetrated by a manager, and about 14% by a client or patient.
It is perhaps not surprising that more than half of LGBT people do not disclose their sexuality to work colleagues.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has said that despite the UK fast becoming a more equal and accepting country, it is shocking that in 2017 so many lesbian, gay, bi and trans people around the UK still experience discrimination and harassment at work just because of their sexuality or because they are trans.
Ms O’Grady called on employers to enforce zero tolerance policies when it comes to the harassment of LGBT employees. She described homophobia and transphobia at work as undermining, humiliating and can have a huge effect on mental health.
We have however seen that companies are acting, but the message does not seem to be getting through to workers who appear from the TUC research and similar research conducted by Stonewall to be still treating LGBT colleagues unfairly.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has taken a lead in committing to promoting inclusion
Unfortunately, our work places are a reflection of the society in which we live.
It is not acceptable to make a negative comment to someone based on the colour of their skin or their religion, just look at the furor created when a Conservative politician used the N word, or when a journalist refers to the pay that Jewish celebrities are given.
The condemnation in these cases was justified, but there are few word related to sexuality that would engender the same flurry of coverage. It remains socially acceptable to make negative comments about someone’s actual or perceived sexuality or sexual identity. This is despite as research reported in The Independent shows men who are homophobic are likely to be trying to hide their own interest in homosexuality.
The solution is perhaps two-fold.
If as employers and HR professionals we tell our employees to bring their whole self to work, because it will make them happier and more productive, then we owe it to them to protect them when they take us at our word.
If you have been subject to bullying, harassment or discrimination at work, because of your actual or perceived sexuality or sexual identity there is advice here.
For information about learning resources and training courses that support a diverse and inclusive work place.
Read my review of Gypsy Queen at Culture Vulture