MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Fri 17-Jan-14 17:14:24

Homophobia in the workplace: "gay people must be able to be themselves"

New research from Stonewall suggests that 2.4m people of working age have witnessed verbal homophobic bullying at work. Here, Laura Doughty explains Stonewall's new campaign, and why it matters that gay people can be themselves at work.

Laura Doughty

Deputy Chief Executive, Stonewall

Posted on: Fri 17-Jan-14 17:14:24

(16 comments )

Lead photo

One of Stonewall's new campaign posters which tackle homophobia at work

Imagine going to work somewhere where you feel unable to be yourself. What you did at the weekend, your partner, where you socialised - all topics that are off limits within your workplace. I know that this is the experience I've had in the past and it is an experience shared by thousands of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, particularly before workplace protections against discrimination were secured ten years ago. 
 
Thankfully, many organisations now take recruiting and retaining the very best talent - regardless of their sexual orientation - remarkably seriously. Stonewall works with over 650 organisations - together employing more than 6 million people in Britain - to ensure that gay people feel able to be themselves at work. Organisations from Goldman Sachs to the Ministry of Defence understand that people perform better when they can do so. 
 
So a lot has been achieved - but sadly, the reality of an office that is welcoming and supportive is still a distant dream for some people. YouGov polling conducted for Stonewall shows that, in just the last five years, a horrendous 2.4m people of working age have witnessed verbal homophobic bullying at work. A further 800,000 people of working age have witnessed physical homophobic bullying at work.
 
The end result? Over a quarter of people aren't open about their sexual orientation to any of their colleagues. That means an awful lot of time and energy expended on hiding who you are, rather than doing the job in hand. Just try it yourself. Try not mentioning your partner, or what you do as a family just for one day at work. 

The reality of an office that is welcoming and supportive is still a distant dream for some people. YouGov polling conducted for Stonewall shows that, in just the last five years, A horrendous 2.4m people of working age have witnessed verbal homophobic bullying at work. A further 800,000 people of working age have witnessed physical homophobic bullying at work.

 
We regularly hear stories from individuals who aren't able to be themselves.
 
Ronda, for example, who worked in a hospital and overheard colleagues chatting: "'Have you heard about so-and-so's son?' So-and-so's son had obviously come out as gay, and it was very much along the lines of 'disgusting, I would disown my own son if he did that, I mean how can they be proud parents?'"
 
Anya, who works in the public sector, is""definitely aware of my sexual orientation, because it's massively different from everybody around me. People talk about their weekends and their heterosexual lives and mine is obviously very different, and you do pause for a second before saying 'my girlfriend?'. I'm aware that in a fairly conservative environment, maybe I'm the first one they've met". 
 
Stories like these - and too many more to mention - are why we're launching a new campaign to tackle homophobia in Britain's workplaces. Because this stuff really matters. 
 
We're putting nearly five thousand posters across London, Cardiff and Edinburgh, featuring two real people who work in a variety of jobs and professions - everything from construction workers to office managers, priests to police officers, footballers to firefighters. The posters have a simple message: 'One is gay. If that bothers people, our work continues'.
 
As well as raising awareness of the extent to which homophobia still exists in Britain's workplaces, we want this to be a call to action for Britain's businesses. We're sending the posters to Stonewall's 650 Diversity Champions and asking them to tailor them with their logos and proudly display them in offices and workplaces. 
 
And we want individuals to talk to their employer and ask them what they're doing to ensure every member of staff - regardless of their sexual orientation - can be themselves. You can ask them to support our new campaign, check what policies they have in place to prevent bullying and harassment or whether they have a staff network group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender staff. 
 
Finally, if you are having problems at work or if you witness homophobia, you can always contact Stonewall. Our Workplace Team and our Information Service are here to support you. 
 
For further information on the campaign or for support you can visit www.stonewall.org.uk/LotsToDo or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook by using #LotsToDo. 

By Laura Doughty

Twitter: @stonewalluk

Someone I worked with recently mentioned his DH for the first time. I asked, "oh, did you get married recently". Nope, it just took two years for him to feel comfortable enough to mention it at work.

Pantah630 Sat 18-Jan-14 16:24:02

That's really sad MrsTP

I support Stonewalls work in the workplace and think groups like Diversity Role Models need to be encouraged by LEAs into all schools to get the homophobia nipped in the bud early. My brother is part of GLEE at PwC, they're doing a great job in changing perceptions too and are one of SWs Diversity Champions. He got an award the other night too, very proud sister grin

AcrossthePond55 Sat 18-Jan-14 17:01:17

I worked with many gay people during my career. The change in my workplace in that 30 years was amazing. From a woman being told in the late 70s that she could not have a picture of her spouse on her desk (although we all had pictures of our spouses) in the late 70s to an office-hosted wedding shower for a same sex couple in the 2000s. Times have changed, although I acknowledge that they need to change more.

Tolerance is taught. And it's the responsibility of all of us to teach tolerance by the way we live. And by the way we stand up for each other.

UsingMyRedPen Sat 18-Jan-14 18:51:58

I love this post, it's exactly how I've felt for years. Being bisexual, every time I've been in a relationship with a woman I've had to shut my mouth and all ow people to assume I was single. I remember admitting to a colleague once that a guy I was seeing was bisexual and her response was "how could you date him, I could never date someone like that!" So I knew there was no way I could ever admit it about myself.

That is, until one day in 2012 when we had a girl start working in our office who was openly and proudly a lesbian. She is several years younger than me and far, far braver. She does openly chat about her ex girlfriend, women she dates, celeb women that she fancies. She loudly allows the world to know who she is and what she thinks, no one in the office would dare be derogatory about gay people now as there is absolutely no doubt she would challenge them and give them plenty to think about! After she arrived I was finally able to admit my preferences to some of my team, although I've never been brave enough to be as open as this girl.

I really think the louder and prouder we all are about these things, the better it is for everyone. There are definitely people in my office who have never come across homosexuality in such a close proximity before but they are certainly having to learn to accept it.

Paintyfingers Sat 18-Jan-14 19:10:27

I am not gay but my aunt was (sadly died last year at 50 hmm ) and she was a lifelong activist.

In my industry we are now getting people happy to be openly gay in the office which first started happening around 5 years ago - just makes work so much more genuine as a place to be.

FarelyKnuts Sat 18-Jan-14 19:56:34

I am openly gay at work but still find it so dispiriting that there is an automatic assumption of "straightness". It is a bigger deal than it needs to be to have to constantly and continuously "out" yourself just to have a damn conversation around the lunch table whenever there is anyone new around (or not and stay silent if you cba).

Paintyfingers Sat 18-Jan-14 20:16:29

Farely, I wanted to mention that before. I was in the following situation at a work Xmas do years ago before knowing a colleague was gay. He was wearing a wedding ring and I asked if he was spending Xmas with his wife and her family or with his own blush He just said with his family but I was told by a friend of his a few months later that he was gay.

I think I and many others need to make a much more conscious effort to avoid situations like that. I could have said 'partner' and let him respond - so I was leaving it open whether that was wife/husband/ a male/female dp.

FarelyKnuts Sat 18-Jan-14 20:29:37

That's the kind of thing I mean Painty, not to single you out or anything!
But it's a similar thing, we have a 4yo DD, people see pictures of her on my desk, or I may mention her in a relevant conversation and there is an automatic assumption my DP is male.
It's not sooo difficult for people to say partner if they are unsure is it?

Tubemole1 Sun 19-Jan-14 05:06:05

My parents are of the generation where being gay was weird or something to laugh at. I am the bridging generation, brought up at as time where being called gay was an insult but seeing massive changes to the rights of gay people. Young people of under 25 are the ones to watch. They really do not care about people's differences and they are the ones who can really help Stonewall with their campaign.

I work for one of Stonewall's gay friendly workplaces and it has taught me a lot. The older staff still take the piss out of gay staff but they are corrected. Thankfully as they retire their attitudes will go with them, and I myself give them a rollicking. We were one of the first companies to write a bullying and harrasssment policy to protect LGBT staff. Unfortunately I have never come across a case of formal process against a homophobic member of staff. I admit if I was braver, I would report more cases to my manager.

Some LGBT staff are very vocal about their sexuality, but some are reserved. I put that down to the human condition. I have come across two members of male staff, both married to women, who fell in love and had an affair. To the rest of us it was an open secret and we were flummoxed as to why they lived a lie at home. To both guys, it ended badly, marriage and family breakups, and they didn't stay together, but I like to think they at least admitted to themselves who they truly are.

Paintyfingers Sun 19-Jan-14 09:54:28

Farely I can see how annoying that must be! I have made an even bigger mental note to try to say 'partner' from now on and thank you for hopefully helping me and others reading to be a better colleague.

I got it right recently with a female colleague who has a girlfriend and children - said partner and then she was just able to say 'my gf and I did this with the dc' without having to correct any misconception.

I also know a male friend of a friend who is around 40, but would never want to be out at work I don't think because he isn't out to his family at all - his DF and dm and DSis don't know. Presumably this will become rarer as telling family (hopefully) becomes less and less of an issue.

ProtegeMoi Sun 19-Jan-14 16:59:38

I agree the hardest part is the assumption your straight. I've never had a negative reaction telling people I am gay but the looks of shock drive you mad, along with the stupid statements, "but your girly", "but you have children", "you don't look gay".

In my workplace there are several colleagues who I think are gay but don't feel comfortable being out in our extremely conservative sector, and I would never ask. I'm extremely careful to always say "partner" and they always describe their partner in non-gendered terms as well. I a,so wonder whether I should try to be non gender specific and talk about my own husband as "partner", not have his photo on my desk, etc as a sign of solidarity?

FarelyKnuts Sun 19-Jan-14 18:19:19

I don't think it's necessary NotJustACigar. Refer to your own partner however you like, display photos etc. I wouldn't see it as solidarity tbh.
Its yours to define.
But it is much more respectful to refer to partner when talking about someone else's significant other unless you are told otherwise. It then leaves it up to them to continue using the gender neutral term or to clarify with husband/boyfriend or wife/girlfriend IF they wish to out themselves.

ITCouldBeWorse Sun 19-Jan-14 21:47:58

I honestly don't give a hoot about anyone else's sexuality at work - as a school we are signed up to the stonewall campaign and have a good number of gay staff who are out and many are parents who proudly bring their babies in to show them off. it is very nice and gives a very positive image to our students.

I hope my actions show my acceptance of anyone's sexuality, but I would tend to assume they had an opposite sex partner unless they told me otherwise - sort of playing the odds iykwim. Like I assume people in their 40s don't have grandparents etc.

I have had very enlightening conversations about finding donors and other parenting issues. So I don't think I have offended anyone who chooses to be out - I sort of imagined anyone who did not want to be out would take the opportu it's to gloss over (I don't feel anyone has an obligation to be out if they prefer not to be).

This thread has made me think I may have been inadvertently making someone uncomfortable.

TheSporkforeatingkyriarchy Mon 20-Jan-14 11:29:53

You could play your odds better by using gender neutral language and assuming that if people want to tell you otherwise, then they will.

By using gendered language and assuming everyone is straight, you are supporting a heteronormative environment and making people who are otherwise choose to either out themselves or play into that. It's a very uncomfortable position to be in.

Pollaidh Mon 20-Jan-14 13:28:38

I worked in a conservative office where a few people were gay but no one was out, although I always assumed that some people must be, purely from a statistical p.o.v. One day a new and very out member of staff came and it was wonderful (but also sad) because other people started to come out. It was wonderful seeing them blossom from that point as they could finally be open and live their lives the way they wanted. It's great when open gay people with the confidence to be out can act as a catalyst in an environment like that.

I use gender neutral language as much as possible, and am amazed by how many people say 'well, actually...' I also make sure I talk to my small children in an open way, and ensure they know that often daddies and daddies love each other etc. My parents are a little shocked by this.

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