In their post on Pride month, my amazing colleague Abe Blackburn wrote about how important it is that companies set in place year-round action to support LGBTQ+ employees. Part of that is creating a really strong culture of allyship.
I’m so lucky to lead the ‘From ally to advocate’ channel as part of ‘Proud’, our Employee Resource Group (ERG) at The Social Element. I come from a fairly conservative background in Florida, but I’ve always tried to be inclusive. Even so, I had a lot to learn – and still do – particularly about gender. The ERG group, and Abe especially, gave me an opportunity to ask questions and to learn and grow, which means I can be a better LGBTQ+ ally.
I also truly believe that being an LGBTQ+ ally has made me a better mom.
I feel quite emotional when I talk about this, but I’m so proud of my kids, who never misgender anyone, and who are inclusive and kind. They’re growing up without the bias that my generation inherited, and they’ll stand up for someone who is being mistreated. It’s normal to them to think in non-binary terms, to use they/them pronouns, to have a diverse group of people in their lives. They’re natural allies. It’s wonderful to see and it’s one of the greatest gifts I could be given as a parent.
Talking to colleagues of different genders makes me realise just how powerful language is, and how important it is that we learn terms and language around gender that might be new to some of us. I use she/her pronouns, and I know how upset I’d be if someone kept misgendering me. For many people, using binary gender terms is a habit learnt over our lifetimes, but it’s one we can break with some thought and effort.
As allies, we should talk to other people about these issues, too.
We can challenge and confront lazy stereotypes, or microaggressions, or abuse. And we can help other people around us learn. It doesn’t seem right that all the onus should be on LGBTQ+ people to explain to people around them why it matters to use the right pronouns, for example. We can all correct people when they get it wrong, and take some of that burden. Part of this comes from doing really simple things like introducing ourselves with our pronouns in every day situations, to normalise it. We can correct people when they misgender someone, or be there for our LGBTQ+ colleagues in whatever way matters to them (not to us!). And we can stand up to homophobic or transphobic abuse, even when it’s not directed at us.
Here are some practical examples of things I find helpful to do. It’s not a definitive list, of course, and I’m still learning and developing, but I hope they’re a useful starting point or give you some ideas.
- I introduce myself with my pronouns where I can. Every time I interview someone for a job, I introduce myself and say I use the pronouns she/her. It makes it easier for someone else to tell me their pronouns, which is helpful to both of us. Generally, people have been really receptive to it, and it also sets out the culture of the agency from the start. I also include my pronouns on all my social media.
- If I hear someone being misgendered, I’ll always try to correct it. I’ll say something like ‘they go by he/she/they’. It shouldn’t just be up to the person being misgendered to have to deal with it. You can find ways to do it without making everyone feel uncomfortable (particularly if it was accidental – people make mistakes sometimes) and you can do it without derailing the conversation. For example, if you can’t interrupt, you could message someone privately. Approach it in the same way you might correct someone if they got your colleague’s name wrong.
- I’m learning all the time, and I correct myself when I get something wrong. Mistakes happen, it’s how we deal with them that matters. It’s really easy to search online for the right words to use, or ask someone you trust how to approach a topic that you don’t know about.
- I try to celebrate differences wherever and whenever I can. We have a wonderful resource within the organisation that shares links, celebrates inclusion, and gives people information to help them be advocates, and I’ve loved being involved with that as part of our ERG. For transgender visibility day, for example, we highlighted some of the incredible contributions to society made by transgender people that others might not know about. We have helpful resources on things like how to approach different pronoun use, too. Colleagues find them really useful, and feel they can ask questions.
- I have a ‘hate has no home here’ picture behind my desk, and people can see that when I’m on work video calls. I had lovely feedback from someone who said seeing that picture meant they knew this was a safe space. That’s such an easy thing to do.