When the Rainbow Flags Disappear

Many companies, including us, have decorated their logos with rainbow colors during Pride Week. Pride is a celebration of joy. It’s when bars and art exhibitions are filled with the delightful spectrum of sexuality and gender. A time when everyone can freely express themselves. But come the next Monday after the Pride parade, no one should get back in the closet. So, how can companies aspire to make their culture more inclusive for LGBT+ people? How do you make your office a safe space for everyone? Here are five tips.

1. Don’t assume.

Heteronormativity and cisgender are norms for a reason. Understanding and recognizing norms, however, helps deconstruct them. All of us can rush into unintentional conclusions guided by norms. When we hear our male colleague talk about his spouse, we easily assume their gender and may start asking questions about the assumed girlfriend. Why not use the word ‘partner’ to avoid assigning gender incorrectly. Instead of making assumptions, listen and don’t think it’s your right to question when your new colleague tells you their name or gender.

2. How many genders were there again?

Not everyone fits into the norms of gender dualism, and, furthermore, overly traditional gender roles simply make life bleak. Often assigning gender at work is fruitless and condescending. No one misses phrases like “listen up, girls” or “let’s go, boys!”.

One way you can deconstruct norms is by having unisex locker rooms and toilets. You can also rethink assigned roles – guys don’t have to handle the IT repairs while telling sexist jokes together and the ladies don’t have to clean the office kitchen in the afternoons.

3. I don’t know but I’ll find out.

The world and all the colors of the rainbow are full of wonders which can sometimes confuse you. Instead of making assumptions, it’s good to ask and use reliable sources to find out more on your own.

But it’s not anyone’s life’s purpose to assure you or help you understand their sexuality, gender, or other personal matter. Especially not at work.

It’s worth remembering that LGBTIQ people spend a disproportionate amount of time deconstructing people’s assumptions or living in the middle of them. Take for example the medieval notion that a bisexual woman is “cured” and becomes straight if she’s in a relationship with a man or the misconception that in a gay relationship the other person has to be masculine.

Some people are comfortable discussing any topic at work, or at least when going for drinks after work. Others might get tired and irritated by the questions. You have to understand that it might be the first time you’ve had the courage to ask something, but it might be the hundredth time they answer the same question. Just like everybody else, not all LGBTQI people want to discuss their sexuality or gender identity at work.

Try to be empathetic. Even though you don’t understand other people’s relationship or gender, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Always try to see the human beyond the surface and treat everybody with kindness.

4. Create safe place.

At our office, we’ve managed to create an atmosphere where many LGBT+ people find it easy to talk about their sexuality if they feel like it.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this is. A respectful and friendly conversational culture definitely plays a significant role. Ideally everyone gets to tell jokes of varying standards, but respect has to define all communication between colleagues.

I think we at Planes understand the huge responsibility individuals have in creating a good and respectful vibe at our workplace. It may be as simple as giving daily feedback on projects. Or it might be the defining moment of reacting in a neutral and respectful manner when someone comes out of the closet for the first time.
At our office, we’ve managed to create an atmosphere where many LGBT+ people find it easy to talk about their sexuality if they feel like it.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this is. A respectful and friendly conversational culture definitely plays a significant role. Ideally everyone gets to tell jokes of varying standards, but respect has to define all communication between colleagues.

I think we at Planes understand the huge responsibility individuals have in creating a good and respectful vibe at our workplace. It may be as simple as giving daily feedback on projects. Or it might be the defining moment of reacting in a neutral and respectful manner when someone comes out of the closet for the first time.

Some people get anxious when LGBT+ matters are discussed. What if my reaction is wrong or I say something stupid? Bear in mind that it’s best if people are able to speak about their dating, relationship, or gender at lunch without it being a big deal.

It is worth remembering that the embarrassment you might face isn’t really the point here – aspiring for a safer place is.

If and when you screw up, apologize and move forward. We’re all human, and the fact that LGBT+ matters are discussed openly doesn’t mean you have to censor everything you say.

However…

5. Don’t tell those gay and lesbian jokes at work.

Even if you think they are the bomb.

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Here are my tips and I hope they help. Why not leave the rainbow flag visible at your office for the whole year so that you’ll remember LGBT+ people don’t vanish after the Pride colors fade out from company logos.