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June 29, 2021

PRIDE and Allyship in the Workplace

With June being Pride Month, the Alliance hosted a webinar to have an open conversation about being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. The Pride Fireside chat’s special guest was Victoria Nolan. Victoria has been in the risk profession for over 35 years recently retiring from Clean Water Services as the Risk and Benefits Manager. Victoria is a resource to the business community sharing her perspectives and experiences as a risk professional who happens to be a transgender woman and assisting organizations develop their DE&I skills and mindsets while making the connection between DE&I and risk management. 

The History of Pride

In recent years, Pride Month has been celebrated by people within and out of the LGBTQ+ community by wearing bright, rainbow Pride flags whilst attending extravagant parades. Though Pride is now recognized through celebratory acts, it did not originate with that intent. The origin of the parades was to recognize the events that took place during the Stonewall riots. The riots of 1969 began in defense of the ongoing arrests and acts of harassment being placed upon members of the LGBTQ+ community for simply existing. A year later, the first pride march was conducted to remember the strength of the heroic members who participated in the riots and to send a message. The message being sent was, “We are here, we are not going away, we are human”, said by Victoria. Today the message of the original pride parade stands strong, but there are more levels to it. It is indeed a celebration while also being a time to remember. It is a time to celebrate diversity. It is a time to celebrate not special rights, but equal rights. 

The Transition

No two transition stories are identical. Each one may share similarities of struggles with acceptance or lack thereof, confusion, and mental health. Being transgender is not a choice, it is a natural way of being from birth. The only choice of being transgender is whether to go through with transitioning. The process of transitioning has many components. Prior to even beginning, one must evaluate if they have the right help and the right resources. In addition, one must ensure they are mentally prepared and feel safe. 

Transgender Does Not Equal Sexual Orientation

Often, people assume that a person being transgender must have a relation to their sexual orientation. That is not the case. For example, if prior to transitioning a man is attracted to women it should not be assumed that after transitioning that the, now, woman is attracted to men. Of course, there may be transgenders who during or after transitioning reveal a switch of their sexual preference, but a switch should never be assumed simply because they are transgender. 

Privilege

Victoria shared about the privilege she lost when transitioning from a white male to a white trans female. The privilege of a white male is different to that of a white trans female. Even then a white trans female has privilege over a trans female of color. A white male is suspected to have knowledge on certain subjects that females are suspected not to be knowledgeable on. After transitioning, Victoria took time to reflect upon the privilege she had and how that helped her professionally. In a world where white men dominate many industries, different opportunities are given to white men that aren’t to those who are of different races or identify with different genders. Having or lacking privilege is something everyone should recognize within themselves and others. As much as people work hard for what they earn, the playing field is not leveled. Reflect upon what privileges oneself has and remember to judge a book by its cover.

Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is having a feeling or thought towards a particular person based upon ideas that have placed in our minds without purposely doing so. Our upbringing plays a main role in our unconscious bias. How our parents raised us, what media we consumed, where we were raised, who our friends were, are just a few ways our mind has formulated biases. Everyone has them no matter one’s race, gender, religion, etc. Accept that one has bias and learn how to change them. Think, “Do I actually have a real problem with this person, or do I feel this way because of a particular event in my past?” Everyone should reflect upon their unconscious biases so we can grow and leave stereotypes and past perceptions at the door. 

Being an Ally within the Workplace

2021 is a much different world than it was in 1970 during the first pride march. Though there has been progress, there is still a lot more change necessary to conduct before we have an accepting world for all. 

A way employers can create a more accepting environment is to update and review their policies regularly and thoroughly. If someone is looking to transition, they may be afraid of losing their job or future opportunities for advancement within a company. If policies aren’t clear, a person transitioning may be afraid to ask HR for clarification with fear of judgement or embarrassment. Policies should provide clarification not by sticking to textbook definition, but by applying company values. Statements made within policies convey messages that are most important to those affected by them. Take that into consideration with care so that the workplace can be an opening and welcoming environment.

Pronouns are a new concept to some people, especially depending on one’s generation. That’s okay! No matter what one’s level of knowledge on pronouns is, there is always room to grow. Pronouns are an important component of one’s identity to take note of out of respect. A small, but noticeable way to convey one is an ally is by placing their own pronouns on their business card. This small gesture could possibly send a message to another that one is open to inclusion. Even a small act such as this sends the message that one understands that someone may be different to them, and they will respect that. It says, “You don’t have to hide and cover, I am open to the conversation.”

What can I do to be a better ally?

Lots of things! No act is too small. A good start is self-reflection by examining your own biases. Journal, research, and have discussions with peers. Open yourself up to not understanding. Ask people within the LGBTQ+ how you can support them. Ask people within the LGBTQ+ appropriate and respectful questions. 

Be aware that there may be people within your workplace who are not comfortable chiming in on casual workplace conversations because of fear they will not be accepted. For example, picture you are in a conversation discussing husbands and wives, but a gay man in the conversation isn’t contributing. Maybe the man has a husband, but fears contributing because of lack of acceptance. Make the conversation inclusive so they feel safe and don’t need to hide. 

No one is perfect and can promise to always say the right things. We all make mistakes. Though we may have missteps or moments of confusion, it is important to always be respectful and be open to learning. 

Additional Resources:

https://www.hrc.org

https://outandequal.org

https://www.lambdalegal.org

https://shrm.org

Reach out to Victoria: victoria.nolan@victorianolanenterprises.com

By: Melina Ressler, Intern, Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation