LGBTQIA+ in the Workplace

I am an Employment lawyer and I identify as a Christian and a lesbian woman.

With PRIDE season commencing all around the country in celebration of 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, I decided to write this article to contribute to LGBTQIA+ awareness and to promote gay rights in our local communities and places of work.

When I was at University, I recall one of my housemates saying, “I don’t see the point in Gay Pride. So what? You guys are homosexuals. It’s not exactly like we have straight pride to celebrate our heterosexuality”.

I wasn’t able to challenge this view at the time, as I am fortunate enough to say that my “coming out” experience has largely been positive; because I was unequivocally accepted by my friends, family and latterly by my work colleagues. However, I now understand what it means to celebrate Gay Pride and, if given the chance again, I would have explained to my housemate that Gay Pride is so important to us, because many members of our community have been made to feel “Gay Shame”.

I myself was the victim of prejudice in 2018, when I joined a local church and started regularly attending Baptism meetings. I became spiritual during the last year of my training contract in 2014 following a series of small, but significant, spiritual experiences guiding me in the direction of “God”. I then suffered the loss of my younger brother in 2016 and found strength in prayer and meditation. An Inquest was opened to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death and, as I have some experience in coronial law, I volunteered to represent my family throughout those proceedings, which lasted some little over 18 months.

It was at this time, I decided to properly commit myself to my faith and I decided to get Baptised. I researched some local churches and found one that appealed to me. This church (which originates from the USA) had publicly released a mission statement stating that it, as an organisation, welcomed members of the LGBTQIA+ community and acknowledged that it had been wrong to persecute members of this community in the past. However, sadly to be “welcomed” by this organisation, was not the same as being accepted.

After attending a number of Baptism meetings, I introduced my female partner to the church. I was subsequently targeted by the church leaders who telephoned me one evening to invite me to attend a “crisis meeting” with two of its members. At the start of this meeting, they introduced the notion that Jesus preached that people acting on “same-sex attraction” were living in sin and this was not “God’s best” for us. I asked them, “where does Jesus say that?” Their response was, “in the Bible”.

I again asked, “where in the Bible”? Their response, “lots of places”.

I was dissatisfied with this reply and said, “I am both a lawyer and an historian. You have invited me here, to tell me that my way of life is wrong, but you cannot tell me where in the Bible Jesus says that homosexuality is a sin”.

At this point, they both looked at each other and said that they would get that information for me. This saddened me greatly, as their belief that I was a “sinner” seemed to differ from the message in the “mission statement” I referred to earlier, which said that the LGBTQIA+ community was welcome to worship at their church.

“Of course, you are welcome”, they said. They then went on to helpfully explain that I was “like a bank robber” and “if bank robber attended church, they would baptise him, but tell him that his way of life was wrong”.

Following this meeting, I was very disturbed by the approach of this church. I continued to be Baptised into my faith, but I was not allowed to read my Baptism story to the congregation. Since then, I have tried to find people who shared my beliefs in a positive and loving way and I am pleased to say that I recently attended a conference by Steve Chalke, a Christian pastor, called “In the name of love”. The purpose of this event was to challenge those prejudices and beliefs that members of the LGBTQIA+ community cannot also be part of the Christian faith. The message during that conference was so overwhelmingly one of acceptance, and as someone with differences, it is most important to feel welcome, safe and free from prejudice.

So, as employers, how can we ensure that anyone identifying as part of a minority group feel safe and included in the workplace?

Here are my tips for creating a happy workplace environment for minority groups:

  1. Speak the same language;
  2. Allow people to be themselves;
  3. Give people a voice.

A huge part of breaking down taboos is speaking the same language. Taking the time to educate ourselves and come to understand how people identify is the first step towards acceptance. Whilst the Equality Act 2010 has been great in recognising the need to protect individuals based on their gender and sexual orientation, is the law accurately reflected by your employee’s actual personal experiences?

Equal Opportunity monitoring is a good way of anonymously analysing data to ensure that minority groups are not discriminated against, but a lot of this work goes on “behind the scenes”. Some larger firms have thought about creating diversity and inclusion boards, which I think is a fantastic way to give minority groups a platform to voice their experiences, share in the governance of their organisations and advise upon ways in which their employers can ensure a continued happy and healthy working environment. Have you considered whether this would be effective in your organisation?

By way of information, Stonewall has created an extremely helpful guide for employers which I would like to share with you here as part of step one above – “speak the same language”:

If you would like any further advice on inclusion and the Equality Act 2010 in respect of your organisation, please contact me at imogen.hamblin@thrivelaw.co.uk

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Leeds & Yorkshire Lawyer Magazine – 11th April 2019