Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Pride Flag Logos Fly
So. June – which has also been known as “Pride Month” for the past few years – is over.
Most corporations who “proudly” stood with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community just a few weeks ago have removed their rainbow logos at midnight on the dot on July 1st faster than you can say “Pride”.
Just as we can see for other “months” or “days” that centre and celebrate the history of people who have been marginalised by society, such as Black History Month or International Women’s Rights Day, corporations are quick to hop on the bandwagon of “allyship” and “support”, but do their words match their actions?
Corporations are quick to hop on the bandwagon of “allyship” and “support”, but do their words match their actions? Do they really walk the walk as well as they talk the talk?
Do they really walk the walk as well as they talk the talk?
Most of them actually do the complete opposite. Their support during Pride month is a smokescreen that helps them pretend they are “one of the good guys”, because allyship is a fast selling commodity, fueled by the capitalist urge to make a profit out of every possible opportunity, event and situation.
However, ironically, a lot of the same businesses and corporations that pose as allies in June have a much darker side; for instance, a lot of them donate to organizations and politicians who are fiercely anti-2SLGBTQIA+. In fact, according to a Forbes article, corporations such as AT&T, UPS, Comcast, Home Depot, General Electric, FedEx, UBS, Verizon and Pfizer have donated between themselves close to $15,000,000 to hundreds of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ politicians from 2017 to 2018 only. But what’s worst is that based on data collected by the Human Rights Campaign and their Corporate Equity Index – a benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices and benefits pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees – every single of those corporations had perfect index scores in that same year.
Corporations such as AT&T, UPS, Comcast, Home Depot, General Electric, FedEx, UBS, Verizon and Pfizer have donated between themselves close to $15,000,000 to hundreds of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ politicians from 2017 to 2018 only.
And there’s also a world of difference between what corporations say they do on paper and actually enforce on the ground; many employees who work for the same corporations that pledge their support to the queer community in June feel like they need to hide their identities, their partners, their families from their coworkers, so as to avoid invasive questions and being ostracized. Other employees hide themselves because they know “coming out” will cost them more energy than staying in the closet; as a genderqueer and trans person, I’m only too familiar with the specific exhaustion that comes with having to correct people on your name and pronouns constantly. Truth is, it’s very draining to have to listen to people over apologizing for making mistakes and implying that your existence and respecting your identity makes their lives more complicated.
According to EGALE, an organization who’s mission statement is to improve the lives of 2SLGBTQI people in Canada and to enhance the global response to 2SLGBTQI issues, 30% of LGBTQ employees in Canada have experienced discrimination in the workplace (as opposed to only 3% of non-LGBTQ employees), while 49% of trans people have or suspect of having been turned down for a job because because of their gender identity. Additionally, more than 30% of openly 2SLGBTQIA+ people have reported leaving their workplaces because of a lack of support from management.
Pride is not a parade – it’s a riot.
The past decades have seen a shift in 2SLGBTQIA+ issues and queer liberation – being queer is no longer a crime in most places in North America and Europe, same-sex marriage is legal in more and more countries every year. So much, that a lot of people seem to forget that pride didn’t start as a parade, full of joy, colours and celebrations; it was first a riot started by trans women of colour, who fought for rights and queer liberation, and without whom we wouldn’t be here today, being able to openly celebrate in the streets. Pride is still, and always has been, a political act; but the way corporations co-opt its meaning and blatantly ignore its origins causes a lot more harm than we think.
Superficially, it looks like more people than ever support members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. However, the past few years have been hard for queer and trans rights; in the United States, more and more laws targeting queer and trans people, and especially trans youth, have been voted in. And although it feels like Canada is different and more progressive, at least 63 MPs voted against Bill C-6, which proposed to ban conversion therapy (which aims to “heal” and put 2SLGBTQIA+ back on the “right” path), and marriage equality and abortion rights are still incredibly divisive issues amidst the Conservative Party of Canada.
What can we do? – A short guide on how to be a meaningful ally
Alright. So you or your organization want to be meaningful allies. But you don’t exactly know where to start and how it can translate in the workplace. Worry not – there are easy ways to change your habits and the way you interact with your coworkers.
However, becoming an ally is an ongoing process: you can never be “done” in your path towards allyship. There’s no specific way or journey to become a “perfect ally”. There is actually no such thing as a perfect ally! We are all constantly learning and unlearning, and mistakes happen and are part of the process. In fact, mistakes should never be seen as failures, especially when done inadvertently or from a well-intentioned place – they are instead opportunities to grow and become a better person. After all, we all come from different perspectives, lived experiences, backgrounds and education.
There is actually no such thing as a perfect ally! We are all constantly learning and unlearning, and mistakes happen and are part of the process.
So what can you do as a leader? As an organization or business? As an individual?
First, the most important thing you can do, in all aspects of your life is – to listen. Because listening, really listening, without making it about yourself and relating what someone is telling you to your own life, without interjecting and interrupting, is harder than it looks.
Listen to what your 2SLGBTQIA+ employees have to say about your workplace culture. Do they feel welcome? Have they experienced discrimination? Are they openly out at work?
As a leader in your organization or business, how can you bridge the gap between what your employees and collaborators have to say about the workplace culture and meaningful change in policies and practices?
As an individual, how can you reframe your perspective and address your internalised biases?
As an organization or business, meaningful change can look like:
Looking at current policies and practices – have they been updated recently? By whom? What sources and resources are they based on?
Looking into your potential and current business partners’ values – are they aligning with your own in terms of 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion and diversity? What are their internal and external policies?
Supporting 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations and individuals beyond words and symbols – do you have a strategic plan on how to change your practices and to invest in diversity, inclusion and equity?
Looking at who the leaders and people in power in your organization or business are – are there any people who are part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community involved in decision-making? If not, why is that? What’s the proportion of 2SLGBTQIA+ people at different management levels – are your queer and trans employees mostly confined to the lower levels or are they equally represented everywhere? How many of them are Indigenous, Black and people of colour? What trainings or resources are available to them for upward mobility?
Planning regular mandatory training for all employees and managers on equity, diversity and inclusion.
Improving hiring practices to address internalised biases – how can you make sure every candidate is given equal opportunity regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity?
Creating a committee or Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) composed of 2SLGBTQIA+ people who hold various positions within your organization or business. When possible, ensure that the work they do within that committee is compensated and not extracurricular to their tasks and responsibilities.
As a leader in your organization or business, meaningful change can look like:
Advocating for equity, diversity and inclusion and keeping it at the forefront of everything you do and all the decisions you make.
Asking yourself the questions – who are you doing your work for? Who stands to benefit from your decisions? Who are you listening to for advice?
Using your platform and influence to centre queer and trans Indigenous, Black and people of colour’s voices. Invite leaders to speak for themselves instead of speaking on their behalf. Challenge the structure you are a part of.
Assessing your role as a leader – where are your biases and blind spots? Who are you surrounding yourself with?
Letting your employees be leaders in the strategic planning towards making your workplace safer and more inclusive of 2SLGBTQIA+ people.
Hiring 2SLGBTQIA+ educators and leaders and compensating them well for their time.
As an individual, meaningful change can look like:
Researching; Google is free! So much content, education and literature already exists on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues – not every 2SLGBTQIA+ person you know or encounter has the capacity and energy to educate you. Before asking questions and for free education, ask yourself – can I look for those answers somewhere else?
Surrounding yourself with 2SLGBTQIA+ content, be it on social media, media outlets, fiction and nonfiction. It’s never been easier to access resources and various works – take advantage of it!
Buying from local queer and trans artists, instead of supporting corporations. Research the corporations, businesses, organizations you buy from and invest in – do their values match their actions?
Paying it forward. Did you learn from specific individuals or organizations? Pay them for it if you can, whether through donations or fees.
Find out what the letters of the 2SLGBTQIA+ acronym mean here.
Most importantly, every time you have a thought cross your mind about doing something more, something practical and impactful when it comes to DEI and allyship with the 2SLGBTQ+ communities, don't let that thought die alone in the confines of your mind. Talk about it, write about it, engage with people who can put that idea into action that ultimately benefits those who continue to live in the margins.
1) Listen to people in need;
2) Ask clarifying questions that don't undermine the validity of their experience, without trying to rationalize what they are going through;
3) Learn on your own time and be resourceful about it - remember that people who are impacted by it may not have the capacity to keep educating you, and that's okay;
4) Decentralize yourself from the situation - it's not about you right now;
5) Take the action that best serves the people impacted, that doesn't centre capitalism or tokenism.