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Dr. Eric Cervini
Running a business

Is your company LGBTQ+ inclusive? Here’s what you can do.

Hello! My name is Dr. Eric Cervini, but you can call me Eric. I’m an author, TV producer, and historian of LGBTQ+ politics. I’m the creator and executive producer of The Book of Queer, a comedic and music-filled docuseries about queer history, streaming now on Discovery+. My first book, The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America, was an NYT bestseller and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. 

The Deviant’s War tells the story of Frank Kameny, an astronomer for the U.S. Defense Department who was fired in 1975 for being gay. Kameny went on to become the grandfather of the American gay rights movement, advocating for equality both in and out of the workplace. Since I have spent so much of my professional life studying employment discrimination, I’m thrilled to team up with QuickBooks to talk about the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the workplace. We’ve got work to do, folks.

Why LGBTQ+ inclusivity matters in your company

You only need to spend five minutes watching the news or scrolling through your newsfeed to understand that LGBTQ+ Americans are facing a nationwide assault. In 2022 alone, legislators in 36 states have introduced over 300 bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community. It’s an absurd, upsetting statistic, especially considering that at least 20 million Americans (roughly 8% of the adult population) identify as LGBTQ+.

You may be thinking, “What does this matter for business?” Well, out of these 20 million Americans, many of them are consumers, and some of them are likely your colleagues. So knowing all of this, how can you make your company LGBTQ+ inclusive?

Treat your company as a safe space

1. Develop a nondiscrimination policy

There are countless ways in which you can support and advocate for a diverse and inclusive workplace, but first and foremost, a nondiscrimination policy is vital. What does this entail?

A nondiscrimination policy protects LGBTQ+ employees (and employers) from discrimination based on sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, bisexual, etc.) and gender identity (transgender, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming, etc.). This policy, at minimum, needs a clear outline of:

  1. What constitutes discriminatory behavior
  2. What penalties will be taken against policy violations
  3. How grievance procedures for discriminated staff will be conducted
  4. How investigations into discrimination complaints will be conducted
  5. How discriminated staff will be protected from retaliation

Once a policy is in place, you will quickly set a precedent for how you want your small business to behave as a safe space. Employees and employers alike must understand that their workplace supports diversity, equity, and inclusion.

2. Use preferred pronouns

It’s important to understand and acknowledge the gender identity, gender expression, and pronoun usage of your colleagues. At the end of the day, it’s about respect.

Keep in mind: Gender is not sex. Sex, determined by what a doctor presumes you to be after birth, constitutes male, female, and intersex. A person’s gender, however, may not align with the sex assigned at birth. Your colleagues could identify as nonbinary, agender, or one of numerous other genders. And just because a person’s gender may present in a fashion stereotypically assigned to a sex, this does not mean their identity, expression, or pronouns necessarily match.

Here are some things to keep in mind to help address and respect your colleagues:

  • Never assume someone’s gender: he/him, she/her, they/them, etc.
  • It is okay to politely ask for someone’s pronouns, allowing for clarity and better communication: “Hey, what are your pronouns?”
  • Until you are certain of someone’s gender, use gender-neutral language: “What’s their name?”
  • Make pronouns available in professional contexts (e.g., Eric Cervini, he/him). This includes:
  • Introductions
  • Meetings
  • Briefings
  • Nametags
  • Business cards
  • Email signatures
  • Social media profiles

3. Celebrate LGBTQ+ history & events

Last but certainly not least, the LGBTQ+ community is never at a loss for historic dates and events that we commemorate and celebrate yearly. You can check out the full calendar of dates on GLAAD’s LGBTQIA+ Commemoration Calendar.

Acknowledging even just a few of these dates in the workplace is a great way to build camaraderie and an excellent opportunity to educate straight, cisgender, and allied colleagues about queer history and events.

A few of these dates are:

  • March 31: International Transgender Day of Visibility
  • April 26: Lesbian Visibility Week
  • June 19: Juneteenth
  • June 28: The Stonewall Riots Anniversary (AKA Pride)
  • October 11: National Coming Out Day
  • October 19: International Pronoun Day
  • November 20: International Transgender Day of Remembrance
  • December 1: World AIDS Day

Create a diverse team for your company

The benefits of following the above action items are quantifiable.

According to a study conducted by GLAAD on equality in the workplace, “Nearly nine out of ten (87%) LGBT adults said they are likely to consider a brand providing equal workplace benefits.”

And according to Out and Equal’s 2022 assessment of LGBTQ+ workplace inclusion, “employers that recognize the LGBTQI+ community will be more profitable, more likely to attract and retain talented employees, and more innovative as the market changes.” An inclusive company attracts a diverse and capable workforce. And this idea includes all marginalized groups: LGBTQ+, BIPOC, women, immigrants, and disabled folks.

Also, there are some great digital job boards that serve the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities, including:

Start an LGBTQ+ resource group for your company

Now that your office is a safe space, what can you do to help maintain the spirit of inclusion?

This is where LGBTQ+ Resource Groups come in, and they benefit everyone. For instance, if your company does not already have a nondiscrimination policy in place, this group may lead the charge in developing both the policy and a workplace environment that advocates for an open and accepting work culture.

How do you build and operate a Resource Group? Here are some steps you can take:

  1. RESEARCH: If your company does not already have a Resource Group, talk to your colleagues about garnering support for the group, so that everyone feels safe and supported at work.
  2. PLAN: Create a mission statement outlining what a Resource Group would contribute to the workplace and, in turn, what the workplace has to benefit from supporting a Resource Group.
  3. TRAIN: Hold internal training on allyship in the workplace. Regularly update employees and employers alike on current events and news impacting LGBTQ+ and BIPOC issues.
  4. NETWORK: Network with other companies that have successfully organized their own Resource Groups. Use those relationships to understand what you can do within your own company and encourage business partnerships.
  5. ALIGN: Assign colleagues, both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ allies, to positions that will help manage and represent the Resource Group.

Be inclusive

In review: It costs to be exclusive. It pays to be inclusive.

If you have any additional questions, please leave a comment below. If you’d like to see more of my work, you can grab a copy of my book, The Deviant’s War, and support independent bookstores with your purchase. Tune in to my new series, The Book of Queer, a comedic and music-filled docuseries about queer history, premiering on Discovery+ in June 2022. And check out my Instagram (@ericcervini), where I post about the moments, movements, and figures from queer history you should know about today.

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