It's 2021, why are we still talking LGBTQI+?
Did you know that almost 3 billion people live in countries where consensual same-sex activity is criminalized? Although significant progress has been made in the last few years, much still needs to be done. Being gay is punishable in 70 UN member states by imprisonment, torture, or even death. And not even one grants the same rights to LGBTQI+ people as their heterosexual counterparts.
In countries where laws are relatively accepting of the LGBTQI+ community – for example, Europe, the Americas, and Oceania – many LGBTQI+ people are still likely to suffer backlash in the streets and certain cultures can be slow to change. Take the example of same-sex marriage: In a survey on European views of minorities, the majority of people are in favor of gay and lesbian marriage in Western European countries, almost all of which have now legalized the practice. However, in the Central and Eastern European countries surveyed – none of which allow same-sex marriage – most people are against it.
It has been estimated that two-thirds of the recent historical change in attitudes toward same-sex marriage is due to people who are personally affected by it one way or another. This is of course encouraging, but, for such a personal connection to happen, LGBTQI+ people need to “come out.” And while revealing one’s sexual orientation is a (often difficult) choice for LGB members of the community, transgendered people often don’t have that liberty: their transition is visible. Although between 0.05% and 1.7% of the world population is born with intersex traits – that is, being intersex is about as common as having red hair – transgender people are often stigmatized and subject to multiple human rights violations. Let’s not forget that it was only in June 2018 that the World Health Organization proposed to remove “gender incongruence” from the list of mental illnesses.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg
- 70 UN member states still criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts between adults (68 by explicit provisions of law, 2 de facto).
- The death penalty for consensual same-sex sexual acts is still imposed in 6 UN member states.
- 32 states have laws restricting freedom of expression on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
- 41 states pose barriers to the formation, establishment, or registration of sexual orientation-related NGOs.
- A mere 73 states have laws protecting from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
- Only 9 states contain constitutional provisions that specify sexual orientation in their discrimination protections.
- Just 39 states have laws that punish acts of incitement to hatred, discrimination, or violence based on sexual orientation; while 42 states impose enhanced criminal penalties for offenses motivated by hate towards the victim’s sexual orientation.
- Only 26 states recognize same-sex marriage; while 27 states provide for some partnership recognition.
- A mere 28 states have joint adoption laws, while just 30 states allow for same-sex second-parent adoption.
So what can the LGBTQI+ community and allies do?
In May 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to publicly vote on same-sex marriage, which passed with 62% of the vote. People around the world were surprised by the results, mainly because of the perception of Ireland as a deeply conservative and predominantly Catholic country. What I learned from studying that vote, was that people can surprise you. There’s hope. Speaking for UCR specifically, if we work together, as a community, as friends, as an employer, and as students, we can and we will make a difference to a better, happier, and truly more inclusive future. And so, to celebrate #PurpleFriday, here are a few suggestions of what we can all do (today and for all the days to come) to thrive as an LGBTQI+ community and its allies.
There’s an adage that goes something like “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Whether this was uttered by Oscar Wilde or not is debatable. Regardless of who said it, the idea is a good one. And more than ever, it’s an idea that’s relevant to universities everywhere: we need more people (students and employees) who aren’t afraid to be themselves.
When you go to work, to class, to your friends, I challenge you to be authentic, complete with the good and bad. Get comfortable with your talents, vulnerabilities, failures, and accomplishments. And more, be comfortable with your sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression — and then be open about it.
Woah, this is starting to feel uneasy, right? It doesn’t have to be that way.
Mike Robbins, the author of Bring Your Whole Self to Work, explains: “Regardless of where you work, what kind of work you do, or with whom you work—it’s possible to show more of your true self and become more satisfied, effective, and free. And whether you’re a business owner, leader, [student,] or just someone who wants to have more influence, leading with authenticity allows you to impact your team’s culture so that they can be more authentic, too—which will unlock greater creativity, connection, and performance for your company.” I believe that the same applies to university communities.
And whilst being your true self at university, in your friendship circles or at work might seem daunting, the benefits are clear… to me at least:
- It’s hard work being someone else: Maintaining a totally different persona takes work and energy. It’s also stressful. You may be surprised what a relief it is when you decide to take down the cover.
- It builds trust and relationships: Have you ever had an interaction with someone that left you unsure of who they are? When you show up as yourself, you remove obstacles to trust and you can set about making real connections. This impacts everything from your relationships with co-workers, fellow students, professors, and friends.
- It improves teamwork: One of the things I like about working with my team is that we welcome and embrace each other’s quirks. We allow each other to be our full selves. This helps us work and connect better, together. And we have a lot of fun to boot.
- It boosts your overall experience of university: A university that’s welcoming and accepting of each individual as themselves, is a much better place for everyone. If you know that your peers are themselves (and without judgment of others), you’ll be more inclined to do so too—and your overall experience will be elevated.
The LGBTQI+ community loves and appreciates the support of our straight allies, whether you’re marching in a parade with us or voting for candidates who promise to protect marriage equality.
If you really want to be the best ally, there are subtle but deeply appreciated things you can do to show your LGBTQI+ students, colleagues, and friends that they can be their full selves around you—and more importantly, that they are valued. Here are a few things you can do right now:
The benefits to an LGBTQI+ inclusive workplace extend beyond that of making sure employees of all sexualities and gender expressions feel safe and valid, though this is the primary reason. LGBTQI+ inclusive workplaces benefit businesses too in terms of productivity and profitability.
So, having robust inclusion strategies in place for LGBTQ+ staff makes sense from a business perspective as well as an ethical standpoint. This is because all employees will feel less stressed and more productive as respected members of a cohesive team.
“That’s much easier said than done” you may think. And perhaps this is true. But getting the basics right can lay a strong foundation to build on in years to come. You may consider:
Develop your understanding of LGBTQI+ communities
LGBTQI+ people have many parts to their identity and their experiences can vary widely. Learn about the nuances of LGBTQI+ experiences and explicitly represent diverse groups when advocating for LGBTQI+ equality.
Raise awareness among your peers
Speaking about the importance of LGBTQI+ inclusion at the very top, both within and outside your organization is a simple yet effective way of championing LGBTQI+ equality, expanding your knowledge, and finding shared solutions.
Communicate your commitment
Clearly communicating your organizations’ values of fairness, equality and inclusion can be a huge step in driving change. As can enforcing policies on bullying and harassment, and showing that discrimination towards LGBTQI+ people won’t be tolerated.
As an employer committed to championing LGBTQI+ equality, consider how your organization can support LGBTQI+ communities by ensuring equal employment rights (such as maternity and paternity leave), providing pro bono services, or professional assistance. Offering LGBTQI+ training in the workplace as part of equality and diversity training can be a powerful way to educate everyone about LGBTQI+ issues.
Make changes wherever you can
Start with the basics, as suggested above and then continue with more visible and meaningful actions such as:
- Review all your policies and make sure all your policies are LGBTQI+ inclusive, for example, your policies on parental leave, adoption, and pensions.
- Adding pronouns in email signatures, on social media profiles, and stating them in meetings has become much more prevalent in business and the world more generally. Clearly stating your pronouns (be they she/her, he/him, they/them, or a mixture of pronouns, such as she/they or he/they) has become a way for everyone to normalize not assuming someone’s gender.
- Celebrate LGBTQI+ events. Celebrating LGBTQI+ History Month, Pride, #PurpleFriday, or Trans Day of Visibility, just like any other important days in the calendar, will be a great boost to LGBTQI+ awareness and inclusion throughout the year.
- And if you really want to show your commitment, even consider a gender-neutral bathroom option. Unisex bathrooms are more inclusive for non-binary people, who don’t identify within the gender binary that single-sex toilets uphold. Beyond this, unisex toilets are also cheaper to build and cut down waiting times for women significantly.
Young people are leading us towards a fearless world. Together, they are standing up and fighting for a world free of poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, and all forms of violence, inequality, and discrimination.
For LGBTQI+ youth, this is a fight for survival. Globally, LGBTQI+ youth are more likely to experience family rejection, poverty, discrimination, bullying, violence, exclusion from education – based on their age as well as their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics. As a result, they are at a higher risk of homelessness, poor health outcomes, and suicide compared to their peers.
Trans youth are denied recognition of their gender identity and face high levels of hate speech, bullying, and exclusion. Intersex children are often subjected to medically unnecessary interventions that cause lifelong pain and trauma. Lesbian, gay, bi and trans youth are subjected to unethical, harmful, and traumatic so-called “conversion therapy”. Young LGBTQI+ people who also face discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, gender, disabilities, religion, and migration status are disproportionately affected by exclusion, discrimination, and violence.
In a number of countries, LGBTQI+ youth face censorship both when they seek information and when they speak about their issues, online or offline. In some contexts, discriminatory laws criminalize same-sex relations as well as trans people. Those who speak out and demand equality sometimes face imprisonment, hate speech, violence – even killings.
With great courage and resilience, young LGBTQI+ people are leading and can continue to lead change – standing up for a future that is safe, respectful, empowering, and celebrates the beautiful diversity of humankind. A world where each and every one of us is free to be who we are and love whom we choose. Together, all of us can make this future a reality – when #LGBTQI+ #YouthLead, anything is possible!