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Understanding the language of LGBTQIA+ at work

What does ‘LGBTQIA…+’ stand for?


LGBTQIA+ is an acronym for the myriad of different people within our community including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual and others including non-binary, gender queer, gender fluid and two spirit. There are so many different people within our community, so LGBTQ+ is just a shortened version.

  • L – Lesbian, a woman who is sexually/and or emotionally attracted to other women.
  • G – Gay, a term that refers to a man who is sexually and/or emotionally attracted to other men.
  • B – Bisexual, a term used for individuals who are attracted sexually and/or emotionally to two or more genders from the increasingly expanding group of gender identities.
  • T – Transgender – Used to describe anyone who has a gender identity that is different from the gender that they were assigned at birth.


The QIA part can change depending on the group using the acronym, Most commonly it stands for:

  • Q – Queer – an umbrella term for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual and/or cisgender.

OR

  • Questioning – an umbrella term for anyone who is unsure of their gender identity or sexuality.

Then we have:

  • I – Intersex, a term used to describe people who naturally have biological traits that do not match what typically are identified as male or female. Being intersex is naturally occurring, not pathological. It’s not linked to sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • A – Asexual, or Ace, an umbrella term used for those who experience a lack of sexual desire. They may still desire romantic relationships, and individuals of all sexual orientations or gender identities can identify as asexual.


OR

  • A – Ally, a term for anyone who identifies as cisgender and straight and believes in equality for all LGBTQIA+ people.

How has the language around LGBTQIA+ in the workplace changed in the last 10 years?


It hasn’t come on in the way we as a community would like. 

It is only within the past few years employers are realising they need to work to ensure they are more inclusive and know how to support any LGBTQIA+ staff they recruit. Only in the past year or so have companies started to display peoples’ pronouns on their email signatures. In 2022, organisations are also looking at what they need to change to make their workspaces not only more inclusive but to ensure all feel welcome and represented.

An example of an organisation providing LGBTQIA+ support…


That being said, there are some employers that are taking really positive action towards supporting their LGBTQIA+ community at work. 


For example, at one organisation, we (The LGBTQ+ Mummies Tribe) provided a LGBTQIA+ competency training session and then pulled together a working group of representatives from different departments. We got together and discussed what they’d learnt and how they could look at ensuring their language was inclusive for all.


They realised that there were multiple areas that needed to be addressed that were not inclusive (from call handling to forms and marketing). They worked with us to create an inclusive project to update those areas to ensure all LGBTQIA+ people were supported and validated in the workplace.

What are the different pronouns someone can use?


Most commonly, people use She/Her, He/Him or They/Them. Some people only use one set of pronouns, some use two or even more. Many use different ones at different times. This can depend on how they are feeling, what setting they’re in or how they want to be referred to at that time.


If people advise they use multiple pronouns, take note of how they refer to themselves when they speak. Use those, or ask them what pronouns they’d like you to use. It doesn’t matter what people ‘appear’ to be visually in person, or sound like on a call.

Never assume; you could end up causing offence or triggering someone. Their pronouns are personal to them and their identity, so you should never assume you know how to refer to someone. Instead, it’s best to ask politely. 

Is it rude to ask someone what their pronouns are? 


Not at all! 


To ask someone their pronouns shows that you are not making assumptions about people. It shows that you want to ensure you respectfully refer to them by their chosen pronouns, and that you take being an Ally seriously, validating them and who they are. 


A great way to start a conversation when you meet someone is
My name is Laura, and my pronouns are She/Her. Could I ask what yours are, or if you use them?’
It immediately shows good intent and can help to build respectful and meaningful relationships from the offset.

At work, how can I politely educate a colleague who misuses my pronoun?


If someone hasn’t asked, or if they have asked previously, you can politely and gently advise them.

Say something like, ‘Just to let you know I do not use She/Her pronouns, I use They/Them.’

People can and do make mistakes, so at times you may need to be patient. Especially when it’s apparent there is good intent and they haven’t meant to offend you. However, if someone is consistently using the wrong pronouns and misgenders you when you have corrected them multiple times, it needs to be addressed.

What do I do if I use the wrong pronouns for people?

If someone has already told you what their pronouns are and you get it wrong, the best thing to do is to apologise and correct yourself. Or, if you are referring to a person – for example “I was talking to Sarah and she said the deadline is Friday. I’m sorry, I meant to say, ‘they’ said it’s Friday”. 


You don’t need to make a big deal out of it, apologise, correct yourself and move on.


It’s important not to make it about
you and your mistake, as it could make an honest mistake seem like bigger deal and be triggering for the person. Try to work harder to ensure you use the appropriate pronouns next time.

In a same-sex relationship, do individuals take on a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’ role? 

No, this is an incredibly stereotypical and archaic view of same sex relationships. Like with any relationship, people look different, have different character traits and personalities. They will also have different roles as a couple in their partnership. 


In many same sex relationships there is no stereotypical differentiation between the people. As for heterosexual couples, you may find that the stereotypical views of ‘female’ or ‘male’ roles in the relationship sit with the opposite partner.

How can I support a colleague who is going through a transition journey?


Listening is the best thing you can do. Being supportive colleagues who provide a safe space in what can be a difficult time is crucial. The person might not have a great support network at home or with friends. By giving them the space in the workplace to be validated, respected and supported you could really help them on their journey. Remember you are not an expert on transitioning (even if you’re trying to be an Ally by educating yourself) and every person’s journey is different. 


People go through different aspects of their transition. This includes social, legal and possibly medical transition, and so may need different types of support during these times from you as a colleague, but also their employer.


Make sure you ask them their pronouns so you know how to refer to them. As this could change during this time, or they may use several pronouns. 


Be a true Ally – if you see or hear discrimination happen, don’t ignore it. Speak up and report it. That way you’ll be supporting them but also helping to stamp out discrimination whilst creating a supportive and inclusive workplace.

What are five simple ways organisations can be more inclusive?

Hire a diverse range of staff

  • Ensure you have employees from the LGBTQIA+ community (but also all races, religions, disabilities and genders) where possible. This will create a workplace rich with a wealth of different experiences and people. Together, they will come together to share and celebrate their differences and what they each bring to the workplace.

Education and training

  • Provide all HR staff with comprehensive LGBTQIA+ competency education and training. Provide refreshers at appropriate intervals and also for new starters.
  • Also provide educational speakers or those with lived experience for staff, so they too can be educated in who LGBTQIA+ people are and how best to support them. Don’t do this as a box ticking exercise or just during specific LGBTQIA+ periods, like Pride. 
  • True Allies do the work all year round!

Check your language

  • You need to ensure you use appropriate language for not only your employees. Include clients and those you may encounter in day-to-day business.
  • Don’t just use heteronormative language in your policies, spoken word or correspondence. This can include the use of pronouns on signatures or business cards, to avoiding assumptions regarding people’s pronouns.
  • As an organisation, decide what kind of language you will use; additive language, gender neutral language or personalised language.
  • Any language decisions should be workshopped within the organisation to ensure all voices are heard and use what works best.

Listen to your LGBTQIA+ staff

  • There’s no better education than hearing from your own staff. Whether this is their own journeys, or what they feel you need to provide. As their employer, you can help to make the workplace a happier and more inclusive space. 
  • Depending on your organisation’s size, you could implement a LGBTQIA+ Network for staff to come together to share their experiences.  Then, best practice based on what they feel would support them better.

Create an Inclusive culture

  • Create an inclusive culture where LGBTQIA+ people feel respected, validated and supported. 
  • Ensure people feel there is an ‘open door’ policy,  where they can bring their concerns or even report discrimination when they are subjected to it or see it happen. Don’t see diversity and inclusion policies as a box tick – ensure they are followed through sincerely.

Peppy…

Peppy is committed to providing employers with gender inclusive support for their people that spans the whole workforce. Peppy’s experts have experience providing high-quality care to members of the LGBTQIA+ community, including people experiencing menopause who self-identify as non-binary and same-sex couples on the pathway to parenthood.

The app also features content created specifically with the LGBTQIA+ community in mind.

About the author: Laura-Rose Thorogood is a married lesbian of fifteen years and mother with three children by IUI and IVF treatment spanning over a decade. She is the Founder of The LGBT Mummies Tribe, a global organisation that supports LGBTQIA+ women and people on the path to motherhood or parenthood.

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