How I Dealt With Workplace Homophobia
As featured in Thrive Global
Before I launched my own LGBT business, I was a teacher in various FE Colleges.
I loved teaching. I loved the buzz of it. How every single class I taught was very different. The people. The content that I curated for them to learn. The interactions. Breaking down the beliefs that they ‘arent good at maths’ and that ‘they are rubbish at spelling’. The a-ha moments lighting up people’s faces right in front of me. The variety of workplaces I stepped into each week to teach the adults whilst they were at work.
But I was hiding something from everyone.
I didn’t want to have the whole ‘I am a lesbian’ conversation over tea and biscuits with my colleagues in the staff room.
So I kept quiet.
I had a few jobs in the early years of my career. All in teaching. Firstly, I taught acting skills and voice to 16-19 years old. I was firmly in the closet in that job. Then I left the college environment to teach adult ex-offenders in Probation Offices around West Yorkshire. That was an eye-opener, I can tell you. I came out in that job and felt liberated as a result. For my third job I went back into teaching in the college environment, and back in the closet. Homophobia was rife and I didn’t want to risk coming out.
Bullying For My Sexuality
It was in my third job that I experienced a significant period of bullying. From my line manager.
She was in her late 50s. Heavy smoker. Liked a drink on social events. Coffee on tap. Hoarse, deep voice. A petite woman. Wore power suits. The kind of woman that thrives on controlling every single thing around her. You know the type?
On my birthday one year, my mum brought in a cake for me. She worked in the college too. She gave me a kiss in front of everyone and said she would see me and my girlfriend later on for a meal. Super sweet and in that moment I was so happy.
And then, as I sat back in my office, I thought back to what she said. EEK. My girlfriend. Oh no! I hadn’t disclosed my sexuality to anyone. I kept my private life VERY private.
Had everyone heard?
Trust the office to be full of people that day. All watching the interaction with my mum and joining in the festivities.
It is safe to say, everyone heard.
That is when the bullying started.
Daily harassment, intimidation, online abuse and teasing. Threats of outing me to my colleagues. All from my manager. Sometimes subtle, sometimes implied but mostly direct comments about my appearance, the lifestyle that I ‘chose’ and derogatory references about having a girlfriend.
The bullying was so significant it impacted dramatically on my physical health, not to mention my mental health.
The stress that I felt as a result of the hate incidents on a daily basis, resulted in me having IBS – irritable bowel syndrome. I became unable to teach classes in the mornings. I was only able to teach afternoon and evening classes because my IBS symptoms were so severe in the mornings; the time where my manager was in ‘full swing’. Whoever heard of a teacher that can’t teach in the morning? Crazy ey?!
As you can imagine, all of this affected my performance at work.
Did I report it?
Initially, no. I was too afraid to ‘out’ myself to the leadership team. You see, I would have had to explain the context of the bullying and show the emails. As soon as I did that – they would know I was gay. And I didn’t want anyone else at work to know that about me. It didn’t feel to be a safe environment for me to bring ALL of who I am to work.
Eventually it reached a point where I couldn’t take it any longer. I felt I had to report it and her behaviour.
The woman involved was promoted.
HR told me not to progress the case any further because it would highlight my sexual orientation to my colleagues and peers. Even though I had documented a year of incidents, emails, communications and had witnesses.
I was devastated. After all this time and effort of logging every single incident and interaction with her, I felt let down by the college and the people that claim they look after their people.
How To Report Homophobia In The Workplace
It is safe to say that LGBT awareness in workplaces has progressed since I experienced homophobia in the workplace in 2006.
Despite my experience, I would urge anyone experiencing any acts of hostility or harassment because of sexual orientation or gender identity to speak up.
Have a conversation with your manager, HR, Equality and Inclusion Team or other appropriate representative.
Be sure to document the incident(s) in as much detail as you can.
You may have a discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2010. Under the Equality Act 2010 harassment refers to “unwanted conduct which violates someone’s dignity or creates an intimidating, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.” The Equality Act states that an employer is responsible for the behaviour of its employees. This means they need to take reasonable steps to challenge and prevent harassment. They can only do this if you report it.
You can get further support from Stop Hate UK and be sure to look for support groups in your local area. There are lots of them around. Research on the internet, have a look and see what resonates with you.
NOW. Most people stop here. They don’t do what I am going to tell you next. However, this next bit is VITAL.
You need to process it. Are you listening? You need to process what happened to you.
If not, it will have a negative impact on you and your health and it will become ingrained in your subconscious mind. You really don’t want that to happen.
Here Are 3 Fundamental Things You Must Do, After You Have Reported It.
- Journal about the incident.
What I am talking about here is writing down what you experienced. Write down how it made you feel, how you responded – both in the moment and after the occasion (physically, mentally and emotionally). Get it all out on paper.
By doing this you are processing the experience – and through that process you will strip away the emotion and story you have attached to it.
- Once you no longer feel the emotional charge when you think about the event, look at it from another perspective.
What could have been going on for that person? What might be happening in their life to make them do what they did?
You will never know if this is true or real – but it will get you thinking about it – and it will take YOU out of the equation.
After all, this experience wasn’t about you. It was about what was going on inside the other person at that moment in time.
- Release the emotion and story you have attached to it.
There are many ways you can do this.
Write a letter to the person saying everything you want to say to them. Then burn it.
Talk to someone else about it. Someone objective – like a coach, mentor, colleague or LGBT+ professional.
Let them work with you to raise your awareness on what happened in that situation, release ALL the emotion you have attached to it and explore how you can regain your confidence, self-esteem and mojo!
Why Is This SO Important
When you hold on to old words, judgements, criticisms or hate, it dramatically affects how you show up in the world. In your relationships with your kids, significant other, parents, grandparents, with your colleagues, managers, peers. It affects the work you produce, your creativity and your confidence in your abilities. It affects your health – physical, mental and emotional.
You shut off a part of yourself and in doing so you end up wearing a ‘mask’ to prevent yourself from getting hurt or attacked again in any way.
This results in you NOT showing up as authentic, real and true to who you are. When that happens you become increasingly unhappy, isolated and lonely. Listen to me when I say this, I have been there. It is not a nice place to be.
By following the 3 steps detailed above you will ensure you don’t hold on to the experience: consciously or subconsciously. This is vital for your health and well-being. If you hold on to it, it has the potential to manifest itself as ill health or even worse further down the road. You don’t want that.
Please take the time to process what you experienced. It will make a significant difference to your life, work and confidence going forwards.
LGBT Good Practice In The Workplace
This is the MOST powerful way to overcome many of the LGBT and gender identity workplace issues faced.
Do not underestimate the power of education on people’s perception, mindset and behaviours.
- Provide regular LGBT+ inclusion training and awareness raising for the leadership team, middle management and the HR team. Give them a safe space to ask questions they may not feel comfortable raising anywhere else, talk about the challenges they face and identify possible solutions.
- Every single manager needs to be fully LGBT+ trained. They need to know how to effectively deal with LGBT+ related issues, questions and unconscious bias. They need to know the right language to use, understand the issues LGBT+ individuals face and be empowered to challenge inappropriate behaviour. They need to know how to support LGBT employees and customers.
- Regular bespoke staff training/awareness delivered by an LGBT+ person and specialist (this is essential – don’t have LGBT+ training delivered by a heterosexual person). As a minimum this should raise awareness on issues faced by LGBT+ individuals in their lives, unconscious bias and appropriate language to use. The issues faced when accessing your products and services and how to support an LGBT+ customer.
- Provide a resource bank of training materials for employees – to educate on bi-visibility, trans inclusion, how to deal with homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and many more LGBT+ areas!
Your Workplace Culture
- Take the time and effort to analyse your organisational culture. Is your organisation actively encouraging EVERYONE to bring their whole selves to work? Get an independent consultant in to evaluate your business for inclusivity. If you are not as inclusive as you would want, take the steps to commit to creating a culture that is fully inclusive.
- Make sure you have visible LGBT+ role models at all levels of the business, including boardroom representation.
- Demonstrate every day how you are an inclusive employer. In your internal communications, external communications, your marketing, advertising etc.
- Get your policies, practices and procedures up to date for inclusion (and specifically LGBT+ Inclusion) in the workplace. Make sure you have robust policies and practices in place to report LGBT+ related bullying and harassment. Do these policies sit in a drawer gathering dust? Or are they actively lived out each and every day?
- Communicate clearly with your staff. Let people know how to report inappropriate behaviour and the steps that will be taken to ensure they are safe and happy at work.
- Encourage a safe space to have conversations about gender identity and sexuality in the workplace.
Allies and Networks
- Identify senior leaders and managers to become LGBT+ allies. Get them trained up so they are able to answer questions and provide support to employees.
- Set up and support an LGBT+ Employee Network. These are powerful. As well as being a source of support for the individuals within the network, they can advise on internal policy decisions and the business’s marketing plan. They can act as an advisory board working with the marketing and product teams to develop LGBT+ products and services and provide critical feedback on your communication strategies. Check in with them regularly.
About Gina Battye
Creating Authentic & Inclusive Workplaces for Fortune 500s & Leading Global Organisations.
Gina Battye is a world renowned LGBT Inclusion Consultant and Trainer for Fortune 500s, Leading Global Organisations, TV, Film and the Global Press.
For more information on the LGBT services Gina offers for organisations,
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