Discrimination in the workplace: the challenges for the LGBT community
Written by Philip Howell-Williams on March 12, 2015.
From being overlooked for promotion to having to put up with snide comments from co-workers, I would take a guess that any LGBT worker could regale you with more than a few tales about discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of their sexual identity.
Although legislation exists in many countries such as the UK, where the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 offer protection against this kind of discrimination under the law, it is a sad fact that homophobia is still rife in many sectors and discriminatory acts abound. Whether it is being denied employment in the first place for being gay or having your personal items vandalised by intolerant work colleagues, suffering from this kind of discrimination can leave LGBT workers feeling isolated and cause what researchers have dubbed ‘sexual minority stress’.
This in turn can lead to mental health issues. Research carried out in the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Austria revealed that depression, anxiety and suicide attempts are more widespread for LGBT individuals than for heterosexuals. According to one study, the suicide rate is three or four times higher. For those who are also from racial minorities this can be compounded by racial discrimination.
Certain industries appear to foster a more tolerant working environment than others. The areas of health and higher education are amongst them, with a higher percentage of sexual minorities working in these areas open about their identity. In spite of this, many still reported cases of harassment and some choose not to reveal that they are LGBT.
In contrast, the worlds of professional sport and the police are often cited as being particularly homophobic. Openly LGBT sports figures are few and far between – for example, there are currently no openly gay footballers in the UK’s top four divisions. Aside from the fact that homosexual players would most likely face hostile abuse from certain fans on the pitch, industry insiders have commented that clubs may discourage players to come out fearing it would damage their commercial value. American professional footballer, Robbie Rogers, who left Leeds United a month before announcing his homosexuality, declared that it would be ‘impossible’ to remain in football as an openly gay player.
The tragic story of footballer, Justin Fashanu, is hardly likely to encourage any players from revealing their sexual identity. At the top of his game Fashanu became the UK’s first black million pound player in 1981, however his career nosedived after he came out. The abuse he suffered, both racist and homophobic, almost certainly contributed to his suicide following sexual assault allegations which he denied in the note he left behind.
Olympic diver, Tom Daley, hit the headlines in 2013 when he released a video which announced that he was in a relationship with a man. Number three on the World Pride Power list of influential LGBT figures, Daley spoke of the how difficult the decision to come out had been, a statement that will resonate with LGBT workers the world over.
Making the call to reveal your sexual identity at work is a difficult decision. Researchers have identified five different strategies employed by LGBT employees with regard to ‘sexual identity management’. These vary from actively behaving as a heterosexual to openly identifying as LGBT. Of course, the latter is the healthiest option bringing benefits such as the freedom to be yourself, relief, increased self esteem, closer personal relationships and the ability to bring about social change within your working environment for others. Sadly, such openness is simply too difficult a prospect for many to consider.
It is clear that companies and industry bodies need to do much more to promote the rights of LGBT employees in the workplace. Active steps they can take to promote diversity within their organisations include increasing resources such as support groups or gender neutral restrooms for LGBT workers, providing diversity training to promote awareness and acceptance with regard to sexual orientation and encouraging all employees to create a more inclusive environment. Companies could also do much more to make their stance on LGBT rights more explicit by avoiding LGBT-exclusive language and actively marketing to LGBT communities. The introduction of institutional policies which protect and safeguard LGBT workers are a positive step companies can take towards stamping out discrimination and also provide the benefit of attracting talented LGBT workers who may otherwise be discouraged from applying for jobs within an organisation.