By Sarah Taylor
The world of LGBTQ+ inclusion and equality can feel like a minefield full of acronyms, labels and changing legislation and rights for LGBTQ+ people. It can often be difficult to keep up, let alone learn about it all!
One thing I do want to say right from the get-go is that when it comes to allyship and running an inclusive business it’s ok to not always know what to do or how to do it. And I can promise, that we, LGBTQ+ people, would much rather you try, and make mistakes sometimes, than take no action at all. The reality is that we all have a lifetime of societal conditioning to unlearn and dismantle which will mean that sometimes we mess up.
If you’re ready to become a better ally then here are five ways you can create businesses, communities and spaces that feel friendly and welcoming for LGBTQ+ people, where everyone feels safe to freely express themselves without judgement, discrimination or harm.
1. Share your pronouns
If there’s one key thing you can do now in your business that will make a positive difference to LGBTQ+ it’s share your pronouns (she/her, he/him, they/them)
and invite other people to share theirs.
If you’re not used to doing this it might feel a clumsy or uncomfortable however, please know that the minor discomfort you’re feeling is nothing compared to the harm you can cause to an LGBTQ+, trans or gender non-conforming person when you use the incorrect pronouns for them.
Inviting someone to share their pronouns is one of the easiest ways to show that you respect and acknowledge someone’s gender identity and recognise that there are more than two genders in the world!
2. Avoid gender binary and heteronormative language
Review your website, marketing and communications for gender binary language i.e., ladies, gents, women, men (and guys!) or assumptions relating to sexual orientation such as husband, wife and instead use language and terminology that is inclusive.
Inclusive language includes terms such as folks, people, team, everyone, y’all, friends and partner.
Actively encourage LGBTQ+ people to access your services, e.g., stating “people of all genders and sexualities welcome” or “all women, including trans and non-binary people comfortable in spaces that centre the experience of women.” on your website, social media and marketing materials.
3. Never assume gender or sexuality
We have been conditioned to decide someone’s gender based solely on visual cues!
When we make assumptions about someone’s gender or sexuality based on the clothes they wear, their voice, their hairstyle or their physical appearance we are always at risk of misgendering them. The same goes for sexuality. How can we tell if someone is gay or a lesbian? Certainly not by what they look like!
There is no one way to be or look like an LGBTQ+ person. So, until you know, assume you don’t!
4. Uplift LGBTQ+ voices
One of the most powerful acts of allyship you can do is to raise the visibility of and support LGBTQ+ people and businesses. The opportunities for LGBTQ+ people are far less than for straight, cisgendered (people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth) people.
When you follow LGBTQ+ business owners, activists and changemakers on social media, share their content and seek out their services you are raising the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community and helping their voices to be heard. That is super powerful.
If you are running events or collaborations, diversity your co-hosts, speakers, panellists to include LGBTQ+ people. Ensure everyone on your panel is committed to equality and inclusion for LGBTQ+ people.
And ask your co-hosts and guest speakers to share their pronouns when they introduce themselves.
5. Call out LGBTQIA+ discrimination
Being an LGBTQ+ ally is never a passive act.
When you speak up for LGBTQ+ people and make it clear that you don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind it has a powerful ripple effect. The LGBTQ+ people that need your support will feel confident they’ll be welcome, safe and supported in your spaces. And do thank people in your community for holding a safe, inclusive space for everyone if you’re running any kind of talks, workshops or events.
Allyship is a journey that starts with raising awareness around our own conscious and unconscious bias, getting curious with ourselves and being honest about our own thoughts and feelings towards LGBTQ+ people.
One of the most effective ways to become a better ally is to educate yourself by learning about the history, struggles, continued oppression and marginalisation of LGBTQ+ people. And then to have conversations and take action from a place of knowledge and understanding.
One thing I know for absolute certain is that the LGBTQ+ community can’t do this alone! We need our allies’ voices, support and action if we are ever to create a truly equal world for LGBTQ+ people.
Sarah Taylor is an LGBTQIA+ Inclusion Trainer and a Business Coach for Queer Entrepreneurs. You can access her downloadable LGBTQIA+ Allies resources here and find out more about the work she does at www.sarah-taylor.co.uk.