How to Be the Best Ally You Can be to an LGBT Co-worker or Colleague

By Nicki Gilmour, Executive Coach and Organizational PyschologistNicki Gilmour

You are probably fairly evolved when it comes to treating others like you would like to be treated. You stick to this golden rule and that is a good basic strategy as human civility and trust come from simple questions such as ‘Hey, how was your weekend?’

Letting the person respond to ‘the weekend’ question in an authentic way without raising an eyebrow or judging them according to your norms and yardstick is also a good start. Often a simple reply of ‘I went to the cinema with my girlfriend/wife/partner’ becomes an anxiety ridden moment for the gay gal or guy. If there is a sense of not being able to disclose this otherwise very normal and innocuous piece of info about their weekend, they may not trust you. This creates a difference that doesn’t need to be there.  People won’t share, they will change pronouns and generally omit details. Imagine not being able to talk casually about your everyday life? Not fun! Just think that if you are straight, you never run the risk of being accused of having a lifestyle for watching the same Hollywood movie hit as everyone else this past weekend.

The stakes can be high. I am not talking about the lack of legal protections in some states and parts of the world that can result in instant firing for being suspected of being gay (see last week’s column), I am talking about trust. If people do not trust you, you are not going to have the best shot at a high performing team as we have seen from numerous workplace research regardless of LGBT status.

What can you do to ensure you are being inclusive?

– When a new woman joins, do not ask her about her husband, instead use inclusive language like spouse/significant other.
– Show inclusive behavior like mentoring an LGBT team member or being reverse mentored by them.
– Take time to get to know people individually. Just because you know one gay person does not mean you know what all gay people are like.
– Do not say ‘Oh, I have a gay friend’ out of context. Can you imagine if every guy you met made a point of telling you that they had one platonic female friend as an isolated sentence?
– Do tell an anecdotal story about a time that you and your gay friend did something together in context if you want to make the other person aware that you do have exposure to an LGBT person in your life
– Making other people comfortable is a lovely trait no matter who you are and who they are.

If you really want to do more, ask them what they think you can do and open up dialogue. Know that like anything they do not represent all gay people everywhere but rather just one human who like everyone else is getting through life with hopes, dreams, concerns and chores as much as anyone else.