Ally and LGBTQ Professionals State Their Roles In Promoting Inclusion and Countering Discrimination (Part 3)

Our findings from a workshop concerning Allies and the resources we need for a diverse and inclusive work space.

Photo by Jason Behrmann.

This is the FOURTH article of our series. Start from the beginning here:

Engage and disarm: a rosetta stone for diverse communities

Have you ever situated yourself in an unfamiliar group and felt, despite sharing a common language, you were speaking from such disparate perspectives that it was hard to understand each other’s point of view? Surely you have, and given how common this experience is, we continue here our discussion on how best to promote mutual understanding between Allies, LGBTQ minorities, and the remaining colleagues in the workplace. What makes this discussion distinct will be our focus on strategies to avoid misunderstanding and circumvent the need for rigid political correctness at work.

Not mind readers: Open communication is key

“I felt like I always been an okay Ally at being reactive. So I don’t put up with people saying bad things. But I just realized that I totally suck at being a proactive Ally. I don’t create a good environment for someone; I just react when something bad happens. So that is something I feel that I should really improve on.”
Workshop participant

Following a near complete absence, the lives and predicaments of LGBTQ people now receive growing media attention. Entering the limelight has helped inform the public of the lived experiences of Queer minorities. Growing awareness, however, does not mean that non-LGBT people have a full understanding of discriminatory practices and the realities of being a Queer minority. On this topic, our workshop participants note that LGBTQ colleagues must feel reassured to ask for support from Allies when they encounter unacceptable treatment because their problematic situation may be non-obvious to Allied colleagues. To no fault of their own, colleagues not from marginalised communities that are unfamiliar with being a target of discrimination may have difficulty knowing when a situation is out of hand.

Encouraging open conversation with Allies so they better understand Queer perspectives is also essential. People should be able to say “I don’t understand this”, “what on Earth is a heteronormativity complex?”, or “what did I say that was trans-misogynist?”, for example, and be informed rather than smote.

From experience, both Allies and LGBTQ members will likely agree that many fruitful discussions and shared understanding surface from discussions that simply ask, “why do you feel that way?”. Given that we are not mind readers, open conversation based on genuine curiosity is the best way for Allies and LGBTQ colleagues to understand the specific needs and lived experiences of each other.

You can [ ] learn from others’ experiences by listening to their stories and allowing that to help shape how you endeavour to treat others with respect. When people talk about the unique challenges they face, good allies listen with an open mind.
Colin Druhan

Engage and disarm: better than sparring over political correctness

“It’s easy being an Ally in Montreal. I’m from Morocco and it was hard to be an Ally, or a proactive Ally, when you are surrounded by people who are prejudiced. It made me think of a better way to engage without hurting people who are prejudiced as well. So, not being confrontational but maybe more — not practical but — more disarming. This takes more elegance in how you approach people.”
Workshop participant

We live in curious times where the topic of political correctness is at the centre of conflict within increasingly polarized societies. Many view strong critiques of, for example, contentious images on t-shirts and hot-button comedy routines as being at conflict with core values of freedom of speech. On the other end, many see our understanding of bigotry and oppression has advanced so far that to turn a blind eye to even minor affronts to political correctness moves us away from ideals of social justice. These hardened and opposing perspectives can unwillingly put both Ally and LGBTQ members at the cross-roads of heated contention.

The all-too-common negative expression, “that’s so gay”, is a case in point — an example raised by our workshop participants. Having been incorporated within the public vernacular, even the most well-meaning colleague might utter the phrase at work simply by a slip of the tongue. How should Allies and LGBTQ employees act in this situation?

Members at our workshop agreed that upholding respect in the work environment is fundamental and without compromise, so Allies and LGBTQ colleagues should confront such negative language; however, treating faintly unpleasant behaviour as a full-scale offense on par with a targeted discriminatory slur is arguably overkill. It’s also counterproductive, typically making colleagues in the hotseat withdraw and feel censored, which stops constructive dialog about the incident. Our workshop participants concluded that the best way to deal with incidents like these is to employ an engage and disarm strategy.

Engage signifies to keep interacting with colleague rather than be terse in correcting them or storming off. Try to keep the conversation going in so you can open the opportunity to inform the colleague why their comment was inappropriate. For the case of “that’s so gay”, you can, for example, validate the underlying meaning of what they said by responding, “yeah, that did suck, didn’t it?”. Now engaged, your colleague is more likely to listen, which makes you ready to disarm. Call out the negative comment using a neutral tone, explaining first why such comments are abrasive, then second, suggest a better behaviour in the future using facts and reason. Coming back to our example, an Ally could disarm by saying, “you know, if you want to describe something as lousy, why not call it just that? Gay means something else entirely, and you know already that using gay to mean something negative isn’t very welcoming to gay people.”

Being human, we are all imperfect and will make the occasional mistakes. Instead of seeing our mishaps as a negative affront, we should grab this opportunity to educate and promote a better understanding of how a diverse and inclusive workplace is of benefit to all.


We’re Queer Tech Montreal, an advocacy group for LGBTQ+ professionals in the tech sector. We would love to see you at our next event. Subscribe to our Meetup group and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo by Jason Behrmann.
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