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Anti-LGBTQ incidents and bills are weighing on the queer community. Consultants and activists share meaningful ways employers can help workers.

Marguerite Ward   

Anti-LGBTQ incidents and bills are weighing on the queer community. Consultants and activists share meaningful ways employers can help workers.
  • Half of LGBTQ workers said their mental health had been harmed by anti-LGBTQ news, a survey found.
  • About a third wanted their managers to offer more support and speak up, the LinkedIn data revealed.

Ashley Brundage, a trans woman, runs a company that offers leadership development and motivational speaking. Despite having a role that requires her to be upbeat, recent news of anti-LGBTQ incidents and legislation has been weighing on her.

On Saturday, police in Idaho arrested 31 men from a white-supremacist group called the Patriot Front. The group had plans to riot at a Pride event, authorities said. The same day, a small group of men hurling homophobic and anti-trans insults disrupted a children's event at a Northern California library where a drag queen was reading.

Brundage, the CEO of Empowering Differences, connected the events to the almost 240 anti-gay, anti-trans bills that lawmakers in the US have proposed this year.

"These bills are filled with misinformation and pushed by politicians who use vile and false rhetoric about us," she said. "Now we see how it can inspire and incite violence, and members of my own family are having to care even more for my own safety in daily settings."

The bills, which some critics see as culture-war salvos, follow the deadliest year for trans people in the US. And 2022 has proved violent as well: At least 14 transgender people have been killed. For many LGBTQ workers, businesses have become unlikely safe havens amid a flurry of legislation aimed largely at trans people. Yet given the scope of the challenges, some LGBTQ people say businesses could be doing more. With more young people feeling safe to identify as LGBTQ, it's an issue that isn't going away.

"When personal safety is threatened, when you have to worry about finding lifesaving healthcare, when you worry about your kids being censored and bullied at school, when leaders are spreading lies about you and your community and your allies, it takes energy to absorb the outrageousness of it all," Brundage said.

She's not alone in feeling strain. In a recent LinkedIn survey of 1,000 LGBTQ+ workers, half reported that their mental health had been harmed by anti-trans and anti-queer legislation and news. And about one in three said they didn't feel sufficiently supported by their managers and would consider quitting if their companies didn't speak out more boldly against discrimination and anti-LGBTQ legislation.

"This news, this legislation, is really impacting the mental health of queer professionals. We've never seen anything quite like this," said Drew McCaskill, a career expert and marketing professional at LinkedIn, who is gay. "For a lot of queer professionals, they feel it every single day."

A coming reckoning

The so-called Great Resignation is evidence that many workers are moving to companies with more inclusive policies and practices, McCaskill said.

"We're already seeing the beginnings of what a reckoning looks like," he said. "Employees have more voice and more choice than they've ever had before. And they won't leave their company quietly either. They'll share their experiences on social media."

Indeed, some workers are speaking out about inequality, as evidenced by tweets from employees at companies such as Refinery29, Glossier, Adidas, and Everlane.

"I think that a big reason for the resignations we're seeing coming out of quarantine is that remote work meant employees no longer had to pretend to be someone they weren't – to code switch – to come into an office. If companies aren't willing to affirm their talent, they are going to struggle to hire, grow, and retain their workforce," said Jenn Renoe, media director at Publicis Health Media, who is trans.

Brundage said some members of the LGBTQ community are considering moving to states where they might face fewer barriers to healthcare, and where they won't encounter what they see as discrimination from the legal and educational systems.

"Being anti-LGBTQ is anti-business. It divides teams rather than draws people together," said Brundage, who is a board member of the nonprofit advocacy group GLAAD.

Looking to business leaders for protection marks a turnabout for the nation's queer community. For generations, many queer workers feared being ostracized or even fired if they were outed at work. Activists lobbied government officials for protections, yet progress took decades. But by 2015, the US Supreme Court sided with proponents of same-sex marriage, and momentum appeared to be on the side of the queer community in the courts and in public polling.

Now, once again, at least some of the threat comes from the government itself in the form of proposed legislation that advocates say harms LGBTQ people.

With many LGBTQ workers feeling they lack support in their communities, their religious institutions, and from the government, they're turning to their business community to provide safe spaces, McCaskill said. Members of the LGBTQ community as well as diversity consultants told Insider that corporate leaders need to advocate for queer rights or face workers and consumers who will voice their concerns and vote with their feet.

Research shows this change. People trust CEOs more than elected officials to solve global problems, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, a widely cited annual survey of 36,000 people on their views of world leaders.

"There's never been a more important time for business to lead, to step in to fill the void," Richard Edelman, Edelman's CEO, previously told Insider about CEOs speaking out on social issues. "Business needs to make societal issues a core part of business strategy."

And a 2019 survey of about 2,000 US workers by the Brunswick Group, a corporate-leadership firm, found that two-thirds cited "the values of the company" as the most important issue about which a CEO should speak out. More than half of workers identified a leader's stance on social issues as an important consideration when weighing a job change.

How to move beyond performative DEI

While companies are featuring more queer couples in advertisements and painting their products with Pride flags, some in the LGBTQ community are calling on business leaders to engage in more meaningful support.

Enough of the rainbow washing. We are being outspent when it comes to funding efforts to push back on this assault on our community.

Sean Ebony Coleman is a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant and the founder of Destination Tomorrow, a nonprofit LGBTQ community center in the Bronx. He's worked with major companies, such as Unilever, to drive more meaningful support.

"Enough of the rainbow washing. We are being outspent when it comes to funding efforts to push back on this assault on our community. Businesses should be putting their money up in support of the LGBTQ community. Supporting us one month per year during Pride is not enough," said Coleman, a Black trans man.

Doris Quintanilla, the executive director and a cofounder of The Melanin Collective, a DEI consultancy, agreed and said managers should make changes to how they lead as well.

"It's hard to navigate everything that's going on these days," she said. "Allow people to take space. It comes down to allowing humans to be humans."

Brundage echoed Quintanilla and said a mix of personal and institutional action would drive the most change.

"GLAAD is urging corporations to do more than market with rainbows during Pride month — to resolve to speak up for LGBTQ employees and customers year-round, to not donate to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers, to speak up forcefully against legislation that harms their families and well-being," Brundage said. "It is a manager's role to learn and then work to develop their team to be future leaders. Inclusion is one part of how to do that."


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