LGBT History Month: the month to become an ally?

February is LGBT history month. It is an opportunity to celebrate LGBT culture, reflect on the history and look to the future, whether you are LGBT or not. This LGBT History Month, Jamie Meechan (cis gender gay male) and Rebecca Henderson (cis gender straight female), both solicitors at MacRoberts LLP and members of the firm’s Diversity & Wellbeing Forum, reflect on the strong history of the LGBT movement and look at how we can keep up the good work in the future.

The history

LGBT icons can be found from all walks of life, at different points in time and across a range of sectors and industries. From earlier icons such as Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing, to transgender activists such as Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera in and from the 1970s, and current day icons such as Ellen DeGeneres and Megan Rapinoe; we should reflect on and celebrate their contribution to LGBT history and progression.

We should also recognise the progress made by the LGBT community as a whole and moments in history that have shaped where we are today. Homosexuality was decriminalised in Scotland in 1980 (some 13 years after it was decriminalised in England and Wales). Denmark became the first country in the world to give legal recognition to same-sex partnerships in 1988. ‘Section 28’, the legislation which prohibited the 'promotion' of homosexuality in schools in Britain was abolished in Scotland in 2000 and in 2003 in England and Wales. In 2004 the Gender Recognition Act was passed giving trans people full legal recognition in their appropriate gender. It was not until 2005 (the same year as the first LGBT History Month) that the first same sex civil partnership took place; and around 10 years later the first same sex marriage took place.

The Equality Act 2010 consolidated previous discrimination legislation and prohibits discrimination, harassment and victimisation because of or related to sexual orientation or gender reassignment (or any of the other seven protected characteristics) in the workplace, provision of goods and services and education. Notwithstanding the Equality Act, we should all, in the workplace and in society more generally, go beyond the legal minimum and actively promote and celebrate LGBT diversity and inclusion. Discrimination and harassment is bad for business, it is bad for the workplace and it is bad for society. It causes resentment, negatively affects morale and productivity, and can be financially and reputationally damaging for employers and others. Diversity and inclusion on the other hand is good for morale and business, and the more diverse and inclusive your workplace is, the more comfortable LGBT staff will be to ‘come out’ at work. It is important that staff are able to identify other LGBT colleagues and that there are senior champions and allies in the workplace. This creates a safe environment for LGBT staff to come out at work and be their true selves.

More to be done?

Of course, there is more to be done. If there was any doubt that it is not easy to come out at work, a report by the Trades Union Congress last year found that two thirds of LGBT people said that they would not tell their employer about experiencing harassment, mainly for fear of being ‘outed’ at work. Worse still, the report also found that almost 70% of LGBT people who responded to the survey had been sexually harassed in the workplace. Support for trans people in particular is an area where more should and could be done. The Scottish Government is consulting on its proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act. You can and should respond to that consultation before 17 March 2020 (at https://consult.gov.scot/family-law/gender-recognition-reform-scotland-bill/) to show your support for the trans community.

When you reflect on the history there is no doubt that progress; significant and meaningful progress, has been made but looking forward there is more to be done. Hate crimes continue to be reported, we know that LGBT people continue to face verbal and physical attacks because they are LGBT. LGBT people continue to hide their true selves at work and in society. Now, more than ever, it is crucially important that we all show support, whether we are LGBT or not, in the workplace and beyond. The importance of being an ally to the community and colleagues cannot be underestimated. Community and support from others is vital for any minority group. We can all be allies (whether we ourselves are LGBT or not). Why not make this month the month you become an ally?

Being an ally

Often people think how can I show support to my LGBT colleagues? How can I make a difference on my own? In every workplace, the answer may be different however the main themes are pretty simple!

Be visible – whether it is looking out for your LGBT colleagues and ensuring that they are treated fairly or wearing a rainbow badge/lanyard to work. Simple things can make a big difference in showing LGBT colleagues (and the wider public) that you are supporting them. Wearing the rainbow lanyard has sparked some positive conversations with both colleagues and clients in our workplace, for example.

Be a friend – ask your LGBT colleagues how they are doing and show interest in their lives. It is easy to show support and extend friendship to all colleagues and you would be surprised how many people come to work and don’t have a meaningful/friendly conversation all day! Why not attend an LGBT event, or tweet about LGBT History Month or Pride?

Challenge outdated attitudes – stand up and challenge those who have outdated and unwelcome attitudes towards LGBT rights/colleagues, where it is safe to do so. Show support and educate those around you in a positive way.

At MacRoberts we are celebrating LGBT History Month by organising a bake sale with all funds being donated to Time for Inclusive Education (TIE); publishing messages from our LGBT colleagues and allies externally on social media and internally on our intranet; attending events hosted by other organisations such as Stonewall and CYBG/Virgin Money; and putting up posters around our office and on our intranet about LGBT History Month along with facts about sexual orientation and gender identity. We are also preparing our response to the consultation on the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

LGBT History Month is the perfect time to reflect on the past and celebrate the successes of the LGBT movement and community; but there is no doubt that there is more to be done, and we should look towards LGBT Future together and as allies.

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