It competes in people’s consciousness with the likes of Pick Strawberries Day on May 20thand Hug Your Cat Day on June 4th (apparently both are real, if not particularly serious). IDAHO – isn’t that unnecessary, you might be thinking. After all, in the UK (except for Northern Ireland) haven’t we got equal marriage for same sex couples and aren’t young people much more accepting and inclusive?
Equal marriage is a really important step – it was for me. However, the celebration and recognition that comes from marriage equality contrasts with plenty of evidence of homophobic and transphobic bullying, and this is still very prevalent for young gay and trans people.
In LGBT Youth Scotland’s “Life in Scotland for LGBT Young People” report launched in February, this dichotomy is clearly in evidence. 81% of young people surveyed felt that Scotland is a good place for LGBT young people to grow up. However, nearly 71% of young survey respondees had experienced homophobic or bi-phobic bullying in school and over three-quarters of transgender young people had experienced homophobic, bi-phobic or transphobic bullying. So, there’s plenty of value in IDAHO shining a light on the problem and encouraging organisations to take action to help those affected and work towards elimination of such bullying.
So, there’s more work to be done in the relatively benign climate for gay and trans people in the UK. Outside the UK there are widely different climates for these people. This was succinctly put in a statement entitled “Leave no LGBT person behind”, issued by human rights experts on the eve of IDAHO.
“Significant progress is being made in the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender non-conforming persons from violence and discrimination. Implementation remains nonetheless partial and uneven: reports of violence and harassment are still the norm in all regions of the world, LGBT people face laws criminalising same-sex relations and gender expression in 72 countries, only one third of States of the world have laws to protect from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and only around 10% of nations have laws that protect from discrimination based on gender identity.”
An example of the lack of human rights for gay people is in the Commonwealth. Despite commitments to shared values, which we have seen recently at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in London, 37 out of the 53 Commonwealth countries have laws criminalising homosexuality. And only this year, Bermuda became the first jurisdiction in the world to repeal same-sex marriage, demonstrating that progress for LGBT people can be reversed.
It’s these legal sanctions which those human rights experts have in mind, when they say: “States must urgently repeal discriminatory laws, adopt protective legislation, reform institutions and implement policies to combat discrimination and ensure the effective inclusion of LGBT persons, as well as ensure effective access to justice, including remedy, and diligent investigations of killings and other acts of violence and discrimination against LGBT persons who face violence and discrimination.”
My consultancy, Forth Perspectives, helps organisations improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace. What can they do to help gay, bi- and trans people?
1. Clear leadership on equality. Leaders of organisations can demonstrate support for inclusion, by making it clear that all are welcome regardless of who they are, how they define themselves, their sexual orientation, gender identity or ethnicity. The most astute leaders connect with people of difference to help understand different perspectives and challenges they face. Support for LGBT staff networks and allies networks delivers something tangible for this community.
In the US, an increasing number of corporates are being vocal in support of oppressed minorities. The Human Rights Center’s work reveals how companies are becoming vocal advocates for equality: they do this because they feel it’s right and it’s good for their reputation with employees and customers.
2. Anti-bullying policy. In a previous commentary piece, I offered ways that leaders can ensure that their organisations do all they can to eliminate bullying from the workplace. A key message here is not to assume that it won’t happen in one’s own offices.
3. International locations. Clear corporate policies on equality and anti-bullying need to apply globally. This sends an important message of solidarity to minorities in countries where there is limited societal support and hostile legal positions. How companies operate in their international locations can have a positive ripple-effect out into the local community. Workplaces should be safe and inclusive whilst reminding employees of the need to comply with local legislation. But soft power matters.
4. Care of employees travelling worldwide. Employers have a duty of care for their staff. Particular groups of people may be particularly vulnerable in certain countries. This was brought home to me a number of years ago, when as Chair of a corporate LGBT staff network I was contacted by one of our members who was the victim of homophobic bullying by the landlord of the flat he was renting whilst on an overseas assignment. He survived the ordeal, but it encouraged me to set up a LGBT travellers programme with three clear outcomes:
- raise the profile of information sources from the likes of ILGAon the status of LGBT people across the globe
- include advice for travellers focussed on LGBT issues
- ensure that those who are making decisions about their people travelling abroad are aware of the vulnerabilities of LGBT people and noting that not all LGBT people are out at work
Organisations and their leaders play an important role in promoting inclusion. They shouldn’t underestimate the impact this can have in helping to eliminate bullying.