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Beyond the Rainbow Flag: Supporting + Affirming LGBTQ Employees All Year Long

Year-Round Pride

October 24, 2023

One of the most energizing parts of working at an LGBTQ organization every summer is Pride. From festivals to community outreach to lunch and learns throughout June and beyond, Pride season represents a swell of interest in LGBTQ liberation from community members and allies alike. And because these summer months are full of enthusiasm and energy, I find that so much intention around including LGBTQ employees tends to be relegated to that season. But, as you can imagine, uplifting and affirming LGBTQ employees is necessarily a year-round process.

While it can be exciting to paint your logo rainbow and march in a Pride parade, those actions on their own do very little to meaningfully impact LGBTQ employees’ lives and to keep LGBTQ+ families in our state. And for those of you that don’t want to lose Pride flags and rainbow merch, you don’t have to. Celebrating Pride and honoring LGBTQ employees all year are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they work well together, to joyfully celebrate our community every June and to bring intentionality to LGBTQ inclusion throughout the 11 other months of the year.

One such month is this one. October is a surprisingly busy month in the LGBTQ community as well; it’s LGBTQ history month and the home of National Coming Out Day on October 11. October is also an amazing time to take inventory of the ways that you are supporting your LGBTQ+ employees as Pride season winds down and planning for 2024 begins. But how do you get started?

Supporting LGBTQ Employees in the Workplace

A meaningful first step is to better understand the issues facing LGBTQ+ individuals in their workplaces. According to the Williams Institute, 38% of LGBTQ+ workers nationwide have experienced harassment in the workplace, largely based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and 34% have left jobs because of mistreatment. Additional studies build on these findings and show that 68% of LGBTQ employees that have experienced harassment at work did not report that harassment and that one in five of those employees experienced that harassment at the hands of a third party (a customer, client or vendor). I could spend hours citing additional sources that highlight the same issue; LGBTQ people do not feel safe and are not safe at work. These statistics raise two questions: what does this harassment consist of and what can we do as supervisors and employers to handle it?

This is one of my favorite things to talk about and a large part of my work at One Iowa. I support businesses as they try to show up for LGBTQ folks in their workplaces. Folks like yourself that want to honor LGBTQ employees because it is the right thing to do and because it leads to employee satisfaction and retention. To address this issue, we must understand what workplace harassment looks like. Some examples include the consistent use of incorrect pronouns for Trans, Nonbinary and Gender Diverse employees. Others include comments about a person’s perceived identities, ranging from invasive questions to use of slurs and anti-LGBTQ language. In my experience, these behaviors stem from a few things. One is that employees hold misguided beliefs about the LGBTQ community that they bring to work. Additionally, when this happens, there is not a clear way for LGBTQ employees to address their experience. And finally, the culture of the company itself is not that of LGBTQ inclusion.

One of the most powerful ways to combat this and build an inclusive work environment for LGBTQ people might seem simple: you must commit to it. By this, I mean that one lunch and learn or policy shift is not enough. This will take time, energy and attention. When companies engage in this work initially, there seems to be a desire to check a box, host a training and move on. Of course, providing training is a phenomenal starting place — it gets the ball rolling and starts conversation. But it’s what you do afterward that makes a difference. When providing training, make sure as much of your staff as possible attends, especially managers and supervisors, as these are the folks that will ultimately be responding to anti-LGBTQ views in the workplace and can model inclusive behaviors. However, a solely top-down approach also doesn’t work — everyone needs this information, from front desk staff to HR. From there, look at what policies are in place to support employees. Do you have a transition policy for folks coming out in your workplace? Does your parental leave policy include all kinds of couples, not just straight, cisgender couples? Is your dress code unnecessarily gendered? And what is the process for reporting and addressing anti-LGBTQ harassment? These are meaningful conversations to have with employees, HR and supervisors to better understand where the culture needs to shift.

These micro-level policy changes will prove fruitful in many ways, but I would also argue that alongside internal work should be external advocacy for the LGBTQ community. Many employers are grappling with what to do with a decreasing workforce in Iowa and I would also offer that inclusive employers need to get involved in advocacy work in local and state governments. Anti-LGBTQ laws are driving LGBTQ individuals out of our state and making it nearly impossible to live here. If you are invested in LGBTQ inclusion and support, that must extend outside of your office walls, especially if you engage in forward-facing Pride campaigns. For every business that has a float in their local Pride parade, we need a voice at the capitol, advocating for LGBTQ Iowans. Increasingly, the goal of being an affirming employer and company is demanding more and putting the values of many organizations across the state to the test. What is an inclusive policy if there are no LGBTQ employees in the state that can benefit from them? And while doing this advocacy work is challenging, remember that you’re not alone; the team at One Iowa and One Iowa Action are always here to support you along the way — from training to testifying. And this hard work is well worth the result: an Iowa where everyone feels a sense of safety, belonging and Pride, all year long.

Greater Des Moines (DSM) welcomes diverse talent to the region. As one of the fastest growing business communities, inclusion and attracting diverse talent in the workplace is a key strategy of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Learn more here.

Max Mowitz

Max Mowitz is Program Director at One Iowa, Iowa’s statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, overseeing organizational programming, direct service and community education. Max serves as a board member for the Iowa Trans Mutual Aid Fund and is a Trans doula. Max is a harpist, powerlifter, baker, abolitionist and spouse to Austin.