As someone who’s personally experienced overt racism and homophobia at work, I can safely say we’ve got work to do! Many Black people face barriers in the workplace because of their ethnicity/race and many LGBTQ+ people face barriers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
It’s an obvious starting point, but Black LGBTQ+ people are navigating both challenges at the same time. Those “barriers” might be overt discrimination, micro-aggressions, being overlooked and being passed over for opportunities. When I had those experiences, I wasn’t convinced that the organisation would do anything if I spoke up.
It’s possible that I felt that way because there wasn’t any representation. When I experienced homophobia, I didn’t see any openly LGBTQ+ staff. When I experienced racism, I was the only Black person on the team.
Studies show that if you’re the “only one” (let’s say the only Black person in a team) you’re more likely to experience micro-aggressions. You’re also more likely to have to work harder than your peers for the same recognition. Now add being the only LGBTQ+ person into that experience and there’s another layer of difference. All of this can be mentally draining and adds another barrier that can prevent a person from thriving at work and in their career.
Having said that, every workplace has its own unique culture. While we do see certain patterns repeating themselves, not every Black LGBTQ+ person has such negative experiences.
Here are a few ways that Black LGBTQ+ people can be supported at work:
- Ensure that your LGBTQ+ initiatives take into account the diversity that exists within LGBTQ+ identities. Recognising cultural and faith-based needs as well as accessibility.
- Embed a proactive anti-racist stance within your LGBTQ+ spaces such as employee network groups. Platform Black LGBTQ+ people and other People of Colour, ensuring their voices are heard and decisions are made to suit the community in its widest sense.
- Ensure spaces that claim to support Black people are LGBTQ+ inclusive and do the same with faith-based spaces.
- Educate your employees on inclusive behaviours and practices such as addressing micro-aggressions.
- Ensure employees and others who engage with your organisation have a clear way to report incidents of racism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia (and any other form of discrimination or harassment).
- Take action when people raise concerns or provide feedback. This means taking a zero-tolerance approach to the above. It also means improving ways of working to prevent future issues.
- Hold managers to account for decisions on who they choose to hire, promote and give opportunities to. These decisions should always be based on objective criteria and not bias.
- Educate yourself on the experiences of Black LGBTQ+ people and other People of Colour.
- Recognise that not all Black people want to speak about race, ethnicity and culture. It can be traumatising to re-live experiences of racial harm for the sake of teaching others. Also, no one person can speak on behalf of all Black LGBTQ+ people, we are diverse.
- Challenge micro-aggressions and stereotypes whenever you hear them and reflect on your own biases.
Nathan Nalla is the founder and Director of Be The Riot, supporting organisations to create an inclusive working culture through facilitated learning workshops and consultancy services. As a man who is racialised as Black and identifies as gay, Nathan uses his personal experiences to shape his work.