Updated: Jun 26
Evenings & Weekends Consulting staff members Paul Taylor, Bo Louie, Kate Fane, and Daniella Barreto.
For LGBTQ+ people, maintaining the right to exist in public spaces, to freely express our identities, and to challenge societal norms of gender and sexuality has been a continuous struggle.
Progress is always met with resistance, and as we see in the rise in anti-LGBTQAI2S+ hate and discrimination, these rights are increasingly under threat. In response, many organizations are wondering how to protect the health and wellbeing of their teams well beyond Pride month.
In this blog, we asked a few Evenings & Weekends staff members for their thoughts on how organizations can transcend performative allyship to create genuinely supportive work environments for their employees.
We need to challenge our notions of professionalism, which are deeply steeped in heteronormativity, white supremacy, and patriarchy. I think we're in a place now where people are more willing to have conversations about how those organizing principles affect the systems they’re a part of. But I don't think we have realized yet that we've held on to this notion of professionalism and what a leader ought to look like, what someone ought to wear, or what’s acceptable to share about our lives.
A lot of these norms are inappropriate for many of us and make us feel uncomfortable. I think about water cooler conversations in particular—when I'm with queer folks and we're talking about our lives outside of the office, we're taught to feel a sense of shame, that we can't share those things at work. The default is often a very heteronormative “what folks did on the weekend” kind of conversation that makes it more difficult for us to be visible in the spaces that we're occupying. That is something that we've really got to interrogate.
There's also a big opportunity for organizations or businesses to reflect on how they forge partnerships. For example, within queer communities there are folks who don't feel safe in spaces with the police. The police have caused an incredible amount of harm, both in people’s everyday experiences and historically when we consider the role they have played in anti-gay and anti-queer hate through events like the bathhouse raids. This history didn't affect everyone in the same way, so some folks are more comfortable with police being in spaces and collaborating on projects. But for many of us the police are a reminder of this harmful history. It causes us to be on our toes at all times, and unable to participate and engage in the same way that others might.
Evenings & Weekends has declined working on projects that involve collaborations with the police. It's largely because of our commitment to centering joy in our work and wanting to ensure that we're doing things that make our heart sing. We are using our energies, our limited energies, to move the dial on things that we're passionate about, that we care about, that we want to support. Many of us feel that policing is not the space where we want to lend our energies—unless it's around more significant and useful conversations around defunding, dismantling, and disarming.
Organizations need to understand that a rainbow logo during Pride month does nothing to protect or support queer/trans employees or the wider community. If that's the only thing an organization does, that's not sufficient. Trans people are under attack, and offering tangible support for groups that work towards trans safety and inclusion is critical.
I’d also like to see leaders reflect on the assumptions they make at work. If an employee references their “partner,” don't assume that person’s gender, or assume the employee's orientation based on their partner's gender or pronouns. Bisexual/pansexual folks often run into being questioned, or not believed, about their identities if they’re perceived to be in a heterosexual relationship because the common assumption is you’re either straight or gay.
Finally, let employees decide when or even if they want to come out, and don’t pressure them to speak on behalf of all queer/trans people. Also, understand that the intersectional experiences of Black, Indigenous, and racialized queer and trans people, as well as Two-Spirit people, are not the same as queer/trans white people.
When I imagine a workplace that’s liberating for queer people, I think of an environment that actively encourages staff to challenge established norms, and to imagine new possibilities for how teams can work and thrive together.
Queerness is just one aspect of our identities. If we’re not working to create environments that can continually shift and evolve—that are capable of holding each other in the complexity of our experiences—we’ll fail in the goal of creating inclusive spaces for LGBTQAIS2 staff.
Representation in leadership is really important, yet I’ve encountered many organizations where queer leaders are reinforcing environments that are fundamentally hostile to differences around race, disability, or neurodiversity. I’ve also seen amazing examples of workplaces that are striving to continuously improve how they show up for each other in trauma-informed ways, that extend trust to their employees, that foster an active appreciation of the different ways that staff can approach challenges and contribute their skills, and that seek to understand how the status quo is really harming people at work and in their personal lives.
When organizations operate with these values as guiding principles, they can be collaborators in supporting a safe environment during a time when queer people feel deeply unsafe.
I think everything is centered around wellbeing. Workplaces should see and support optimal wellbeing as the core of safety for its staff members.
Transgender wellbeing is a very unique experience. To support it, leaders can practice sensitivity and seek out cultural competency training. They can also offer equitable practices for transitioning employees. For instance, I was shocked to learn that there are trans-specific days off that I have in my benefits, and that there's funding around surgery. It’s something that I was pushing for at my other workplaces but then it was unrealistic to even talk about these things. Now, it's a reality that I'm living.
Visibility is also really important to me. I think of my colleague Daniel Sarah Karasik, who is a leader in our organization, and is on the radio and speaking up about transgender identities. That's empowering to see. It's not something that I feel very vocal about, but to see them do that, it makes me feel safe. I also appreciate practices of diversity and gender identity inclusion in our communication. Our team members all have our pronouns listed, but the research actually shows if you just even talk about pronouns, it's a very small thing that can move a lot for people feeling safe in their identities.
I recently completed a research project as part of my Master’s Degree in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University where I explored the perspectives and experiences of three transgender adults concerning their well-being in the workplace. The themes that arose were empathy, adaptation, and connection; empathy with the fact that queer people are going through profound experiences; adaptation that acknowledges the reality of gender diversity and the need to dismantle binary perspectives on gender; and connection, which can look like opportunities to bond with other transgender colleagues through spaces like workplace committees. This sense of social connectedness is pivotal for boosting self-esteem, instilling a sense of personal worth, and fostering coping mechanisms—all vital to overall well-being.
Maintaining a future of optimal well-being in the workplace requires ongoing support and willingness from colleagues and the administration to do the work that supports us—not just as an individual, but things that affirm the validity of trans and gender diverse people in general.
Are you interested in learning more about creating safe environments for gender diverse employees? Evenings & Weekends Consulting offers a workshop “Engaging on Gender Diversity” with facilitator Kain Nathaniel. Contact us for more information.