Five Ways to Be a More Queer-Friendly Coworker

June 5, 2014It’s that time of year again, folks: June is LGBT Pride Month in cities around the world! What are you doing to celebrate?

Stumped for ideas? Not to worry. You don’t have to throw a party or sponsor a float in a parade to support your LGBT coworkers this month. Solidarity starts small.

To honor Pride Month this year, you can start by working to make your office a safer, more welcoming space for your queer colleagues. It’s all about empathy, consideration, and self-awareness. Ready to get started? Here are some do’s and don’ts for interacting with your LGBT coworkers. 

1) Don’t make assumptions about identity.

The LGBT acronym is totally inadequate to contain the entire queer community—there are as many ways to identify your gender and sexuality as there are people in the world. So, don’t assume your colleagues are straight, gay, bisexual, or anywhere in between, based on their choice of significant other. Let them identify themselves, if they want to share that information with you. Likewise, don’t assume that coworkers identify as one gender or another, based on their clothing choice or hairstyle. Instead, respectfully confirm the pronouns by which they prefer to be referred to.

2) Do show genuine interest in your coworker’s life outside of work.

Talking about your weekend by the water cooler? Don’t fail to reciprocate interest—or, worse, fall into avoidant silence—when your queer colleagues join the conversation. Their lives outside of work are just as valid, important, and office-appropriate as anyone else’s, and they deserve to be treated accordingly. So ask how that picnic was with their partner, or how that Netflix marathon was with their cat. They’ll be happy to tell you.

3) Don’t pigeonhole your coworker as the “Office Queer.”

Yes, Sally in accounting might be a total lesbian, but that doesn’t mean she’s incapable of talking about anything other than her queerness. Be aware of what topics of conversation you’re bringing up with her—do you talk exclusively about LGBT culture or politics? If so, you might be pigeonholing Sally, and she probably doesn’t appreciate it. Queers aren’t defined solely by our queerness. We’re athletes, animal lovers, film buffs, and history nerds, too. Get to know your LGBT coworkers as full people, complete with individual interests and opinions. You’ll be glad you did!

4) Do respect boundaries.

There might be some information your coworker isn’t comfortable sharing with you, and that’s okay. Perhaps she hasn’t told you about her significant other, or maybe he hasn’t disclosed whether or not he’s had a gender reassignment procedure. Respect those boundaries. People who keep personal information confidential aren’t necessarily signaling that they feel closeted or ashamed—merely that they value their privacy.

5) Don’t be patronizing.

Once, when I mentioned my girlfriend to a coworker, my colleague squealed with excitement, hugged me, and said, “Congratulations!” It was extremely uncomfortable. My queerness isn’t cause for shame or celebration; it’s just an everyday part of who I am. It’s great to be queer-positive, but don’t overdo it to the point of being condescending. We’re people—not adorable, three-legged puppies. Treat us accordingly.

So, there you have it, folks! Are you unintentionally guilty of any of these missteps? What else can you do—and what else could your straight coworkers do—to make your office a more queer-friendly place? Blow it up in the comments!

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.