As a whole, our movement to end sexual violence is more intentionally LGBTQ-friendly than most fields. Our prevention resources from the CDC name risk factors for sexual violence that include hypermasculinity, rigid adherence to harmful gender norms, and association with peers who hold those risk factors. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Resource Sharing Project, and PreventConnect regularly provide trainings on prevention and response for LGBTQ+ communities and survivors. Local programs can receive training from FORGE on working with transgender survivors or download resources specific to intake or shelter protocols.
Most of NC’s rape crisis centers are building capacity to better serve LGBTQ+ survivors. They are aware that LGBTQ+ youth are more vulnerable to bullying, violence, and family rejection and that LGBTQ+ people of all ages experience increased rates of sexual and partner violence. They know that LGBTQ+ survivors frequently have reduced access to safe, affirming, sensitized treatment, care, and shelter when they experience violence, and are working to ensure their programs are welcoming, affirming, and appropriate for LGBTQ+ survivors.
And yet, LGBTQ+ identified staff in our local programs often struggle to navigate the workplace, the work, and our traditional gender violence frameworks.
Following are some tips for local program leadership, staff, and volunteers on creating a more LGBTQ-friendly workplace.
As you are reflecting on your workplace’s LGBTQ+ friendliness, remember:
LGBTQ+ people exist in all kinds of communities. LGBTQ+ people exist, even in rural communities. Every kind of community has LGBTQ+ people who are out, and people who are closeted. Just because you work in a more progressive community doesn’t mean all LGBTQ+ staff people in your workplace are out, and just because you work in a more conservative community doesn’t mean that you don’t have LGBTQ+ staff.
You may not know who among your staff are LGBTQ+. That staff member in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender may be bisexual or pansexual, for example. People who are bisexual or pansexual are still LGBTQ+; they don’t become straight when in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender or gay when they’re in a relationship with someone of the same gender. For some bisexual or pansexual people, their LGBTQ+ identities are especially important to them, and “bisexual erasure” (the assumption that everyone is either straight or gay) can be painful and invalidating.
Similarly, transgender employees may not disclose in their workplaces. You cannot tell who is transgender or cisgender by looking at, or even talking to, people. You may have employees who do not feel comfortable living their authenticity in your workplace or in their communities (or choose not to for a variety of reasons). You may have nonbinary employees who choose not to ask you to use their correct pronouns because they aren’t sure the corrections would be well-received, or might find it exhausting to continually correct people. You may have employees who are transgender and do not disclose that they are transgender. Remember: nonbinary does not have a look, and nonbinary people can look feminine, masculine, adrogynous, any mix of the above, or any way they choose. Gender expression =/= gender identity =/= sex assigned at birth. (See the gender unicorn for more on this.)
All people have intersecting identities. Remember that each of us has multiple identities and that we cannot and do not separate them when we experience oppression or privilege. A cisgender gay white man’s experience will be different from a transgender gay white man’s experience, which will be different from a nonbinary queer Latinx person’s experience, which will be different from the experiences of an African American transgender woman. People of any LGBTQ+ identity can still be racist, classist, or ableist, or have internalized homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia. People who are LGBQ can still be transphobic. Remember that your lived experiences are likely different from those of your coworkers, and be willing to continually check yourself, learn, and grow.
How to do better:
Use gender-inclusive anti-sexual violence language and frameworks wherever possible. It is possible to acknowledge the unique impacts of patriarchy and gender on partner and sexual violence while still being gender- and LGBTQ+ inclusive, you just have to commit to learning more. The Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse provides trainings, tools, and resources for anti-violence professionals specific to LGBTQ+ populations and dynamics, and hosts the National LGBTQ Institute on IPV. The Network/La Red is an LGBTQ+, survivor-led organization that has developed creative screenings for clarifying who is the abuser in complex situations where both people are claiming to have been abused. In Our Own Voices is an organization that is by and foregrounds the needs of LGBT people of color, and they occasionally provide webinars and training. Not only are these organizations (and other LGBTQ+ sexual violence educators and advocates across the country) doing great work around supporting LGBTQ+ survivors and prevention in LGBTQ+ communities; because they were unable to lean into traditionally gendered assumptions about sexual violence, they’ve come up with creative new tools, information, frameworks, and interventions that benefit all survivors!
In conversations with all coworkers, assume LGBTQ+ people are listening. It is frustrating and hurtful for LGBTQ+ staff to overhear thoughtless, homophobic, transphobic (and racist, classist, ableist, sex-shaming) comments casually made by coworkers who are not aware you’re within hearing distance; it can be frustring and hurtful, as well as invalidating, anxiety-inducing, or fear-provoking to hear those comments from coworkers who do not know that you, yourself, are LGBTQ+. This makes it less likely that employees who are not out will ever feel safe coming out, and makes the workplace feel less safe for all LGBTQ+ employees, out or not. It can feel like a betrayal when someone who has expressed an intent for allyship in front of you says homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic things behind your back. The way you behave when you think you aren’t being observed speaks multitudes about your integrity and heart.
Use people’s correct pronouns even when they aren’t around. Hold yourself accountable for using people’s correct pronouns both in front of them and when they aren’t there. FORGE has tutorials for learning about pronouns, practicing they/them pronouns, handling it when you get someone’s pronouns wrong, and gently correcting friends and coworkers when they get someone else’s pronouns wrong. Even if you think you’re a good ally to trans and nonbinary coworkers, watch the videos. And remember, we get better by practice. If you’re struggling at first with a coworker’s pronouns, especially if they’ve recently disclosed a change from the pronouns you’ve been using, you only get better if you practice and stick with it! (And while you’re at it, put your pronouns in your work email signature, introduce yourself with your pronouns, and include pronouns on name badges to normalize the practice!)
Receive feedback and correction with kindness, without defensiveness, and without shame. I get it -- it can be tough when you mess up a coworker’s pronouns or slip and say something unintentionally discriminatory or that reinforces stereotypes, and your coworker corrects you. None of us enjoys being wrong, or when others notice that we’re wrong. But someone sharing their correct pronouns with you when you’ve gotten it wrong, or letting you know that something you said may be hurtful to them, is a gift. Rather than choosing to let it fester or continuing to feel invalidated by you, they are choosing to trust you with information so that you can be a better ally, coworker, and friend. You don’t have to be ashamed of your slip or defend your right to say problematic things; just say “thank you, I’ll keep trying.” Simple!
Do your own work to be a better ally. Remember, your coworker who is LGBTQ+ probably has to spend a lot of time and emotional energy educating people, listening to misinformation, correcting misinformation, and feeling anxious about discrimination. Do as much as you can to learn on your own. Attend trainings and professional development (See FORGE and the National LGBT Health Education Center for online trainings). Follow social media accounts of LGBTQ+ activists to learn more, particularly from those who are trans-affirming, anti-racist, and focused on disability justice and other intersecting issues. Read books. Reach out to NCCASA to schedule a training for your agency, or to get technical assistance about being a better, safer workspace.
Beginning the end of April, NCCASA will be hosting a monthly video chat for local program staff who identify as LGBTQ+. (This call is for LGBTQ+ staff, not for allies.) Registration information can be found here: https://forms.gle/ohpyGmFZ4ogwuaAXA
Local program directors who would like to request professional development for their staff to create safer and more inclusive workplaces can reach out to our Training and Communications Specialist at email@example.com.
Post by: Christy Croft, NCCASA's Prevention Education Program Manager