Beyond Pride Month: Workplace Discrimination and Depression
June is Pride Month, a time that People.com1 describes as "an entire month dedicated to the uplifting of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc. (LGBTQ+) voices, a celebration of LGBTQ+ culture and the support of LGBTQ+ rights." Like me, you have probably noticed various organizations post about the event on social media to showcase their solidarity. However, putting up rainbows online is often a move to appear progressive. Workplaces need to put in work every day to make a change. Because even today, queer employees are widely discriminated against at work -- to the extent that it harms their mental health.
Workplace Policies Often Exist on Paper
Many workplaces have diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies to prevent discrimination. According to PeopleMatters,
"for these policies to be effective, they need to be internalized and leaders and managers need to change behaviors and think differently from what they have been accustomed to. When leaders and managers embrace diversity and intentionally make it a business priority by integrating it into the core values of the organization, it sets the tone for the rest of the organization to follow suit."2
Doing so requires education via initiatives like training programs and finding out the needs of LGBTQ+ employees by speaking with them. As an ally with queer friends in India and the USA, the sad truth is that the average organization barely implements DEI policies. Thus, harmful stereotypes and biases against the community persist, and this causes issues like workplace bullying, exclusion, and verbal, physical, and sexual harassment. All of this inevitably causes depression, anxiety, trauma, etc.
Ill-Treatment Affects Mental Health
The LGBTQ+ community is already vulnerable to mental health issues, and it is a human right to be treated with as much respect as straight employees. It is all the more important today as many people spend the majority of their day at work. Mental Health Foundation3 states that,
"mental health problems such as depression, self-harm, alcohol, drug abuse, and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, but they are more common among people who are LGBTQ+. Being LGBTQ+ doesn't cause these problems. But some things they go through can affect their mental health, such as discrimination, homophobia or transphobia, social isolation, rejection, and difficult experiences of coming out."
What You Can Do as a Coworker
I believe it will be years before the average employer cultivates bigotry-free workplaces. As an ally or someone with basic human decency, what can you do to protect the wellbeing of queer coworkers?
- First off, follow the golden rule of treating others as you want to be treated. Be respectful even if you do not approve of someone's sexual or gender identity because it is nobody's business but theirs. For example, let's say you work with a transgender person who now has a new name, a name that is the exact opposite of their deadname or old name. The respectful thing to do is to call them by the name of their choice. The same rule applies to the pronouns they use. By not misgendering people, you are helping them avoid shame and trauma.
- Next, make sure to keep your conversations professional. Do not talk about anyone's sexual or gender identity. For example, a comment like "but you don't look gay" may seem innocent to you, but it is downright offensive. If you are curious about something, educate yourself online instead of approaching your coworker and potentially ruining their day.
- Thirdly, don't ignore disrespect. For example, if you see someone making jokes at the expense of a queer coworker, use your voice to shut down the bully. File an official complaint with the Human Resources department. Speak up so that your workplace becomes a safer, happier place for every color of the rainbow.
Wurzburger, A. (2022, June 1). Everything You Need to Know About Pride Month. People.com. https://people.com/human-interest/pride-month-explained-pride-month-facts/
Mendonsa, L. (2021, June 7). DEI: Not just a change in policy but a change in mindset. People Matters. https://www.peoplematters.in/blog/diversity/dei-not-just-a-change-in-policy-but-a-change-in-mindset-29095
Mental health statistics: LGBTIQ+ people. (2021, March 3). Mental Health Foundation. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-lgbtiq-people
Shaikh, M. (2022, June 16). Beyond Pride Month: Workplace Discrimination and Depression, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, August 12 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/workandbipolarordepression/2022/6/beyond-pride-month-workplace-discrimination-and-depression