February marks LGBT History Month in the United Kingdom; an annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. It is important that the progress we have made is not only recognised but celebrated within the workplace.
From a workplace context it was only in the early 2000s that employment laws regarding sexual orientation and gender identity began to evolve to where they are today.
LGBT History Month came about shortly after, in February 2003, following the abolition of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 which previously made it unlawful for local authorities to:
- intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality; and
- promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
LGBT History Month is also observed in the United States of America and other LGBT-progressive countries. The intention, among other things, is to raise awareness of the brave activists that fought for LGBT rights over the years.
Today, most employers understand the need to comply with equality laws and workplace diversity is now accepted as a positive aim, with acknowledged business benefits.
However, such a positive position depends upon a number of factors, including organisational culture, management practices, interpersonal relationships, awareness, respect and support. Most importantly though, discrimination, whether because of sexual orientation or otherwise, and in all of its guises, must be banished.
February should therefore be a month for employers to further recognise, celebrate and promote diversity and openness within the workplace. LGBT History Month provides the ideal opportunity to champion role models, encourage an inclusive workforce, work towards combatting any remaining prejudice and generally represents a civil rights statement about the contribution of the LGBT community. When first celebrated in the United Kingdom, there were over 150 recognised events throughout the country and there will be many more today.
Opportunities for employers to promote and celebrate LGBT History Month could include:
- holding or attending a celebratory workplace event, whether that be something social over lunch or after work, a quiz or some form of educational event. Fundraising events often prove popular;
- providing general information about LGBT History Month to the workplace at large, including through the use of posters or online content. This could also include raising awareness and/or advancing education on matters affecting the LGBTQ+ community;
- committing themselves to promoting equal opportunities in employment, regardless of LGBTQ+ status (as well as age, disability, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion or belief and sex);
- reminding staff of their equal opportunities and LGBTQ+ supportive policies in place, to ensure inclusion and the avoidance of prejudice in the workplace;
- promoting their LGBTQ+ supportive workplace environments to ensure a more engaged workforce. Respect and acceptance throughout are key;
- undertaking diversity, culture and unconscious bias training, which will enable a more systematic and structured approach to the sharing of knowledge and awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion;
- establishing an LGBTQ+ employee network (to include allies as well), allowing visibility and awareness, or where one is already in place, enabling their voice to be further heard on this topic and others;
- making it clear that there is an open, diverse and tolerant mind within the workplace; failure to do so could result in missed opportunities to attract talent or the inability to retain good staff.
Overall, ensuring that all staff are happy to come to work and are confident in being who they are, is fundamental to success when promoting equal opportunity, diversity, inclusion and wellbeing at work for all. Such LGBTQ+ supportive practices will only go towards fostering a more engaged and productive workforce and employees having greater job satisfaction.
Employers are therefore encouraged to use February, as a stepping stone at least, to promote not only LGBT History Month but celebrate their diverse workforces and all of their existing LGBTQ+ supportive policies and practices.