What Can Law Firms Do To Better Support LGBTQ+ Communities?
According to a 2020 Gallup poll, at least 5.6 percent of the US population, or nearly 18 million adults, identify as LGBTQ+.
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation research, A Workplace Divided: Understanding the Climate for LGBTQ+ People Nationwide, 46 percent of LGBTQ+ workers still do not come out or stay secretive about their gender preferences in the workplace. In the light of this, a company should not only look at its rules and policies related to inclusivity but also strive to figure out how LGBTQ+ personnel feels about their jobs. It should also be aware of any potential biases among employees that hinder team cohesion.
What is Pride Month and why is it celebrated?
LGBTQ+ Pride Month is celebrated across the United States to commemorate the Stonewall riots of June 1969. As a result, many pride events are held during this month to recognize the impact LGBT people have had on the world.
The Stonewall uprising began on June 28, 1969 as a series of actions between police and LGBTQ+ protestors over a six day period. It wasn’t the first time cops raided a gay bar, and it wasn’t the first time LGBTQ+ people fought back, but the events of the next six days would forever alter the conversation around LGBTQ+ activism in the United States.
Pride is a time to reflect on the struggles that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community has faced, as well as to celebrate the successes of trailblazing individuals who have heroically battled for complete equality — and continue to do so. Pride is social jubilation of visibility as well as a personal celebration of self-worth and dignity.
Change is the way forward
Since Stonewall, the LGBTQ+ community in America has made significant progress. In recent Supreme Court decisions, regressive laws have been thrown down, the right to marriage equality has been recognised, and workplace safeguards for LGBTQ+ people have been achieved in every state and territory.
The Hate Crimes Prevention Act of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. expanded the definition of hate crimes to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community today hold positions in practically every level of government, including city halls and state capitals, governors’ mansions and congressional chambers, and my own administration. Nearly 14% of my 1,500 agency appointees identify as LGBTQ+, and we are especially proud of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s service as the first openly LGBTQ+ person in the Cabinet, and Assistant Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine’s confirmation as the first openly transgender person in the Senate.
However, workplace discrimination continues to be an issue for LGBTQ+ employees.
When it comes to changing public opinion and supporting LQBTQ employee well-being at work, American companies wield enormous power. While LGBTQ+ rights have come a long way in the last two decades, there is always room for improvement.
US Laws for LGBTQ+ Communities
The United States Constitution guarantees “equal protection of the laws” to all persons, including LGBTQ+ people. Similar safeguards are found in state constitutions. This implies that no entity can single out LGBTQ+ students/employees for discrimination just because the organisation authorities disapprove of homosexuality or are uncomfortable with people of different gender identities or expressions. When it comes to peer conflicts and abuse, the US Constitution prevents public schools and organisations from treating bullying and harassment any less seriously because the targets are LGBTQ+.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender queer (LGBT) rights in the United States have increased significantly over time, and are socially liberal relative to most other nations. However, LGBT people in the United States may encounter legal problems that non-LGBT inhabitants do not.
Until 1962, all 50 states criminalised same-sex sexual activity, but by 2003, all the laws were declared invalid. By 2015, LGBT Americans had won the right to marry in all 50 states, beginning in Massachusetts in 2004. Additionally, in many states and jurisdictions, LGBT Americans are explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, and access to public accommodations.
The Supreme Court of the United States has established many LGBT rights in the United States. In five landmark rulings between the years 1996 and 2020, the Supreme Court invalidated a state law banning protected class recognition based upon homosexuality, struck down sodomy laws nationwide, struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, and made same-sex marriage legal nationwide. The Supreme Court also prohibited employment discrimination against gay and transgender employees.
By including “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected characteristics under the Fair Housing Act, the Fair and Equal Housing Act would establish consistent and clear nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ individuals in housing.
Despite the fact that family law differs from state to state, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015, adoption of children by same-sex married couples has become lawful throughout the United States (though Mississippi did not have its same-sex adoption ban struck down by a federal court until March 2016). Adoption policies differ widely from one jurisdiction to the next.
Adoption policies differ widely from one jurisdiction to the next. Some states allow all couples to adopt, while others prohibit all unmarried couples from doing so.
Hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity are punishable by federal law under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, but many states lack state-level hate crime laws that cover sexual orientation and/or gender identity. LGBT people of colour, particularly transgender women of colour, face the highest rates of discrimination and hate crimes.
In 2022, however, more than 300 bills restricting the rights of LGBT people have been introduced or passed in 36 states.
How can we help the LGBTQ+ community and be their ally?
The word “ally” carries a great deal of weight. Someone who stands at your side and has your back because they believe it is the right thing to do. In the LGBTQ+ movement, an “ally” is a phrase used to describe someone who is not LGBTQ+ but is committed to equality and speaks out against bigotry.
Anyone can be an ally
Allies can play a crucial role in halting and even preventing harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ+ youth by publicly supporting them and their rights, ensuring that schools and out-of-home care environments are safe for everyone.
While it may be safer for straight allies to stand up for LGBT rights, being an ally is not without its own set of difficulties. Allies might be harassed or discriminated against as well.
Here are easy ways to make your law firm more welcoming to LGBTQ+ employees.
- Educate Yourself and Others on the Subject
Allies must take the initiative and research what it means to be a part of the LGTBQ community and an ally. Don’t rely on your LGBTQ+ coworkers to educate you and your colleagues.
You may express your care just by listening and being helpful. This goes back to educating yourself and making an effort to learn more, resulting in a workplace culture where your LGBTQ+ coworkers feel comfortable being honest about themselves. Remember that it is up to you to study more and be open, as well as to recognise the privilege you may have as a heterosexual. (And, hey, by reading this site, you’ve already gotten off to a fantastic start!)
- Check to See if Your Company’s Employment Methods are All-Inclusive
It’s critical to evaluate the signals you’re sending as a company or as a coworker while creating a culture of wellbeing. If you’re looking to fill a new position, look for LGBTQ+ candidates on LGBTQ+ job sites and at recruitment events. The importance of inclusive recruiting procedures is undervalued, and now more than ever, we need to grasp it.
Diverse businesses are more likely to lead in innovation and outperform the competition, according to studies. Building a more varied culture is thus not just the correct thing to do, but it is also beneficial to your company’s general health.
- Pro Bono Litigation
LGBTQ+ employees who need help aligning their legal documents with their gender identification, enhancing their access to jobs, education, and public benefits should be assisted by the companies and firms they work at. Providing litigation, advocacy, and educational work in all areas of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer civil rights is as important as voicing out their issues.
- Consider How Your Company Appears in the Public Eye
Authentic representation is a low-cost, high-impact strategy to create a more inclusive workplace. Increase exposure of LGBTQ+ people throughout the year, not just during Pride Month. It’s also critical to ensure that your representation is genuine and free of tokenism or stereotypes. Tokenism occurs when an organisation takes simply symbolic efforts to promote underrepresented groups, rather than really supporting those beliefs.
If you’re going to make more inclusive advertising a priority, make sure the focus is on normalising these interactions and providing LGBTQ+ people a voice. This nonverbal display of support communicates to current and new team members that your organisation values LGBTQ+ employees, clients, and community members.
- Be an Outspoken and Active LGBTQ+ Ally
Participate! It’s critical to be an active ally if you want to promote the well-being of your LGBTQ+ team members. This entails being outspoken and taking part in public displays of support. This can involve everything from volunteering at an LGBTQ+-friendly group to marching in your local Pride parade. Actively supporting the LGBTQ+ community demonstrates your willingness to put words into action, and it may make LGBTQ+ employees feel more accepted.
Pay attention to how you and others express yourself. It is crucial to use appropriate language. Using inclusive and respectful language is another method to actively encourage a healthier, more inclusive work environment.
It’s also critical to detect and respond to potentially offensive language used by others. In informal discussion, it’s normal to make nasty remarks as a jest. If this happens, make it clear that this type of language is damaging and will not be tolerated in the future. These are more challenging talks to have, but they are necessary for creating a culture of mutual respect.
- Be Empathetic and Supportive
Finally, show your support for LGBTQ+ colleagues by simply being yourself, even if you aren’t perfect. Nobody expects you to have majored in LGBTQ+ Studies or understand what LGBTQ+QIAAP means, but it is expected of you to be respectful (after all, we’re still at work) and demonstrate that you care even if you aren’t an expert.
While it is important to make workplace a safe environment for all, the inclusiveness should not be limited to workplaces only.
Everyone must strive to make an impact. Here are a few things you can do to play your part well:
- Make no assumptions about people’s gender identification or sexual orientation.
- Speak up against anti-LGBTQ+ harassment and discrimination, including homophobia, transphobia, and transphobia.
- Defend yourself against anti-gay slurs.
- Be encouraging to anyone who decides to come out.
- Participate in LGBTQ+ events.
- Read about LGBTQ+ concerns and LGBTQ+ students’ rights, and discuss them.
- Button, sticker, or poster designs that are LGBTQ+-friendly should be worn or displayed.
For a variety of reasons, including major safety concerns and being pelted with bothersome inquiries by the uninformed, it’s still tough for some LGBTQ+ people to come out at work.
Even if a coworker is out to you, it does not necessarily mean they are out to everyone. Because it makes their life easier, they may choose not to notify specific people at work. Once you’ve found out who they are, you can ask them (in private) if everyone else knows. If not, be extremely cautious about how you speak to and about them at work so you don’t accidentally out them.
This article was first published here.