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How to stand up for your rights in the workplace as a member of the LGBTQ+ community

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LGBTQ+ individuals regularly face different forms of sexual harassment in the workplace.

While legislation has made it illegal to fire LGBTQ+ individuals based on their gender identity, 20% of LGBTQ+ individuals still report discrimination, from offensive jokes to unequal pay and delayed promotions, in the workplace. For transgender employees, harassment can come in the form of deliberate use of incorrect pronouns by their colleagues and restroom inaccessibility, among other things.

There are ways to stand up for your or your colleague’s rights. Here’s a few steps in recognizing and acting against sexual discrimination in the workplace.

Know the problems the community faces in the workplace

The first step in addressing the problem is knowing and understanding it. There are several key LGBTQA+ issues in the workplace that aren’t covered by existing laws but are still very offensive and discriminatory.

  • Disclosure of sexual orientation/identity
  • One of the problems that LGBTQ+ individuals face in the workplace is coming out. Almost half of LGBTQ+ people hide their identity at work for reasons like uninvited questions and fear of unequal treatment. Some LGBTQA+ individuals who have disclosed their sexual orientation or identity to a trusted few also fear that their friends might “out” them to other people without their consent.

  • Tokenism
  • Sexual discrimination in the workplace can also come in the form of tokenism. At work, it’s a performative act to give the impression that the company is diverse or that it welcomes people from all walks of life. But their activism ends there.

    The token LGBTQ+ individual in the workplace is often isolated and othered from the rest of the team. And since the company’s activism is only for show, LGBTQ+ individuals are denied the same opportunities as their cisgender, heterosexual peers.

  • Inappropriate questions
  • Another microaggression that LGBTQ+ individuals face in the workplace is the barrage of inappropriate questions. 60% of gay people have coworkers intruding on their personal lives, asking questions like “Who’s the boy and who’s the girl?” to a gay couple.

  • Dire measures to conceal their authentic selves
  • Transgender individuals who have begun transitioning can’t easily conceal their true selves in the workplace. They can face invasive questions about their genitals to discrimination even from other members of the LGBT community. As a result, a lot of transgender employees leave their jobs to transition privately.

Know your rights as an LGBTQ+ employee

California has an extensive set of laws for the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace for LGBTQ+ individuals. If you’re serious about making the workplace a safer space for you and/or your LGBTQ+ colleagues, know these employment rights and protection inside-out.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act both protect LGBTQ+ individuals in a wide manner of situations, including the following:

  • They come out in the workplace;
  • They are non-binary or non-conformist;
  • They are transitioning/have started their transition;
  • They are constantly referred by their dead names or wrong pronouns;
  • They are denied access to the bathroom because of their sexual identity or orientation;
  • They are denied gender-affirming health care;
  • Their same-sex spouse or registered domestic partner is denied health coverage; and
  • They are targeted by their employer for speaking out about discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

For more information about LGBTQ+ rights and protections in the workplace, click here.

These federal and state laws don’t protect all LGBTQ+ individuals, however. Religious entities are exempt. Small companies with five employees or less from the FEHA, while companies with at least 15 employees are exempt from federal laws.

Take action against discriminatory workplaces

Aside from documenting the discrimination you and/or your LGBTQ+ colleagues are facing, here are several other things you need to do.

  • Identify your allies among the key decision makers in the company. They’re the first people to go to for help. Start by looking for the person in charge of your office’s equal employment opportunity compliance.
  • Build support. Start a dialogue among other LGBTQ+ employees and allies in the office to pinpoint the specific problems in your workplace.
  • Prepare and present a proposal for workplace policy changes. Be persistent. Follow up if there’s no response and ask for a dialogue if the proposal is rejected.

Consult with San Diego’s top sexual harassment lawyers

The attorneys at Hogue & Belong can help you take the next steps to eliminate sexual discrimination in the workplace. Call the top sexual harassment lawyers in California at 619.238.4720 or email inquiries(at)hoguebelonglaw(dotted)com to schedule a consultation in complete confidence.