I have something to confess: I am not the biggest fan of Pride month. I’m actually kind of a “Pride grinch.” Because of my sour disposition about this celebratory month, I usually keep a low profile and don’t contribute my writing to the subject. However, as June approached and I mentally prepared for the flurry of organizations dusting off their rainbow logo and sharing lots of images of employees eating rainbow cupcakes and getting rainbow stickers, I felt compelled to say something.
Your LGBTQ+ employees and colleagues are almost certainly terrified right now. In the United States there are currently 530 anti-trans bills at various stages in the legislative process, all of which are actively seeking to operationalize Michael Knowles's alarming and eugenicist call to "eradicate transgenderism from public life." For the first time in its 40-year history, the HRC declared a national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans due to the overwhelming amount of anti-LGBTQ legislation that has already been passed (75 bills this year). Recently, officials in Butte, Montana canceled an educational library program featuring trans activist Adria Jawort speaking about LGBTQ and two-spirit history. Officials cited House Bill 359 which prevents minors from attending drag performances as the reason for cancellation. Notably, the speaker is not a drag performer, the event was in no way a drag performance, and yet the broad language of the bill was successfully manipulated to target this kind of event (which is exactly what opponents of the bill warned it would do when it was introduced early in 2023). Add to this the year-over-year rise in violence against LGBTQ+ communities which is compounded for transgender people of the global majority with Black trans women facing the highest rates of violent crime and murder.1 This increasingly grim outlook animates everything about how your LGBTQ+ team members move through the world and show up (in-person and virtually) in your workplace.
Which is why organizations absolutely must go beyond the usual “food, fun, and flags” approach to this month.2
But where do we start?
It can be daunting to move from rainbow-washing to action, especially in this current moment where the stakes are high for organizations and their team members. The good news is that you don’t have to become an expert to be impactful and make a difference. There are some concrete steps that you can take to demonstrate your meaningful, continued (read: beyond June) support for your team members.
- Apply an Intersectional Lens: Your workplace Pride efforts (all of your equity and inclusion efforts, actually) need to apply an intersectional approach. Intersectionality is about systems of power and recognizing how that overlap impacts individuals and communities in very different ways. An intersectional approach to LGBTQ+ workforce efforts means recognizing that not all LGBTQ+ team members share the same experience or navigate the world in the same way. For me, as a white queer cisgender person, my whiteness always protects me and comes before my queerness in social and professional settings. I am always read as white first and queer second, this is not true for my LGBTQ+ colleagues who are members of the global majority. They are always read as racialized first, which exposes them to greater threats and harm that I do not have to face. An intersectional approach centers the needs of those who are facing the greatest risk and most harm and radiates additional support outwards.
- LGBTQ+ Resource Group: Sometimes referred to as an ERG or BRG, the purpose of an LGBTQ+ resource group might vary but it can help to amplify the concerns and needs of your LGBTQ+ team members as well as provide a central location for professional development and support. A word on resource groups: to be successful, a resource groups need to be properly funded (equity work is not free.99) and entrusted with both responsibility AND power.3 Resource groups can also offer space for colleagues to grow their leadership skills, which is important since LGBTQ+ people of the global majority, especially trans folks, are the least likely to be promoted, and face that greatest risk of being fired or not hired.
- Gender Affirming Health Benefits: Is your health coverage gender affirming? Do you know what it means for coverage to be gender affirming? Does your benefits manager and HR team know? Gender affirming care goes far beyond surgical procedures and unfortunately, many employers take a reactive approach to benefits management (they only look into this after an employee is denied coverage). Don’t wait for an LGBTQ+ team member to bring up this important issue, be proactive and explore it now. Some organizations even offer a specific HRA gender affirming health benefit contribution or a flexible reimbursement program for gender affirming care.
- Gender Inclusive Facilities: While establishing a gender neutral bathroom at your office building might not be quick or easy (but it’s definitely something your team members will appreciate), you can make a priority to ensure that any events, meetings, work outings, or fundraisers all include accessible, gender neutral bathrooms. When planning events you can also check the ‘Refuge Restrooms’ database for updated, reliable information on bathrooms that are ‘safe’ for trans, gender non-conforming, and intersex team members.
- Gender Affirming Learning Pathways: If the only time that your non-LGBTQ+ colleagues hear about gender identity and inclusion is during the month of June you can’t expect them to integrate gender inclusive language and behavior into their work patterns. Work with your LGBTQ+ resource group to identify external resources and develop supplemental content that helps team members understand and practice things like gender neutral language and pronoun usage. Additionally, practice harm reduction behaviors and strategies so that you know how to respond if you overhear a team member making a homophobic or transphobic joke or comment. Being a supportive team member means flexing that advocacy muscle, even when it feels scary or uncomfortable.
What if we make a mistake?
I guarantee that you will make a mistake, you’ve probably already made A LOT of mistakes and if you are committed to continuing to learn and grow you will continue to make mistakes. The fear of making a mistake is not now nor has it ever been a valid reason not to do this work. Creating a supportive and psychologically safe workplace for LGBTQ+ team members is not about memorizing an infinite amount of terms, definitions, or important historical dates. It’s about demonstrating behaviors, actions, and speech that affirms the vast expanse of lived experience that your LGBTQ+ colleagues have. Your LGBTQ+ colleagues are justifiably terrified right now and knowing that you and their other colleagues are actually taking steps to prioritize support and well-being within your organization will help lessen that burden. That’s definitely worth the fear of making a mistake.
I can’t stress enough that the suggestions and information I have shared here barely scratch the surface of this issue and that the commitment to gender inclusion and affirmation in the workplace is a lifelong journey. It can feel like a daunting task but the good news is that this work can and should be done all year round, not just during June, and that you don’t have to do it all at once. Work with your LGBTQ+ colleagues and identify the starting point that is most impactful and demonstrates your commitment to action, and then we can talk about drag queen bingo.
Elizabeth Stigler, Ph.D. – Director of Diversity Equity Inclusion and Belonging, American College of Chest Physicians
Dr. Stigler is an intersectional Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) advocate dedicated to empowering individuals and communities to see themselves as agents for change. In 2018 she earned her Ph.D. with honors in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from the University of Kansas. As a queer person with an invisible disability, the work of equity and inclusion as a deeply personal pursuit. Dr. Stigler brings more than a decade of experience writing, researching, and teaching about
identity based oppression and structural inequality to her role as the inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST). Before joining CHEST, she was the inaugural Director of the Community Equity Research Center at the Chinese American Service League where she oversaw the organization’s equity, advocacy, inclusion and anti-hate work. Dr. Stigler specializes in supporting organizations in the early stages of their DEI journey.
1. Westbrook, L. (2023). The Matrix of Violence: Intersectionality and Necropolitics in the Murder of Transgender People in the United States, 1990–2019. Gender & Society, 37(3), 413–446. https://doi.org/10.1177/08912432231171172
2. Nayani, F (2022). The Power of Employee Resource Groups: How People Create Authentic Change. Berrett-Koehler.
3. I credit Dr. Joseph Williams with devising the language that ERGs need to have both responsibility and power.