Work still to be done on equality

Is the threat of discrimination still real for gay people in Ireland, despite being the first country in the world to ratify marriage equality by public vote? Caomhan Keane finds out.

As the first country in the European Union to promote a gay man to its highest elected office, and as the first country in the world to ratify marriage equality by public vote, there’s a belief among many in straight society that the job is done. Lets paint that rainbow flag on our cheeks, flap it in on the streets and pat ourselves on the back for solving inequality.

But for many still living in the alphabet soup, the threat of discrimination is real enough to have us slip rings off our fingers and stay on our toes as we tap our fobs into work, watching our pronouns and curating our social media accounts lest our persuasion become weaponised.

The National LGBT Federation’s Burning Issues Survey in 2016 found that 34% of those surveyed are not fully out in work, while a further 13% were not out at all.

A UK study from the same year found that gay men earn 5% less than straight men.

GLEN’s Working it Out report from 2014 found that 30% of gay, lesbian and bisexual employees had been harassed on the job, while 10% have quit a job because of discrimination.

“Loads of organisations claim to be all-embracing, non-biased and boast that they will accept everyone,” *Cora, (not her real name), age 54, tells me. “It’s easy to slap up a few posters, or put something down on a piece of paper. But when you are dealing with people day, in day out, the difference between an admirable policy and a problematic person is more obvious.”

Cora, a former addiction counselor, came out as trans to her employer of 25 years in 2015 after years of planning for the event.

“That May I told my line manager I was going to transition, that I would be living my life as a female from the 1st of September. There are procedures that were to be followed and I told her that someone from TENI would be available to come in to discuss making it a smooth transition. That was on Monday.

“On Wednesday I got an aggressive phone call from her ordering me not to come into work for two weeks until the board got their head around me being trans. It made no sense, as I wasn’t going to be living as a woman for another few months, so I refused to comply.”

“They made my life hell. They changed the way I had been working for years so that it became unsustainable. They called me by my birth name. They started- then refused to continue, with the mediation process. They attacked me when I was at my most vulnerable. In the end I resigned.” She’s been unemployed ever since.

It’s important to understand what kind of culture exists in your workplace before you make the decision to come out, “ says Davin Roache, Principal at Diversity and Inclusion Consulting. “How respectful are people generally of difference, of other cultures, of different points of views? Are there other LGBT people in the company who you can speak to about their experience?

Practice what you preach

Kevin Collins, (28), a manager at Dell EMC, was working at the company for 12 months before he fully came out to his employers. “Even as I was going through orientation they were telling me about employee research groups that were focused on building a greater level of involvement from gay, black or female employees. My manager regularly brought in speakers to help educate management on issues related to equality and diversity. There was none of the passive-aggressive remarks I’d witnessed at my old places of employment. I saw in the daily life of the business that they practised what they preached.”

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Still, he wasn’t quite comfortable coming out to his superiors, unable to escape the doubts cast by other places of employment that had said all the right things but had not quite acted on them.

“Staying in the closet left me with a huge fear of being outted. Cork isn’t a huge place and I wanted to be able to come out on my own terms. For the first while I didn’t add or accept anyone on social media, so they would have that window into my personal life.

I was double checking everything that came out of my mouth to make sure that it was gender neutral. It took up a huge amount of cycles in my head. So in the end I just stopped and used masculine pronouns and let people connect the dots themselves. I didn’t come out in any dramatic fashion but ever since I have been asked to appear at specific events, to represent the company and made to feel like my experience as a gay man was something of value.”

Wary of management

Rob Partridge (40) works with people with challenging behaviours for the Brothers of Charity in Galway. While he was open with his colleagues from the start about his sexuality, referring to his partner in conversation, he was more wary about management.

“I was often a little cagey. It’s a religious organisation, and when I started I was a locom. I was looking for hours and reluctant to be too vocal about my sexuality as it didn’t fit the ethos of the organisation.”

Over the years he realised that his sexuality wasn’t an issue.

“They were all for equality. They don’t discriminate under any circumstance. We were concerned about what the parents of some of our service users might think, but I knew that if any parents had a problem, the service would have backed me up. But none ever did. It’s a societal bred fear that someone will have an issue that you are gay and you’re looking after kids.”

The LGBT community can never quite stop dusting their sexuality or gender off. While the company they are in now may be forward thinking, that may not be the case in the future, if they need to change companies.

Coming out all over again, they may need to purge their social media accounts or ‘refine’ their personalities on the chance someone might take an issue with it.

While how many people simply stay where they are or pass up an opportunity because they don’t want to take that risk? While writing this piece a large number of people agreed to be interviewed and either pulled out or went silent at the designated interview time.

Discrimination against gay teachers may be illegal, but how many can truly be open in a staff room whose ethos, at best, preach tolerance not acceptance, before they are on a full-time contract? One-in -10 straight people surveyed in 2016 said they had a problem working with gay people. While working for GLEN, Roache herd stories of verbal bullying, property damage, graffiti in cubicles and other ways of belittling LGBT staff.

He encourages anyone experiencing such abuse to report it to their line manager or HR department. “They have a duty of care to their employees.”

If you are having problems at work contact www.lgbt.ie for advice.

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