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Career Advice

#LoveWins at the Workplace: How to treat your LGBT workmates

By Paulo Vargas on July 7, 2015

The recent legalization of gay marriage in the United States has everyone abuzz on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights on social media. Notably, Facebook showed its support by coming out with the Celebrate Pride Tool that puts rainbow colors on a user's display picture allowing people to show where they stood.

While many people's feeds may have been filled with rainbow-colored profile pictures, it was also filled with the rantings of people who were against gay marriage, baring their fangs in loud dissent. Opinions varied from civil disapproval to outright bigotry.

While social media is a place for free speech, ideally the workplace is where everyone can find mutual respect, regardless if they are heterosexual, homosexual, or anything in between. A person's sexual preference shouldn't be an issue in the office.

Contrary to popular media, LGBT people do not fall into any specific stereotype, meaning your seemingly macho or uber-girly cubicle mate might be playing for the other team. While it is impossible to truly know the percentage of homosexual people in a population, according to 1940s sexologist Alfred Kinsey one out of ten are gay. Surely, in the Philippines, the LGBT population is a huge contributor in the economy, culture, art, science, and everywhere else.

So how do you act around them? How do you conduct business with them? The same way you conduct with everybody else.

I asked a few of my homosexual friends how they want to be treated, and how they were actually treated. This is a primer for well meaning straight people who are simply clueless.

Know your LGBT terms.

Here's a real conversation I overheard

Guy1: She told me that she's gay.

Guy2: Really?! She doesn't look like a former guy!

Guy1: Dude, she's lesbian, not transgender.

In Filipino culture, the stereotype for gay people is of flamboyant, loudly dressed, over opinionated gay men. Yes they exist and there's absolutely nothing wrong with how they are - but this type of person is only one in a million kinds of LGBT people. The members of the LGBT community are as varied as the members of a heterosexual one. There are many people who are blissfully unaware that the word "gay" is an all-encompassing term for homosexuality that covers lesbians as well. Aside from that you have your bisexual and transgender workmates who do not see themselves as strictly homosexual.

Gossip breeds contempt. Don't do it.

In a professional setting, it might come as a surprise that your jock or kikay coworker might be gay. The person is completely "straight acting," or just doesn't fit into the popular idea of how gays act. If you must really know their orientation out of sheer curiosity, the best way to find out is a) wait for him or her to tell you and b) just ask them.

You will not learn it by listening to gossip or asking around, unwittingly starting gossip yourself.

In the situation that the person actually does tell you, how should you react?

Not with "Have you tried dating a girl/guy?" but with "Ah, okay. Cool." It's not that big of a deal.

Surprised? Don't show it.

In the situation that someone comes out in the workplace, don't be the guy who makes a storm in a tea cup.

It's like a single girl announcing pregnancy and you ask her personal questions like  "Who is the father?" No one wants to deal with that and it's definitely going to put a strain on your relationship.

Coming out is a complicated and life-changing affair for them. I'm sure it takes a lot of courage and the best way to show your support is to say your appreciation for their bravery and move on.

Don't discriminate "by accident".

Yes, we don't have to be self aware all the time, but make sure your actions are not subtly showing aggression.

Is your comment offensive? Are you using derogatory words? Are you brewing a hostile environment by avoiding homosexual coworkers?

These microaggressions lead to an uncomfortable workplace not just for LGBT coworkers but also to people who support them, dividing the office into factions.

A 21st century office.

Despite the outcry from conservative groups, LGBT-friendly companies have taken strides in workplace equality. And just like everyone else, when given the chance, the people from the LGBT community shine in the right environment. All we want to do is get our work done without any drama, it's the same way with them.

Jerson Lacorte, Expansion Manager for Insular Life, says that LGBT people are actually assets in certain companies. "LGBT discrimination is the office is not that rampant anymore. Honestly, LGBT people shine in the corporate world," Lacorte says. He adds that in some cases, it can be an advantage. "They can't put me down and my orientation will never be a problem. I know how I can use it [to my advantage,]" he says laughing.

But it's not like he did not experience discrimination at all. He says that he went to a conservative and private Catholic school and he was not made the valedictorian because of his sexual orientation.

"Gusto nila ay straight ang magdadala ng name nila. Umiyak nalang ako and I felt bad that I was judged based on my orientation," he says. (They wanted someone straight. I just cried and felt bad that I was judged based on my orientation.)

He moved on and eventually graduated magna cum laude in college. Jerson is now the youngest ever expansion manager for his company, as well as a former top performing sales executive for a newspaper.

#LoveWins at the workplace too, or at least, it should.

If you have more ways you can think of the be respectful for our LGBT workmates, share it with Kalibrr! Reply in the comments below.