Going beyond rainbow flags in June – organizational motivations for 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion

As we come to the end of another successful Pride month – with the first in-person celebrations held in over two years – many companies and organizations are reflecting on a month full and rich with 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion. Companies that have used June as an opportunity to learn more about 2SLGBTQ+ identities and celebrate diversity in sexual and gender identities may feel tempted to pat themselves on the back – and they should; there is no shame in recognizing important moments in the history of human rights in Canada and around the world. There is no shame in using these moments as opportunities to further learning, or to draw attention to key issues.

But what happens after the month of June? Do we hang up our rainbow and trans inclusion flag? Pack away our ally buttons until next year? How do we ensure that the work that we do within our companies moves pass “performative activism” and towards true 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion, all year round?

One of the areas that organizations need to explore is their motivation for becoming more 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive. Over the past few years, more and more companies have taken steps to become more 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive. Some of these steps include ensuring access to all-gender washrooms, a review of policies and procedures to ensure that they are 2SLGBTQ inclusive, the creation of a 2SLGBTQ+ employee resource group, or participation and recognition of important 2SLGBTQ+ dates – like Transgender Day of Remembrance, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and of course Pride.

And while many of these steps are part of an organizations’ obligation under provincial and federal human rights law (such as access to gender inclusive spaces), others are a more meaningful attempt to move past the minimum expectation, and more towards a welcoming environment for 2SLGBTQ+ communities.

The challenge that some organizations face is that 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion differs from initiatives for other equity seeking groups as some individuals and groups dispute the rights of 2SLGBTQ+ communities.

For instance, a recent Gallup poll shows that:

  • 28% of Americans think sexual relations between people of the same sex should be illegal,
  • 37% of Americans believe lesbian and gay relations are morally wrong (Gallup, 2019) and;
  • 45% still believe being 2SLGBTQ is a sin (Drake, 2013).

In Canada, we still see the presence of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia recent spike in hate crimes targeting people for their sexual orientation. In 2019, police in Canada reported 263 hate crimes against 2SLGBTQ communities—a 41 per cent increase over the previous year and the highest total since 2009 (https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/statistics-canada-lgbtq-pride-report-1.6066638) Organizations can be challenged to appease 2SLGBTQ+ stakeholders, and customers and employees in favour of diversity, equity and inclusion strategies while not ostracizing those who oppose same sex relationships and gender identities. Birkinshaw et al. (2016) describe this as “strategic dualities” – defined as pairs of imperatives which are equally valuable to the success of the organization but are to some degree in conflict with each other. Launching 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion strategies will increase the morale and feelings of belongingness for some; however, it could also risk alienating others who still believe it is wrong.

Because of these potential challenges, it is crucial that organizations understand why they are engaging in 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion, as a poorly motivated strategy can have the opposite effect. Customers and employees are actively seeking out companies and organizations that are doing this work in a meaningful way. These stakeholders also bring a more critical approach around 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion, and understand that surface level initiatives will likely fail to create meaningful or substantial change. These initiatives risk alienating individuals who are opposed to 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion, but also risk alienating individual who support 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion but who see the organizations initiatives as being performative.

It is important for organizations and companies to have a plan or strategy for 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion. Participation in Pride festivities, displaying rainbow flags and providing education and training during 
the month of June is an important first step. How can these actions move from once per year? How can these actions move to address some of the systemic challenges 2SLGBTQ+ people face? And most crucially, how can companies and organizations ensure that they are doing this work for the right reasons and with the right motivation?

Looking for the right motivation in the organization does not mean that you have to look very far. Many organizations and companies have mission and value statements that reflect a desire to create and work towards a better world. But it does mean that organizations need to recognize this work as part of the organizations regular functioning instead of a special event. It would mean that the strategy of being 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive would need to be built into the very structure of the organization, much like the vision, mission and values.

The journey to become 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive is one of a lifetime. Companies will also find that this work is continuous if it is to be done well. The ideas that I have discussed are not radical, or unfamiliar; we know that inclusion is a constant process. Belonging is an active goal that we are constantly working towards. If there is one thing to remember from this, is that it is not enough to adorn your environment with rainbow flags during the month of June and forget about 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion the other months of the year. Like being 2SLGBTQ+, 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion is all year round. Let celebrating Pride 2022 be the beginning of this exciting journey.

Adam Benn is a friend of DiversiPro and is an experienced facilitator and educator, with over ten years of experience in education and community healthcare. Adam has wide-ranging experience working with diverse populations with unique needs, including Black and Queer communities.

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