The U.S. Department of Justice may be under a cloud these days, but on the matter of workplace equality, they’re clear as day … sort of.
DOJ Pride—composed of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees and allies within the department—has published a brochure titled “LGBT Inclusion at Work: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Managers” as a guide to running a bias-free (and, not incidentally, litigation-free) office. This handy list of do’s and don’ts lays it all out for the discerning boss. For instance:
“Make the Right Assumptions & Avoid Making the Wrong Ones: DO assume that LGBT employees and their allies are listening to what you’re saying … and make sure the language you use is inclusive and respectful.”
Of course, a circumspect employer could take refuge in silence … or not. If a gay employee comes out to you, “Silence will be interpreted as disapproval.” Nothing less than wholehearted endorsement will do, and, in fact, you (the manager) may need to “come out” as an ally. Proudly fly your rainbow colors, display a DOJ Pride sticker prominently in your office (like the one above), or attend “LGBT events sponsored by DOJ Pride and/or the Department, and invite (but don’t require [… or not yet]) others to join you.”
On the other hand, gossip among employees about someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity must not be tolerated, much less derogatory jokes. Big Brother may not be watching but with LGBT employees and their allies listening, you’d better be careful how you choose your words when using your inclusive and respectful language. Old-fogey managers may be surprised to learn, for example, that the term “homosexual” is now passé: an “outdated clinical term considered derogatory and offensive by many gay and lesbian people.” This according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), whose Media Reference Guide is highly recommended for effective heterosexual managers. (“Heterosexual” is not derogatory.)
It’s also important to avoid gender-specific terms like “husband” or “wife,” substituting “partner” or “spouse.” And please, don’t say “sexual preference,” which implies that homosex—I mean, gays have a choice in their hard-wired attractions. “Sexual orientation” is correct. Unless you’re talking about transgendered (I mean, transgender—the “-ed” suffix is exclusionary grammar) people, who choose to identify with the sex opposite the one they were assigned at birth.
As for “gay agenda,” there’s no such thing. The GLADD Media Reference Guide explains that “notions of a so-called ‘homosexual agenda’ are rhetorical inventions of anti-gay extremists seeking to create a climate of fear.” With all these tips in mind, the effective manager will be equipped to let employees know “they’ll be treated with fairness and respect, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Unless they’re anti-gay extremists (a term the Reference Guide uses repeatedly), of the sort who speak of “homosexuals” and the “gay agenda,” or who remain silent when a colleague comes out to them.
Anti-gay extremists don’t deserve our respect. Got it?