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Being out at work when you are Young, Bisexual and a woman

Equality - 23 Jun 2020

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My first day at my new workplace was nerve racking enough as it was. Meeting new people and trying to fit into a new place is always underlined by one fear- how will people react to knowing I am bisexual? When someone asked me how I was getting home, I awkwardly replied “my gir- my friend is picking me up.” I just simply didn’t feel comfortable talking about my partner until I had weighed up what kind of people my new colleagues were and get a feeling for how they might react. For LGBTQ+ workers this is a huge barrier and it is unsurprising that more than a third of them have hidden being LGBTQ+ for fear of discrimination. 

I am now happily out with my colleagues and for the most part it’s great. However, with nearly 7 in 10 LGBTQ+ people and 2 in 3 young women being sexually harassed at work, being both queer and a woman can create a very uncomfortable work environment. 

It’s also a role for straight people as much as our own community, and the solidarity of allies in the workplace is key to creating lasting change.

For some reason, my sexuality is an invitation to certain people who seem to think that they can ask you intrusive questions about your sex life, relationships, and your body. I have had comments from being “too pretty to be gay” to “only being bi to widen the dating pool”. At an old job of mine, a lesbian colleague of mine was constantly groped by one of our women managers and when she complained she was told she “should enjoy it”. It’s a sad truth that this is not only a common experience for LGBTQ+ workers, but these stories aren’t even the worst of what we go through. 

As well as this, in the service industry it isn’t just harassment from colleagues you must endure but also third- party harassment. As a young worker I have had customers say overtly sexual things to me and touch me in an over friendly way in a deliberate attempt to make me uncomfortable. To protect myself from this, I find that I unconsciously try not to come across as ‘obviously’ LGBTQ+ for fear that customers will treat me differently. Being young and LGBTQ+ in retail means that I never feel truly comfortable at work and constantly find myself censoring things I say and do- something my heterosexual colleagues don’t have to think about. 

Despite this, these challenges at work can be strengths. As well as providing a different perspective on issues, being openly gay often encourages people to feel safer at work to come out and feel at ease. There’s power in numbers and creating a space where LGBTQ+ people can feel safe is small work for such a large positive impact. It’s also a role for straight people as much as our own community, and the solidarity of allies in the workplace is key to creating lasting change. 

 In the meantime, this discrimination and harassment gives us an excellent opportunity to organise and campaign around these issues. 

On a more personal level, it is important to recognise how people identify. Something as simple as introducing yourself and your pronouns or adding your pronouns to your email signature can make trans and non binary colleagues feel less intimidated, and the more we do this the more we normalise using pronouns more freely. 

Finally, for all young reps, it is our responsibility to recruit and develop as many young LGBTQ+ people that we can. We need to come together, with a united voice within the union and the movement, challenging any behaviour that is not acceptable in the workplace and beyond. Only by having a strong collective voice will we be able to raise our concerns and in turn, make workplaces safer for everyone. 

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