I’d like to think that I’m a seasoned ‘grown up’ but there are still things in this world that I just don’t understand and look at with a child-like sense of incredulity.  One of them is homophobia.  I just don’t get it.

I read an article recently and learned that 41% of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) workers in America have not come out to their colleagues, fearing they will be treated differently.  I can only assume, given our Government’s stance on marriage equality, that Australia would be in roughly the same situation.  I remember not so long ago, while talking to the General Manager of a large corporate organisation he emphatically stated that there were no gay people working at his business.  When I told him that could not possibly be true, he became incredibly defensive and uncomfortable.  It is no wonder that such a large portion of LGBT workers are staying in the closet!

Some people will question why it is so important for people to make public their sexual orientation, particularly in the workplace.  They will argue that work is work and what they do in their personal life should not be brought into it.  Here’s why this attitude is wrong:

Work life and personal life are not separate realms, but rather each has a mutual effect on the other.  To put it simply, when you are unhappy in one, you are not your best self in the other.  Studies have proven there is a strong correlation between a person’s work life and their mental health and wellbeing. 

We all know that relating to your colleagues and sharing personal information, no matter how trivial, helps us form working relationships, which is integral to a healthy workplace culture. Think of how many times a colleague has asked you what you did on the weekend, where you went on holidays, what you’re doing for Christmas.  Now imagine you have to lie or omit details from your response.  Imagine not being able to join in a conversation because you’ll inevitably have to use the personal pronoun of ‘him’ or ‘she’ and it will give away the gender of your partner.

It would be a lonely world to live in.

It would be one of constant disguises.

It would be exhausting.

Now, if you’re not one to join in the pride march I’m not going to try and convert you via a blog post, however I will say that it is still in your best interest for LGBT workers to safely come out of the closet.  The amount of energy a person wastes in trying to hide a part of who they are will affect their productivity.  Studies have shown that in an environment where LGBT workers feel accepted and valued, productivity increased and turnover rates were low, directly affecting the bottom line.

So how much is it costing you to have an environment of intolerance in your workplace?  Having an HR policy of equal opportunity and anti-bullying might prevent outright homophobia, but it’s the subtle prejudice – the ‘harmless’ jokes, the use of the world ‘gay’ to mean something negative – these can often fly under the radar but still prevent workers from feeling safe enough to be themselves.

Ask yourself, what can you do to make sure your workplace is a safe and comfortable environment for all?