What To Do If You Have A Homophobic Coworker Or Boss

by | Mental Health

June is LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) Pride Month in the United States. While significant progress has been made over the last several decades in making workplaces more inclusive for LGBTQ+ employees, the queer community still faces considerable discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

In a perfect world, organizations would be welcoming and inclusive and foster a sense of belonging, but bias and prejudice are still rampant in the workplace.

Speaking from personal experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community who has dealt with a homophobic workplace bully, it can be incredibly challenging to decide if and how to respond when you face unfair treatment because of your sexual orientation, particularly when you don’t have another job lined up.

6 Steps To Take If You Have A Homophobic Colleague

Here is what you can do if your colleague or manager is homophobic or transphobic:

1. Understand that you’re not alone.

For starters, if you’re dealing with unfair treatment, harassment, or employment discrimination because of your gender or sexual orientation, please remember that you’re not alone, even though it can feel that way sometimes.

Nearly half (46%) of LGBT workers have experienced unfair treatment in the workplace at some point in their lives, according to findings from the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA.

Additionally, about one-third (37.7%) of LGBT workers have experienced at least one form of harassment at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the same study. And, one in five (20.8%) LGBT workers have experienced physical harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Moreover, approximately one-third (34%) of LGBT employees have left a job due to poor treatment by their employer.

Notably, LGBT employees of color report higher rates of employment discrimination and harassment than white LGBT employees. Transgender employees are also significantly more likely to experience discrimination and harassment based on their LGBT status than cisgender LGB employees.

2. Look for potential LGBTQ+ allies and accomplices in your workplace.

One of the quickest and most powerful ways to stop unfair treatment in its track is to find allies and accomplices in the workplace who can use their privilege and power to speak up for you.

If it’s your colleague who is homophobic or transphobic, for instance, you might seek allyship from your boss. Conversely, if it’s your manager who is problematic, a coworker, your boss’s boss, or an HR liaison might be able to serve as an ally.

3. Identify all your options.

Once you’ve pinpointed potential allies in your workplace, you want to brainstorm your potential options, which might include:

  • Leveraging the support of your workplace allies and accomplices.
  • Looping your manager into the situation and discussing available options.
  • Confronting the person verbally and/or in writing.
  • Filing a grievance with your HR department.
  • Utilizing your company’s confidential reporting line.
  • Switching teams or departments.
  • Looking for a new job.

[Read: 7 Best LGBTQ+ Job Boards For Landing A New Role]

Developing a list of all your options, even if they’re not all feasible or realistic, can be incredibly empowering when you feel out of control in your current situation.

Please keep in mind that choosing not to speak up or do anything is also a totally acceptable response to being the recipient of workplace discrimination or harassment. You do not have to respond or report discrimination or harassment before you’re ready. Your safety comes first. Period.

4. Don’t feel pressured to make a decision right away.

Once you’ve clarified your options, you’ll want to evaluate each one:

  • What are the potential short-term benefits and risks?
  • What are the potential long-term benefits and risks?
  • What’s ultimately best for you, your career, and your mental health?

If you’re able to, consider giving yourself time to really weigh your options as well as to seek outside counsel before deciding how to move forward

5. Take care of your mental health.

Dealing with a workplace bully can be incredibly challenging for your mental health and overall peace of mind.

Consequently, you must take care of yourself to avoid burnout and the long-term consequences of harassment, discrimination, and workplace trauma. This might include establishing boundaries with the aggressor, such as not being alone together, or only communicating in writing so you have your correspondence documented.

Depending on the severity of the situation, you may choose to take a leave of absence. It may also behoove you to consult a mental health therapist, spiritual director, or other trained professional you trust to support you in navigating the feelings and emotions associated with navigating a toxic workplace.

[Read: How To Recover After Leaving A Toxic Work Environment]

6. Know your rights as an LGBTQ+ employee.

Finally, when faced with unfair treatment in the workplace, it’s helpful to educate yourself on your rights as an LGBTQ+ employee. Not only can this empower you with additional avenues to respond to your aggressor, but it can also provide you peace of mind throughout the process.

Although your specific rights will depend on your country and state, as well as the size of your company and current legislature, you likely have legal protections from harassment and discrimination based on your gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

Because the rights of the LGBTQ+ community are constantly under attack, it’s important to stay up to date on your protections in the workplace. The Human Rights Campaign and Out & Equal are good starting places to educate yourself on the rights afforded to LGBTQ+ workers.

What To Do If You Have A Homophobic Colleague

Final Thoughts On Dealing With A Colleague Or Manager Who Is Homophobic

Please don’t be discouraged if your first attempt isn’t successful or even backfires. Speaking from personal experience, confronting workplace bullies with logic and common sense doesn’t always work, since homophobia and transphobia are nonsensical.

On a final note, remember that you’re not alone. You have options. Put your mental health and well-being first. You’ve got this!

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

Dr. Kyle Elliott is the founder and career coach behind CaffeinatedKyle.com. His expertise is in Silicon Valley and high-tech. As a result of working with Dr. Elliott, senior managers and executives have landed jobs at Meta, Amazon, Google, and nearly every other tech giant you can imagine.

A trusted career expert, Dr. Elliott’s words have been featured on Business Insider, CNBC, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, among dozens of other leading publications. He has been recognized as a Best Career & Interview Coach, Best Resume Writer for Silicon Valley/Tech Managers & Executives, and LinkedIn Top Voice (the platform’s highest honor).

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