LGBTI and The Workplace

Janine DonnellyOther


There is a wide spectrum of positive to negative potential reactions to being the LGBTI colleague in a workplace. Depending on industry, location and size of organisation, an individual’s experience can fluctuate massively between entirely positive and accepted, to being a difficult manner in which to spend a working day. The most important piece within this is that as a society, we need to develop our communal intolerance of any lack within our professional environment that might allow discrimination to flourish.  

Discrimination against a person on the grounds of their sexual orientation is not only socially unacceptable. It is illegal.  Anyone suspected of treating a colleague in a discriminatory manner because of their sexual preference will be disciplined by their organisation and potentially by legal authorities.   Safeguards are in place to ensure that LGBTI colleagues have access to all their rights at all times in all workplaces. However, at times being someone who is different, even if you are not discriminated against, can be challenging for the psyche. If acknowledging sexuality has been part of your recent journey, dealing with colleagues can present a particular challenge.  These are not people who have an emotional investment in your development.  You don’t have to explain your choices to them. However, in many cases, in order to feel comfortable on a daily basis, having a familiarity with your colleagues represents an aspirational ideal.

Within a difficult workplace, building resilience to intolerance can help.  However, it can also serve to desensitise an individual to hardship, pain and anger. This desensitisation, though it may help in the short term within a work situation, means that defense mechanisms are being employed for situations which should not necessitate them. It allows for a skewed sense of understanding of hardship, and though it is difficult to be the person who faces conflict, in the long term it might serve you better than attempting to deal with the effects of it on your mental health. If you are dealing with it internally (for example, raising your immunity to snide comments or accepting that some of your colleagues pointedly demean your sexuality), this means that your internal navigation for difficulty becomes set to a space that it should not naturally inhabit. In other words, your mental health will suffer more by the utilisation of defense mechanisms in the face of animosity or conflict which should not be happening. Though it can be challenging, your mental health needs you to feel the pain when you are hurt. Otherwise, your natural level of resilience is set too high and your stress response is permanently activated.  

If you have a colleague that has identified as LGBTI, think about what you can do to make this person feel as accepted as they need to be. HR colleagues can help this process by dealing with conflict as it arises and in a timely and sensitive manner.  Should it be necessary, there are many organisations who can deliver psychoeducational talks on LGBTI issues to a workplace, in order to raise the standard of tolerance and acceptability across the board.  

Being the LGBTI colleague in a workplace can bring challenges to the psyche.  However, we live in a society that is open in its declaration of acceptance of sexuality as untouchable in terms of discrimination. This needs to remain our primary point within any discussion on the issue. Any career path has its own challenges and it is vital that the workplace remains a professional environment, free of discrimination of any kind. Any attempt to normalise an argument that sexuality is an issue for discussion in the workplace undermines the already significant challenges facing everyone within a work environment. Further, it contributes to the space in society where intolerance is allowed to flourish and represents a significant movement backwards for the country that we live in.  

Thankfully, Ireland is progressing. Today marks the fourth anniversary of Ireland becoming the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. So Ireland’s recent history is showing signs of improvement in the involvement of the LGBTI community in Ireland’s society. However, there is much room for improvement. Ireland welcomed the launch of The LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy 2018 – 2020 on 29th June 2018. This national strategy calls for the promotion of LGBTI+ rights, targets discrimination, promotes inclusion and the improvement of the quality of life and wellbeing for LGBTI + people. The strategy was informed by the views and input of approximately 4,000 people in Ireland. So it can be agreed that Ireland is continuing to progress towards full LGBTI inclusion in the workplace, but also in society in general including education, sport and family life.

“Become an LGBTI ally- make positive public statements, challenge negative comments, reach out to include LGBTI colleagues and be part of normalizing diversity”Collette O’Regan (LGBT Ireland)

Written by Lorraine Hackett – Psychotherapist at MyMind Centre for Wellbeing

Contributions by Janine Donnelly – (MyMind) and Collette O’Regan (LGBT Ireland)