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Workplace Diversity Groups: Emancipation of the corporate work-a-gay?

My workplace recently created a GLBTI diversity support group. Like many big Corporates, it’s now (and long overdue) the right thing to do. I give them snaps. The desire to change corporate culture to be less oppressive and enable a safe place to be ourselves is a welcome paradigm shift.  It’s not a token statement. My work really is already an OK place for gays to work.

But here’s the weird thing. I am struggling with the mechanics of delivering this concept... starting with the group’s name.

So, the name has to reflect that it is not only a group for us gays and gayellas but ‘everyone’ in the organisation. So they stuck an ‘E’ on it. How can a group about diversity have a name that demonstrates exclusion? Fare enough in principle, but the mature age group has a name that screams ageism and the membership is for those over a certain lifetime milestone. Once you include ‘everyone’ how can we ensure the constituents of the group really have a voice? Does the ‘everyone’ extend to include Westbro Baptists, Fred Nile-ites, Bob Katter-ists and others that throw hate at us?

Branding can be a pretty hot topic. Look at the attention Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras received over the renaming of the Parade to “Sydney Mardi Gras”. For some of us, ‘gay & lesbian’ not the ‘mardi gras’ held the intrinsic emotional value.

I liked what artist Maeve Marsden had to say: “For some, equality means being accepted as ‘the same as everyone else’. For others, myself included, equality means getting the same rights, and celebrating what makes us different. I like that my community is different. I like learning from and celebrating communities different to my own.”

The desire to celebrate what makes us different makes me uncomfortable with the organising committees of gay workplace groups containing ‘non-gays’ - and by this I mean anyone who doesn’t fit in the LGB/GLBT/GLBTI/ LGBTQ acronym set (another naming mind field!). Now, I am not saying a groups should not have gay-friendly and gay-adjacent people who attend events and help, it’s just should they have a voice at the table to say and direct what we want from the organisation?

Before you bitch slap me... I was around for the era when Mardi Gras had its controversial Gay or Lesbian only membership policy (with membership guaranteeing access to highly desirable party tickets). Many of my Bisexual friends felt bitter and marginalised at being explicitly excluded from membership, whilst many Heterosexuals just ticked the Gay/Lesbian option. For them, it was just a means to an end, not a very personal and public declaration about their sexuality. People going gay for PArtY! I am not calling for a step back to the days of separatism. Nope, just representation of our people by our people.

In developing the objectives and operations of the group there was repeated direction and emphasis placed on the vital need to fostering heterosexual allies – as a key to the group’s successful. I was told “You need them. These are the best people to speak for you”. Hell no! I am the best person to speak for me.  

I know you don’t have to be a gay to make a difference to our gay world.  I think the work of PFLAG is amazing – but that is political lobbying - a whole different ball game than making your co-worker stop discriminating or harassing you. I don’t want someone to change the way they treat me because some non-offensive straight ally tell them to. Beliefs systems run deep and I would rather know my enemy than have them wear a deceptive mask.

So, the thrust (Scruff me!! Now... that’s another pain point... you just can’t confidently do gay double entendres in the room when you have some non-ghetto dwellers present) for having straights on the committee and in the group is that they could help the hetros understand how to work alongside we gays. We honey, it’s those particular individuals problem not mine that they are bigoted losers.  

So who has the right to speak for the gays? Gaga copped a backlash for her declaration that “Born this Way” was created as a gay anthem and self proclamation as a gay icon.

Although we may be homo, we are not homogenous. If people want to make the workplace ‘safer’ and ‘friendlier’ for us, don’t try and tell us there is single way to be gay or what gays want from the workplace: there is no one size fits all solution. These groups must primarily benefit the people who face discrimination and harassment, not just make the 'other' feel comfortable about working amongst us.

Please take care. Remember, if I like it or not, participant or not, your acting and speaking on my behalf.  I can’t opt out.

OK. I know some of you are saying I should just pop a Xanax and smile through it all. It’s better than the bad old days.  Don’t get me wrong - these groups can benefit our community and society at large.  

As RuPaul says “Don’t fuck it up!”

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