Black History Month – the intersection of race and LGBTQIA+ identities

Zee Monteiro
Zee Monteiro

Blogger, poet and speaker

We know racism affects our mental wellbeing. And we also know that sometimes the voices of people from minority groups don’t get the same attention as others. That’s why for Black History Month 2022, Mental Health at Work will raising up Black voices, and asking our readers to listen and learn from these experts by experience.

Sadly, we know Black people experience racism in the UK. And, LGBTQIA+ people are also be discriminated against. But when you are both Black and LGBTQIA+, those areas of oppression can overlap and influence each other.

In this blog post, blogger, speaker and poet Zee Monterio shares their thoughts on the intersection of identities, and how employers can support staff who experience more than one axis of oppression.

“The ‘worrying’ findings, from a study by the Chartered Management Institute, suggest UK employers may be paying lip service to public promises to promote equality and diversity, rendering workplace inclusivity an “illusion” two years after the Black Lives Matter protests. Workers who identify as LGBTQ+ also experienced greater harassment and bullying.”

I remember sighing after reading this section in the Guardian, published by Robert Booth in June of this year, and reflecting on the finding. I was relieved that my gut feeling was correct but saddened at the same time. As a person living with both identities, this was not an easy read but an important one and it went against the statement that ‘woke culture’ had taken over the system. It has not.

They became ‘the’ person in the organisation with all the answers on Black lives

During the summer months, like many others, I was furloughed but went back to work in September. The organisation implemented anti-racist training sessions that were mandatory for all staff and a reading group where non-white and white staff read and spoke on all things race, which was optional for Black staff members. The organisation did not implement any training on LGBTQ+ inclusion​Things not to say series – LGBTQI+ issues Playlist or series Mental Health at Work have created a YouTube playlist featuring six BBC videos which focus on LGBTQI+ people, including tips on what not to ask gay or trans people.Free By: BBC Three View resource.

This was not uncommon. Many of my acquaintances who were also Black/POC and Queer mentioned that the companies or organisations they worked for only focused on one section of their identity. Some were happy this happened. Their reasoning for this is that many were asked to share their experiences with their colleagues or the Senior Leadership Team during anti-racist forums or training sessions and felt that they became ‘the’ person in the organisation with all the answers​Why forming ‘diversity’​ committees with Black staff, who have no expertise in D&I or anti-racism, is tokenising Web page This LinkedIn article by anti-racism activist Nova Reid explains the problems created when organisations assume their Black staff are experts on racism.Free By: Nova Reid View resource on Black/POC (persons of colour) lives. They feared, rightfully so, that this would be the same if the training sessions would also focus on LGBTQ+ lives. Their main concern is that it would impact management overlooking their work contributions.

Unfortunately, as the article in the guardian concludes, the biases are still very much alive and are impacting individuals living with identities, whether they speak about their lived experiences or not.

Two men having a discussion at work

It is important to note that all issues regarding racism and homophobia have been documented well before 2020 yet were only seen as important ‘enough’ these last two years. This is mainly due to the power of the internet and the fear of cancel culture. What has become clear is that many companies have focused their time on staying out of the negative media​Dealing with hate campaigns: toolkit for journalists Web page This help page from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma explores some things you can do if you, a colleague, or one of your reports is the target of a hate campaign.Free By: Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma View resource, rather than focusing on the emotional and physical safety of their Black and/or LGBTQ+ employees.

According to an article written by the Stonewall Stonewall Stonewall is a UK based charity aimed at empowering LGBT people.  View organisation BAME/POC network group in 2019, when it comes to the intersection of Queer, Trans and Intersex People of Colour (QTIPOC) in the workplace, 12 per cent of BAME LGBT employees lost their job because of being LGBT, compared to three per cent of white LGBT staff.

An individual that has these identities can feel on edge, always questioning their surroundings.

In the article it states:

“QTIPOC are constantly code-switching within the workplace. They must essentially tone down the way they speak, act and express themselves to fit in professionally. Examples include toning down an accent or dialect when talking to white people in the office, or not bringing up one’s orientation or gender identity to avoid uncomfortable conversations​How to have difficult conversations about race at work Web page This web page and PDF guide from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) offers a detailed step-by-step process that you can use as a template for starting conversations about race in your workplace.Free By: CIPD View resource in the office. This can take a significant toll on someone’s mental health if they constantly have to edit themselves in different scenarios.”

The quote above is correct but we must not forget that a homophobic attack can come from someone who shares a similar race/culture or religion as a non-white person and racism can occur from within the LGBTQ+ community. As you can imagine, this can make an individual that has these identities feel on edge, always questioning their surroundings. Editing oneself for their protection means it does not allow for the creation of meaningful and impactful professional relationships at work and can increase isolation and the feeling of loneliness at work​Loneliness at work Web page Feeling lonely isn't in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Marmalade Trust, a charity dedicated to helping those who are experiencing loneliness, has created this guide to help you to combat loneliness in the workplace.Free By: Marmalade Trust View resource.

A woman works in a coffee shop.

We must not forget that many organisations and colleagues are working on creating an inclusive space for their Black and/or LGBTQ+ colleagues, employees and customers. There have been various allyship training​10 steps to non-optical allyship Web page This Instagram guide, created by Mireille C Harper, explores ten ways for White people to be allies to their Black colleagues when it comes to improving the workplace and society as a whole.Free By: Mireille C Harper View resource sessions etc. that focus on making sure they understand what being an ally looks like. I do want to make a note that due to the fast nature of the internet and fear of being called out, I have found many using the term ‘ally’ loosely.

Allyship is not the receiving of a certificate and it is not to boost one’s ego of the person who has been privileged enough. Allyship is a lifelong practice, it is an endless unlearning and relearning about other people’s experiences, reflecting on how your experiences might have been different, keeping a mirror in front of you and having difficult conversations until you become more aware of the issue, create and pursue steps you need to take to ensure your colleague, employee and customer are being seen and heard.

Protection at work comes in the form of policies and procedures

The theme for this year’s Black History Month is ‘Action, not Words’. Understandable, but to create a viable inclusive organisation, it must focus on both actions AND words.

When we are thinking about an individual, any individual within society there are always two main themes that contribute to positive mental and physical health. The first one is protection, the second is community.

Protection at work comes in the form of policies and procedures. To ensure the protection of your employees is making sure that the organization has thought about all the various types of individuals that can come and work at your organisation. Does your organisation dive into the different types of harassment ​Harassment and bullying at work Web page Sadly, anyone can be at risk of experiencing bullying, and it can happen in a wide variety of workplaces. This guide from the CIPD explores what bullying and harassment is, the different forms it comes in, and your responsibilities as an employer.Free By: CIPD View resourcethat can happen and does it outline the definitions of the types of harassment and bullying a person can encounter? If harassment is happening in the workplace, how is the victim protected both emotionally and physically?

Two colleagues work together in a collaboration zone.

Are you aware as a manager/SLT member/HR team of how to use inclusive language​Conscious language guide Web page The words we choose to use matter. This guide, from Healthline, covers a range of sensitive topics and discusses how to talk about them in a way which is empathetic, honest and inclusive.Free By: Healthline Transform View resource? Just to get your mind thinking, a Trans man​Ten ways to support LGBT employees Web page Glassdoor have written a short article featuring 10 simple steps you can take to ensure your LGBTQI+ colleagues are included and represented at work.Free By: Glassdoor View resource can get pregnant and this person might go by the pronouns ‘he’, their pregnancy will look different because of this, do you use the correct language in your policies and how would you go about supporting them?

When it comes to community, do not underestimate the power of Network groups​St Mungo’s Diversity Networks PDF Networks are a great way of connecting staff who have similar experiences and backgrounds. At St Mungo's, there are several different groups offering support and advice.Free By: St Mungo’s View resource, these spaces can, with the right contracting, become safe spaces. Network groups can become a space where individuals, who have similar lived experiences, create meaningful relationships and can contribute to your employee retention rate. A final thought for companies who might have difficulties creating network groups due to the size of their company, allow for co-collaboration on events or gatherings with other companies who might work in the same field. Many co-working places are amazing spaces to learn from each other and create a community that can contribute to an environment where your employees feel seen and heard.

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