Last week was a big one for me.
Coinciding with Pride month, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender individuals in the workplace. The decision marked a joyous and historic occasion for people across the country, including me: I am an out gay man who is lucky enough to call Scouted my workplace. The decision felt affirming, exhilarating, and unexpected, especially with the court’s conservative leanings.
Memory reminds us that recently our country has pressed forward at an accelerating clip when considering the embrace of the LGBTQQIAA+ community. Just 5 years ago SCOTUS ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. But seven years before that? As he launched his ultimately successful bid for the Presidency, then-US Senator Barack Obama did not support extending the right of marriage to same-sex couples. As national opinion shifted towards acceptance, though, politics began to follow suit. Though work remains to be done, we’ve come a long way in a short time.
Four years ago – almost to the day – I awoke to a text from my mom asking if I was OK. Rheumy-eyed and disoriented in early Sunday morning light, I had no clue why she asked this. The Hells Kitchen, New York City streets where I lived at the time were still quiet. Like me, much of my Manhattan gayborhood had not yet learned the news of the Pulse nightclub shooting, when a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 more in a span of mere minutes.
The news devastated America. The world. Me. Tears well in my eyes as I write these words remembering again.
The next day, Monday, I returned to work at an advertising technology company on Park Avenue South. I was shaken but resolute. Barely had I placed my bag down at my desk before my boss, Conor, a cisgender, straight man, discreetly approached me.
“What are you doing here? Please go home. Please be with your people and take time to heal.”
Quietly thanking him, I left. I returned to my apartment accompanied only by the low hum of music from a playlist I had curated for a trip to Fire Island that coming weekend: Ariana Grande, Calvin Harris, Børns.
I do want to start by acknowledging my privilege. I am a cisgender, white male. I am fortunate to have enjoyed growing up in a comfortable home and studying at elite institutions, and I am thankful for the support of family and friends. I do not have experience as a person of color, as a person who has been misgendered, or as a person who is differently abled.
While there is no blueprint for designing a career or a workplace that is universally inclusive, there are guiding principles we can embrace to orient ourselves in the right direction, whether as an employer or employee. Steering my own career with a compass of empathy, fortitude and open mindedness has allowed me to feel successful, safe and fulfilled as an out and proud gay man in the workplace.
Challenging yourself to understand and feel others’ experiences can prove difficult, no matter what side of the LGBQQIAA+ community you find yourself on.
If you seek to build an inclusive, safe workplace for your organization, remember that your team may have discomfort sharing a part of themselves that has proved historically controversial, even dangerous. Less than two weeks ago, people in our community could be fired in some states for that part of their identity. Consider the emotional import of being at risk for losing your job because of an intrinsic, immutable element of your own life.
State clearly to your team that you are creating a safe space for all folks, and say it often. Call out and correct harmful words and actions. Encourage people to share personal experiences – if they feel comfortable. Normalize pronouns by adding your preferred pronouns to your email signature, and encourage your team to do the same.
If you identify with the LGBTQQIAA+ community and find yourself in an organization that seeks to make its culture more inclusive, understand that your teammates may be working to improve themselves, too. If you’re comfortable, offer advice on how they can educate themselves, and correct them if they make a mistake. If you like, share your stories and your perspectives.
If you find yourself in a workplace that is not as open, or if you do not wish to embrace your belonging to the LGBTQQIAA+ community at work, have empathy for yourself. Remember that our recent victories are just that, recent. Adjustment takes time. Your feelings and concerns belong to you; they are valid, and you are valid. Proceed in a way that makes you feel safe and empowered. But don’t forget: In the workplace the Supreme Court is now on your side, and minds are continuing to open.
If you are responsible for building a more vibrant community at your company, remember to keep an open mind. The LGBTQQIAA+ community is organic and always evolving, so why not grow with it. Learn about and understand the multitude of identities and perspectives that exist beyond your own.
Be ready to improve your company’s strategy around communication and dialogue, be amenable to refreshed perspectives, and be open to constructive critique of your own behaviors and practices. Ask questions. Ask for ideas. Seek new sources of information that may add refined depth to the policies your organization has devised.
Encourage in yourself a mindset of appreciation for folks who look differently, think differently, and act differently than you do. Embrace their stories and perspectives, and use them to shape both your worldview and actions. Take time to learn about the various shades of our community that have come to color our own Pride flag with exuberant hues.
Remember that you are working to do the right thing but that it will take adaptability to get there. You are part of a team, so work together to get where you want to be.
If you are a member of the LGBTQQIAA+ community, I encourage you to remember open mindedness as well. Belonging to our community does not guarantee a lack of prejudice. Our own history has a checkered past of bias perpetrated against folks of other identities, races, and abilities.
I also encourage you to embrace the work of your colleagues as they strive to make your workplace more inclusive. Encourage them on their journey. It takes patience and fortitude for all of us to get there.
Progress takes time. So, too, does self-acceptance.
If you lead an organization, commit to pressing on and working towards change. Be strong in your commitment to building a safe, welcoming space for your team. There will be hurdles, perhaps reticence, and some of the upfront work of fostering dialogue may be arduous, but the results will be worth it. Organizations that have a diverse array of experiences benefit from more perspectives, more ideas, and more varied hands ready to take on wider swaths of challenges.
The courage to build a better, more inclusive workspace will not only benefit your business, though. You are working towards what is right. Your work may not always be easy or popular, but in the end it is just.
If you identify as a member of the LGBTQQIAA+ community, acknowledge the strength it has taken to get where you are. Wherever you are in your career, the steps you have taken so far matter. Stumbles you make along the way make you smarter and stronger for the difficulties ahead. As members of the LGBTQQIAA+ community, we have all taken brave steps to arrive where we are today, and we can press forward knowing we have carried ourselves this far already.
No matter where you are in your journey of personal acceptance, I encourage you to appreciate the moral fiber that has guided you so far, and bravely take heart in knowing that the arc of history is bending towards a more welcoming future.
Conor did not directly understand how it felt for me, awash in the wake of a mass shooting that targeted my community. But he did embrace these principles.
He took time to think about how I might be feeling, and what he would want if he were in my shoes. He opened his mind wide enough to understand that the attack might have more acute effects on me than on the rest of my team. He realized my pain might be more profound or take a bit more time to process. And when I returned the next day, he checked on me to ensure I was OK, but then told me to get back to work. He reminded me we are working towards a stronger tomorrow together but that we must press on. We keep working. We keep striving.
When Conor sent me home after the Pulse shooting, I doubt he knew the import his action would have on me a few years and a couple jobs later. I definitely did not. I have carried his compassion with me ever since that day. I have lived an open lifestyle in every job I’ve held, but Conor reminded me how important it was for me to have an environment of inclusiveness and respect. It’s a pearl of wisdom that has not lost its luster, and as I turn it over in my mind it guides me both personally and professionally. When it came time to find a new home, I joined Scouted with the assured understanding I had found a new home equally safe and welcoming. I cherish my teammates the same way I cherish Conor’s kindness all these years later.
Our paths are all different, and I recognize how fortunate I have been on mine. Regardless of your situation, I believe if you have empathy and open mindedness for yourself and others, and embrace fortitude as you press on, you can be proud that you are charting a career of integrity and worth for yourself and helping build more universally inclusive workplaces for all. And now, the Supreme Court says that no business can take that away from us.
Was last week a big one for you too? Let us know in the comments below.