In the morning hours of June 28, 1969, there was yet another police raid at The Stonewall Inn, a well-known gay bar in New York City. What made this time different was that the patrons of The Stonewall and other establishments decided to fight back against police violence. While not the first effort to recognize LGBTQ personhood, the Stonewall riots are considered the kickoff of the modern LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) movement.
LGBTQ individuals at the time were criminalized, deemed to have psychiatric conditions, condemned by their friends and family and shunned in society. More than 50 years later, thanks to the courage of earlier generations of LGTBQ pioneers, who refused to hide in shame and dared to be proud of who they were, we have all learned how many LBGTQ people are in our offices, schools and families. People we love and trust in our lives, who had previously not been allowed to be themselves. We also became aware of the pain felt by many who have not found acceptance, as seen in the alarmingly high rates of suicide and homelessness amongst LGBTQ teens. There is much more for us to do.
This month your company’s logo probably takes on the colors of the rainbow. We celebrate our growing acceptance to the LBGTQ community and laugh along with RuPaul. But we shouldn’t forget the Pulse Nightclub terror or the growing rates of missing Black trans women. The month of Pride is about celebrating a day the LGBTQ community said they would no longer take the abuse of an entire society. Pride is a moment of intersectionality of race, gender, class and ability. Every community has LGBTQ members, from veterans to people of color. It’s a month we can all be reminded of our inherent need for dignity in who we are and who we love.
June is also a month with two other important moments in American history: the Tulsa Massacre and Juneteenth, a day marking the liberation of slaves. These dates should remind all Americans of the story of trial and triumph that underrepresented communities have had to endure. While the connection may not be obvious at first, the fact that 300 people could be killed and their businesses burned down simply because they were Black is the same logic of “otherness” used to kill and abuse gay and transgendered people. Similar arguments based in science, religion and “logic,” even sexual stereotypes are still common today.
So, while flying rainbows high this month is good, it’s not enough. Here are a few things you can do to go beyond the performance of Pride.
Level the benefits playing field. Work with your human resources department to ensure benefits, formal and informal, are available to all employees and their spouses, regardless of gender and marital status.
Liberate your applications. From gender identity checkboxes to assumptions about marital status, there are many ways applications reinforce expectations of heterosexual, cisgender (a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth) lifestyles. Review your applications: Do you need to know the gender of a person every time you ask? Do you have assumptions in your applications about spouses?
Create gender-neutral bathrooms. These can help provide safe spaces and dignity for all who use them, and send a strong message to employees that they are welcome and safe at work.
Hire transgender youth. For many cisgender, straight people, understanding the “LGB” in “LGBT” was hard enough and gender fluidity seems a step too far, but the fact of the matter is gender has always been fluid and we have lost the language to encompass it. Hiring transgendered youth will help your culture understand how easy it is to get out of the false gender binary.
Rainbows are a beautiful symbol of unity, a vivid statement of acceptance, but they only mark where the real work starts. How are you an ally or a safe space to the LGTBQ community? How can you stop the everyday microaggressions that reinforce exclusion? Let’s use Pride month as a reminder to us all to get right with everything that is wrong with homophobia and transphobia.
Malia Lazu is a lecturer in the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, CEO of The Lazu Group and former Eastern Massachusetts regional president and chief experience and culture officer at Berkshire Bank.