What Your Company Can Actually Do to Support LGBTQ Rights

Happy Pride Month! The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the marketing teams are celebrating. It’s never been easier to align your company with a popular cause – take your logo, overlay it with the rainbow, and post it to social media! Instant inclusivity. Your brand is now LGBTQ-friendly. Sit back and reap the retweets.

But putting your money – and policies, and values, and company culture – where your mouth is takes more than a few minutes of Photoshop. Making sure your company is LGBTQ-inclusive might seem daunting. It can mean bureaucratic changes, shifting HR policies, and rethinking your company culture. But the advantages outweigh the challenges. Here’s what you can do to support the LGBTQ community year-round.       

Adopt LGBTQ inclusive policies

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, produces the annual Corporate Equality Index, which rates Fortune 1000 companies on their inclusivity. They rate these companies on four main criteria: Non-discrimination policies across business entities (including contractors and vendors), equal benefits for LGBTQ workers and their families, internal education and accountability metrics to promote LGBTQ tolerance and inclusion, and public commitment to LGBTQ equality, including philanthropic efforts. In 2002, the first year the index was produced, 13 companies earned a perfect 100 rating. This year, 609 made the cut.

Corporate Equality Index Scores of Fortune 500 companies

Source: Human Rights Campaign

If 609 of America’s largest, most successful companies can earn a perfect score on equality, so can a 12-person startup. It’s as easy as extending the same rights and benefits to LGBTQ employees as you do to everyone else, and ensuring your employees that their gender or sexual orientation isn’t a fireable offense. It also means fostering a welcoming environment where the managers are aware and educated on minority communities and inclusion.

Don’t give your money to bigots

Besides for taking advertising money from bigots, a surefire way to alienate LGBTQ customers and employees is to give large sums of money to those bigots yourself. This was something that Coachella co-owner learned this year. Reports dug up Philip Anschutz’s history of donations to organizations that battle against LGBTQ rights and call homosexuality a “satanic perversion,” a view that’s at odds with Coachella’s hip, millennial, and diverse target audience.

Anschutz’s team claims that they’re committed to equality and that they may not have done their due diligence on charities to which they donate. This whole debacle could have been avoided by not donating to anti-gay organizations in the first place. When looking for organizations to donate to instead, check their stance on equality for all.

While there isn’t a ready database of anti-LGBTQ charities, for Americans, a cursory search on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website can assure you that you’re not giving to a designated hate group of any sort. There are a ton of charities out there, even faith-based ones, with an excellent track record on LGBTQ rights.    

Make it okay to come out

The tech, finance, and startup worlds have a reputation for being a “boy’s club.” These companies are composed mainly of white, heterosexual men who’ve known each other for years. They may not realize that some of their jokes – all meant in good fun – can echo the insensitive comments that have put down LGBTQ people their whole lives.

When LGBTQ employees walk into an office where intolerance is indulged by superiors – or even espoused by them – they realize they’ll have to invest effort in hiding a part of themselves. This will leave them demoralized, unmotivated, socially uninvested, and itching to get out.

Workplaces are social environments

Workplaces are as inclusive, or harmful, as their managers make them. Image: Annie Spratt

Casual conversation, from what you did over the weekend to discussions about family and home life, can mean outing yourself for an LGBTQ employee. And if coworkers have already made hostile comments – “I love gay men but lesbians gross me out,” or “I’m okay with what those people do as long as they keep it to themselves” or “trans women are just men in dresses” – it reaffirms that it isn’t a safe environment.  

So make sure your company culture and hiring policy line up with the image you want to project to the LGBTQ community (and women, and people of color). By alienating difference, companies are missing out on excellent employees and new ways to see the world.

Remember the T

Although society has made leaps and bounds in LGB acceptance and representation over the past few decades, progress on the “T” has been lagging behind. The corporate world can be even harder on people who fall under the trans umbrella. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than one in four transgender people reported being fired, passed up on jobs, or denied a promotion because of their gender identity.

A way to signal to trans employees and customers that your company welcomes them is to make sure your health care covers their medical needs. The Human Rights Campaign criteria includes short term medical leave, mental health benefits, medication coverage (for hormones, etc.), coverage for lab procedures, and coverage for sexual reassignment surgeries and the reconstructive surgeries that go with it. Of all the Fortune 500 companies, 58% offer these benefits.

Taylor, a non-binary character from Showtime's "Billions"

Gender non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon portrays Taylor Mason in Showtime’s “Billions.” Image: YouTube

Another way to make trans people feel comfortable in the workplace is to cultivate a language of respect. That means using their preferred pronouns. Remember when Taylor made their debut on Billions? A gender non-binary character, played by a non-binary actor, introduced themself to the CEO: “Hello sir, my name is Taylor. My pronouns are ‘they, theirs, and them.’” Axe, the CEO, didn’t bat an eye, and let Taylor go on being the analytical wizard they are while respecting their pronouns. Just this once, Axe should serve as an example to us all.  

It just makes sense.

Soon it’ll be July. The pride flags will come down, the parades will end, and advertising companies will stop making so many commercials full of cute gay families. But the LGBTQ community will continue existing, applying for jobs, and buying products and services.

So when your company has a well-earned reputation for inclusivity and equality, your staff will feel safer and more appreciated, and your customers will know that your values align with theirs. Zirra’s diverse team includes out LGBTQ and gender non-conforming employees who feel comfortable being themselves. For us, this has meant more productive and open conversations, a more cohesive team, and an environment where diversity is the norm. And everyone’s a little better off for it.