22 June2021

Embodying Pride

Photo Credit: Mena Sposito

by Adam Visconti

I consider myself one of the lucky ones to have the opportunity to work in an environment that is welcoming, diverse, inclusive, and fosters belonging for all of me – for all of who I am – every aspect of my identity, including my identity as someone who is LGBTQ+. Many people, though, are not able to bring their whole selves to work. For our workplaces to foster diversity and inclusion and promote equity and belonging, we all need to do our part. I have dedicated my career to coaching, collaboration, and change management, because I care deeply about engagement, belonging, and diversity, equity, and inclusion and because I believe we’re all at our best when we’re afforded equitable opportunities to participate with and learn from one another. But, as I noted, opportunities to work in equitable and inclusive organizations seem to be few and far between, and I have faced workplace discrimination and harassment due to my sexual orientation as a gay man. I moved across the country to a place where I thought I would be welcomed, but when I arrived, I experienced microaggression after microaggression almost immediately.

During my seven-year tenure at a university in New York, I was repeatedly called the wrong name. Instead of calling me Adam, I was called by the name of the only other gay man in my division even though we looked nothing alike. On my first on-call rotation, when dealing with a particularly upset customer, the customer’s husband snarled, “What do you even do at your job, other than suck dick?”

I was told I would never be promoted if I came out, and after someone delayed my promotion for several months as I worked both my job and the role I was applying for, I was told my new position did not come with a meal plan because the men who typically worked my position had wives who would make all of their meals. (So many assumptions were being made there: 1. That I would be married. 2. That I would be married to a woman. 3. That I would make her stay home and prepare all of my meals for me… I digress.)

I was also told that the position would no longer come with the provided parking space since I was not a parent. I eventually got the parking space, but when a vendor parked in the spot that was reserved for me and I asked him not to do it again, he shouted, “What are you gonna do, you fucking faggot, call the police?”

During a performance appraisal with my supervisor, he told me that my work output was great but that my personality was distracting. It was fine when I was not "too Adam." I could be "half Adam," but when I went "full Adam," it was unprofessional: I spoke with too much passion and gestured with my hands too much. I was warned that I needed to “know my place” and be careful not to stick my neck out for fear of it being cut off. I was specifically told that I needed to be aware of my “identity” and that I should act more “White Protestant” to stop getting negative feedback from superiors.

I was constantly being told that I did not belong, that I was not welcome, and that I needed to be different. I felt increasingly insecure in my role and started liking my job less and less. I started wearing bright colors less often, too, and began combing my hair over so I would look like the other (straight, White) men at the table, but I began working behind the scenes to change the culture, change the policies and procedures, and change the minds of the people with whom I was working.

And I did. I worked with other university administrators to create a simple process for students to correct their names and pronouns on university records including on their ID cards and professors’ rosters. We developed and instituted a policy that required the creation of all-gender accessible restrooms in all renovated and newly constructed buildings on campus, and the number of accessible gender-inclusive restrooms on campus has increased to more than 50. We established gender-inclusive housing on campus, wrote the university’s guide to inclusive language, founded an alumni group for those who are LGBTQ+, and in 2018, I was given the president’s award for excellence in service due to my efforts and dedication to the university. When I left my position there to join the Collective at Five to Flow, I knew I had left my mark on the university and had made incredible connections with wonderful colleagues who I still stay in touch with today. Now, the university ranks as a top campus for LGBTQ+ friendliness in New York and is less than four percent away from reaching the highest status on the Campus Pride Index.

I am so proud of, grateful for, and humbled by the progress that the LGBTQ+ community and our allies have made at the university, in the United States, and globally, and there is still so much work to be done. Since this is Pride Month, here are some of the things you can do to make your workplace more welcoming for you and your colleagues who are LGBTQ+. (Remember, these practices will help all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Just ask my non-existent, imaginary wife who my former boss assumed would stay home and make all of my meals for me. Heteronormativity and strict gender roles hurt everyone.)

  1. Don’t assume.​ Take the time and make an effort to get to know your colleagues and employees. When you do get to know them, show your respect for them by treating them with the same dignity as you would their straight counterparts and treat their partners as you would a straight colleagues’ partners (e.g., Don’t ask about your male colleague’s wife and choose not to ask about your female colleague’s wife.). At the same time, don’t assume that your colleague will be comfortable with or wants to share about their sexual orientation or gender identity; assuming you can “spot one” is another form of homophobia or transphobia.
  2. Use gender-inclusive language.​ Replace gendered language with non-gendered terms (e.g., replace chairman with chair; husbands and wives with spouses and partners; ladies and gentlemen with distinguished guests). If your company lists “he” or “he or she” as the common pronoun(s) in written documents, change it to the singular “they” or restructure the sentence to be plural (e.g., change “A new employee can have his or her ID card made in the central office.” to “New employees can have their ID cards made in the central office.”) Please know I am not prohibiting you from using the language you tend to use (a husband is free to refer to his wife in conversation). Still, standardized documents and communication should be more inclusive. (Don’t ever use offensive language, and if you are alerted that your language is offensive, apologize and work to understand the impact your words can have.)
  3. Create spaces that demonstrate inclusivity. These can be created through physical changes such as signs that show single-stall restrooms are all-gender restrooms rather than unisex restrooms or by simply having a visible symbol of support like a small rainbow flag in your office. You can also demonstrate inclusivity by adding your pronouns to your email signature, company profiles, and business cards in a show of support, welcome, safety, and inclusion to those who may wish to express their pronouns. Update your company’s non-discrimination policy to prohibit any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Then, enforce these policies and demonstrate your commitment to the LGBTQ+ community by offering benefits to your employees’ same-sex partners and providing your employees and their partners with trans-inclusive healthcare plans. Intervene whenever you hear a joke or offensive comments aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. Set an example by being open, inclusive, and respectful. These things will go a long way to change the culture at your organization.
  4. Learn more.​ Ask questions of your organization such as, “How would it rank in terms of LGBTQ+ inclusivity?” Educate yourself about LGBTQ+ history. Read, research, and unlearn messages that you have been taught about people who are LGBTQ+, and don’t expect your LGBTQ+ colleague to speak on behalf of all non-cisgender or non-heterosexual identities. If you or your employees need training regarding LGBTQ+ topics, including how homophobia and transphobia affect people in your workplace, or if you have specific questions, please email me at adam@fivetoflow.com. I am happy to help in any way I can. And if you’ve been wondering what LGBTQ+ stands for this whole time, please don’t be ashamed to ask. (I’m using it as a shorthand, umbrella term that includes people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, and more.)
  5. Do something to promote equity for those who are LGBTQ+.​ Supporting your diverse colleagues can’t be limited to changing your company’s logo to a rainbowed version for 30 days. Instead, consider donating to or volunteering with the Trevor Project, GLSEN, the Ali Forney Center, ILGA, GATE, the HRC, or other organizations in your area. Start by doing whatever you can wherever you are. I’m not asking you to do everything, but I do ask that everyone reading this does something.

I am by no means an expert on all things LGBTQ+, but I can say without a doubt that being gay has impacted me personally and professionally. I was hesitant to share my story for many years, so if you are hesitant to share yours, know that is okay, too. I’m still working to be “full Adam,” and I hope that expressing my voice here helps you be more of who you are and want to become and empowers you to support your colleagues, friends, and family in doing the same – this month and always.

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