Those of you who follow my personal Facebook and Twitter page may have noticed that I recently undertook training in the area of LGBTIQ+ workplace inclusion. A lot of people are asking, why is this even necessary?
Recently, the Director General launched a policy that demonstrates Queensland Education’s commitment to inclusion and diversity, for the benefit of its workforce. This includes the training of liaison officers to support employees coping with discrimination and coming out. Likewise, it aims to educate its teachers and leadership teams on the necessity of intentional inclusionary practices in our schools.
Overall, individuals who identify as LGBTI still experience discrimination and exclusion that impacts their working outcomes and mental health. This can be exacerbated with employers who have freedom of religion. This gives the church and its institutions carte blanche to behave in ways that would be deemed unlawful in state institutions (for example, in schools, healthcare settings, and universities). On a human level, many of these actions are out of step with Australian values and modern legal precedents.
One question I am asked frequently is, in what ways can employers still realistically discriminate? I thought it would be worthwhile to provide a succinct guide that outlines some of what I have experienced or read about, in the hopes that it could help someone else in a similar situation.
1. Any leave provisions that other employees can access may not be applicable to gays, lesbians, or other employees.
In this, I am referring to leave that a person may take in order to deal with life business. One example is wedding leave. Because a same-sex union is not recognised by the church or by some individuals, an employer can make it difficult to access this provision. Likewise, carer’s leave or medical leave accessed for the purpose of obtaining fertility treatment can be deemed a ‘lifestyle choice.’ I have personally dealt with this particular issue as I requested leave to attend IVF appointments. This ongoing denial of my own humanity triggered clinical anxiety and I started having panic attacks every morning before work. In the same workplace, I was forced to participate in many work events outside of working hours, which I was not paid for. Another consideration is part-time work; this can be denied at the employer’s discretion and this becomes more likely if they are not a fan of your life circumstances. It was incredibly difficult to watch all my peer’s families celebrated and provided for when I was battling.
Until you have had to take a false sick day in order to start your family, I cannot hear you say that sexuality does not matter in the workplace and that diversity and inclusion is not needed in every context.
2. Your life and relationships may be put into the public forum for discussion or “spiritual development.”
I am not kidding when I say that one employer I worked for suggested having an all-staff Bible study about homosexuality, to allow people to ‘air’ and ‘grapple with’ their views on the matter, before suggesting that this could be a good opportunity for me to come out. I sought specific legal advice on this matter and the idea was soon canned. The advice I received as that if I was being targeted at work, then I could legally take the day off and still be paid in the event that this Bible study went ahead. I’m glad to say that these events are not common, but it was quite upsetting at the time. Getting out of the system before the plebiscite occurred was a God-send.
3. Social and professional engagement is limited when diversity and inclusion are not done well.
You may end up working in a school that prides itself on “community”, which can be a thinly-veiled word to describe unprofessional online connections between staff and clients/parents. However, if your personal life is deemed as “controversial”, you will be summarily excluded from this engagement. For some, this may be a blessing, but it can definitely put you on the periphery in an institution where this is the normal way of working. I have personally had my online commenting privileges monitored and there was a time when I felt I couldn’t even comment on articles related to gay rights, let alone publish a book about it myself. Everyone weighs up their own contributions, but I could not live like that.
If you are feeling excluded or discriminated against, there is support out there. This resource has a range of liaison services and legal advice that you can access, I have personally accessed a few of these at times when the Independent Education Union could no longer assist me due to the complexity of my case. Moving into the public sector provided me with more protections, but this isn’t always possible for everyone.
If your working environment is causing you to feel mentally unwell, this resource is valuable reading. The important thing to remember is that you are not alone, even if your current circumstances seem complex and difficult.