LGBT Community Beratung

LGBT and Homophobia in the Workplace

In the age of artificial intelligence, gene manipulation, and the dreams of vacations on other planets, tomorrow’s models of society are viewed partly with enthusiasm, partly with awe. At the same time, billions of people have the same mindsets and attitudes as millennia ago. The debate about sexual orientation and gender identity is such a topic that has been emotionally moving mankind ever since. Although today’s Western legislation protects the LGBT * community from discrimination, many feel disturbed by their lifestyle. Verbal and physical attacks remain common in the workplace. In such a context, Swiss law emphasizes the employer’s responsibility.

*LGBT = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender

“My name is Remy, I’m 23, artist and on stage, my name is Leona Winter “,explains Rémy Solé at the beginning of the show” The Voice of France “. During the day he is Remy and at night he is Leona. He prefers the night.

“When I’m Leona, I get positive looks at myself As a man, I already draw attention to myself, but negatively, because I’m too feminine.” In my youth, I had many problems at school. I experienced many insults and attacks. I was mocked and insulted, “ he says, visibly moved.

According to a study by the University of Geneva (UNIGE), 70% of homosexuals say they have witnessed discrimination within the past three years. Often the discrimination is not directly addressed to them, but it is clearly felt in the working environment. Jokes, prejudices, and clichés, especially against the gays, poison the working atmosphere. The vocabulary used in the subject of homosexuality brings to light a despicable, hostile perception of this sexual orientation and its followers. Nancy, poof, pansy, queen, dyke, porter, fag, are just a few examples of common offensive words. On a toilet door was written: “All homosexuals should be ashamed!” reported one respondent. Typical comments that were reported in the workplace by other respondents include: “You can not hire this guy because he does not fit in, he’s too gay,” or “As long as the homos stay aside, there’s no worry,” or “If he’s gay, he should not touch me. ” Lesbians report a different kind of comment: “Female homosexuality is due to an abundance of testosterone” their authors say. In a recent Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC) survey, 43% of LGBT employees say they hear jokes about bisexual people. Jokes are perfidious weapons that always obscure the context with ambiguity, leaving the victim with no choice but to laugh or be silent.

“After saying that I was part of the organization of a Pride, some people did not talk to me for many months, and later just the usual greetings.”

Homosexuals are often bullied in the workplace. The table below summarizes the frequency of cases of discrimination reported by persons interviewed in Switzerland.

Obscene comments and gesture29.5 %
Stamping due to gender behavior25.5 %
Outing21.8 %
Stamping due to sexual orientation20.8 %
Sexual harassment20.4 %
Exclusion from informal social activities18.8 %
Question the professional competence16.8 %
Exclusion from the team14 %

Source: UNIGE, study “Être LGBT au travail”, 2018

The statistics in the table express an average man / woman. Lesbians are more often victims of obscene comments and gestures (34.1%) as well as sexual harassment (26.8%) than gays.

Transgender-people, in shorts “trans”**,  are more frequently stigmatized than gays and lesbians. According to the UNIGE-Study, in 38.3% of cases they are excluded from their team and in 52% they are discriminated because of their gender behavior.

What people should not ignore is that both direct and indirect verbal attacks are discrimination and violations of human rights and therefore punishable in many cases. Swiss civil law considers even general remarks directed against the LGBT community as a whole, such as “Homosexuality is abominable” or “All trans are perverted”, as a violation of personality. Such an infringement occurs as soon as the prosecutor can make clear that the remarks are clearly offensive and that there is a clear link between the remarks and his own person. Even the mere disclosure of a person’s sexual orientation is considered a violation of their honor when it occurs in a hostile environment and causes the recipients to change their mind or behavior towards that person. Thus, the protection of workers against human rights violations falls into the employer’s obligation.

[**]Persons, who change their gender physically

“From experience I have learned that in a professional context it is better not to divulge anything about your private life in order to avoid discrimination. That’s why I did not reveal anything about my sexual orientation in the workplace early on. “

It is not surprising that the risk of discrimination has a significant inhibiting effect on the outing decision. For homosexuals and if their behavior does not suggest too much on their sexual orientation, the decision remains a very difficult thing. This is largely dependent on the prevailing operating climate at the work place. Typically, those affected first seek answers to the following questions:

  • Do I feel the working environment is sufficiently safe and open?
  • Is my job stable?
  • Do I have enough years of service?
  • Are the relationships with my colleagues and supervisors good enough? Are they open in this context?

For the trans, the situation looks different. They are transparent as soon as their physical transformation has taken place. Then, there is no question about their outing anymore. However, before signing a contract of employment, it is necessary for a trans person to inform the employer about their gender status, if their physical transformation is ongoing and their original gender status remains unchanged. No need to say, that after employment, the employer is required to protect and respect her personality as well as that of all workers in the context of her professional interactions. This is because sexual orientation and gender identity are parts of the personality. As a reminder, the duty of the employer to protect the personality of his employees covers their physical, moral and social integrity, as well as their physical health, their privacy and their individual freedoms.

“Anyway, despite the fact that they said to me, ‘Oh yeah, your CV is really good, you’re the person we’re looking for’ and then nothing happened… I realized it was because I was transgender. “

The issue of discrimination and protection of LGBT people in the workplace is very complex. The trans are particularly exposed. Their unemployment is 20% in Switzerland. 30.8% of respondents in the context of the UNIGE study answer that they have lost their jobs because of being trans. Their visibility makes them particularly vulnerable to aggression in their environment and in public. The transformation process sometimes takes several years. Since 1973 in the US and 1992 in France, homosexuality is officially no longer considered a mental disorder. This is not the case for the transgender. The American classification of mental disorders of the American Psychiatrist Association considers transgender as a mental disorder (DSM-5, Sexual Dysphoria, p. 619).

«I was harassed for 2 years by my new direct supervisor and a colleague. I complained to the social service and human resources department. Nobody did anything. I had depression, followed by a 100% job loss (17 months) with a tendency to commit suicide. I was 50% re-employed 2 months ago in another department. Despite my request, the employer has always refused to analyze the circumstances that I had to experience in my workplace for 2 years. “

Practical questions posed to an executive relating to the trans-people include: Can a trans man visit the women’s toilets as soon as he has changed physically? What if female colleagues do not wish him there? How to resolve the conflict when the trans insists on using his or her female name and other team members defiantly ignore his request and continue to address him or her with his male name. How should managers and HR managers react in terms of trans-person performance losses? These are just a few of the many questions that arise in such a case. The texts of Swiss civil, labor, and criminal law can help to avoid grossly negligent mistakes. However, maintaining a tolerant and integrative working environment is of crucial importance. This is the responsibility of the organization as a whole as well as of the respective executives concerned. The protection of all employees requires the provision of suitable precautions. Managers must actively address latent or deferred conflicts. Treating homophobia as a cavalier offense is definitely not an option.

Author: Noureddine Yous, 20.06.2019

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