Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Stonewall 100 and Bisexuals At Work

Today Stonewall presents its annual list of the UK's top employers for LGBT staff.

The "Workplace Equality Index" is one of the organisations key programmes these days, after 25 years of campaigning for, and sometimes against, legal changes to establish either lesbian and gay or LGBT equality.

Bisexual exclusion in LGB or LGBT spaces is nothing new, though there is an encouraging trend to address it in workplace staff networks. At BiPhoria, the UK's longest-running bisexual organisation, we've been working with employers and voluntary organisations on bisexual inclusion since the late 1990s, when the more switched-on groups started to address this.

Research over the past decade on workplace experience for bi people tells us two key things. First, that simply having an LGBT network in place made a big difference to how comfortable gay and lesbian people were about being out at work; but no difference to bisexual staff. Second, that while around 50% of gay staff feel they can safely be out at work, bi women are half as likely to feel they can be out at work as are lesbians or gay men - and bi men only half as likely again. When seven out of eight bisexual men feel they need to mask their sexual orientation to get by at work, we've still got a lot to do.

To me, that reflects the wider 'gay scene' where in the 80s and 90s there was widespread prejudice towards and exclusion of bi people. Back then Unison's lesbian & gay network expelled bi members, the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard would not let bi volunteers work on its phonelines, and bars on Manchester's Canal Street had "no bisexuals" door policies.

There has been a tendency when moving from "LG" to "LGB" or "LGBT" organising to welcome the "gay side" of bisexual people - which of course we don't have, any more than an English person is just a Welsh side and a Scottish side put together. We're entirely bisexual.

But if your LGBT group is having a women's night out and your lesbian colleagues can bring their girlfriends, do you feel you can bring your husband, or do you feel a bit less welcome?

If your posters and policies in the workplace talk about homophobia and transphobia, are you challenging biphobia - including biphobia from gay and lesbian staff?

What can employee networks do?

- Understand that you don't start with a clean slate: for example Unison's LGBT group spent several years getting from the initial change from LG to LGBT to having a thriving bi network, because they had to undo the effects of past bi exclusion.
- Collaborate with local bi organisations around the country like BiPhoria. There's a list of them on the Bi Community News website.
- Put Bi Visibility Day (September 23rd) squarely on your activity plan for the year alongside events like Trans Day Of Remembrance.
- Be conscious about language; it's easy to slip from "LGBT" into "gay", yet it sends a message about which parts of the LGBT communities are welcome and the centre of your attention.
- Assume some of your staff are bisexual. Including some of the people who you've read as being gay or straight.
- Outreach work such as advertising in bi press like Bi Community News, sponsoring or otherwise supporting events like BiCon and BiReCon.

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