queer perspectives: my inclusive and supportive workplace
If you passed me in the corridor at work you wouldn’t assume I am a lesbian. I look neither butch nor femme. In my dress, make-up and hairstyle I appear to conform to traditional notions of a feminine appearance. Sometimes I wear badges featuring LGBTQI symbols or pin-up girls, subtly expressing my sexuality. Although I don’t ‘broadcast’ my lesbianism through appearance, I am out at work and my colleagues know I share my life with a woman.
I work in research administration at one of the top universities in Australia. A place of learning, research, and inclusivity. There is an acceptance of LGBTQI staff and students. In my first job at the university, I found acceptance of both my sexuality and that of others. I worked with two out lesbian women and my boss was a vocal supporter of LGBTQI rights. When I moved to my current job in one of the university’s off faculties, I was fascinated to find an avid interest in the lives of LGBTQI people and the issues they encounter. Some researchers in the faculty study the psychological aspects of interactions of LGBTQI individuals with the straight community. Others look at human sexuality, including homosexuality, and the enigma of the female orgasm.
I feel comfortable being out at work. I talk with ease about my partner, S, our life together and what we did on the weekend or on holiday. I feel I can talk about my personal life in the same way my straight colleagues do. Two months ago S set off on a working holiday in the UK and my conversations at work have turned to her travel adventures and how I am handling the physical separation. I was quite touched the other week when my boss, who is straight and the same age as me, told me that ‘she understands that it must be hard with S being away.’
Recently an openly gay male colleague wandered into the office I share with my boss to grab a mint. There are always mints and chocolates in the office. As he and I chatted he noticed the photos of S on my desk and asked ‘Is that your sister?’, I said ‘no, she’s my partner.’ There was a sense of surprise in his voice. Perhaps he hadn’t even thought I could be gay too. He told me that he and his partner had been together for twelve years. Suddenly conscious of time, he turned to leave, but as he did he said I should do training on the Ally Program. I replied that I had already signed up.
The Ally Program provides a network of people, ‘Allies,’ across the university that LGBTQI students and staff can go to for non-judgemental support on issues such as discrimination, harassment and homophobia. The network also works to promote an inclusive and supportive environment for LGBTQI individuals. Posters and signs for the network are clearly visible across the university encouraging a sense of acceptance for LGBTQI people, indicating that ‘there is somewhere you can go’ if you need to talk. To become an Ally, staff receive training on the diverse issues faced by LGBTQI individuals, and ways to offer support and guidance.
I first learnt of the Ally Program not long after I started working at the university when I picked up a flyer. The flyer featured a rainbow coloured upside down triangle, immediately recognisable as being associated with LGBTQI issues, and described the program. I thought the program was a fantastic idea and wondered how I could become an ‘Ally.’ As time passed work got extremely hectic and I delayed getting involved in the program. Then early this year after changing jobs I noticed an Ally training course when signing up for some work related training. I signed up for the Ally training immediately! I checked with my boss regarding taking a day off to do the training and she was happy for me to do it. The time has come. I am attending the training this week.
I am looking forward to the training. I’m not sure what to expect, but I have some ideas of what I would like to get out of it. I want to be someone LGBTQI students and staff can go to for support, for understanding, or just to talk. Through being an ‘Ally’ I can help those that are less fortunate than myself. I personally haven’t had many issues with coming out nor faced discrimination based on my sexuality, but I know that other LGBTQI people do. I hope to be actively involved in the network, and help maintain the inclusive and accepting environment that has been established at the university. An environment that has allowed me to feel accepted and comfortable with being out at work.