OPINION: Pride was cancelled. Businesses should take that time to reflect

by Rob Barrie | Perkbox
Thursday, 30 July 2020 08:51 GMT

Demonstrators wearing face masks kiss as they take part in the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) pride march in London, Britain, June 27, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The hiatus on official Pride celebrations gives businesses time to reflect on LGBT+ employee mental health and diversity & inclusion

Rob Barrie is a writer for employee experience platform Perkbox

Lockdown hit parts of society harder than others – that includes groups within the LGBT+ community. Overnight, people lost their support networks. For many LGBT+ people, those networks played a critical part in regulating their mental and emotional wellbeing.

The past few months presented a sheer test on resilience; a time of great personal sacrifice determining whether we could withstand anxiety, inertia, sickness and isolation for the wider health and preservation of society.

Meanwhile, it seemed the concerns and crises surrounding COVID-19 would consume every other important fight for social justice. That was until the atrocities of systemic racism saw the Black Lives Matter movement mobilise once again with a more vehement directive for meaningful change.

People’s patience, already threadbare from quarantine, took to protesting in the streets globally, energised by the principle that campaigning against racial injustice superseded the rationale for lockdown.

This year, other important awareness days and campaigns have all been put on ice or lost amid the maelstrom of COVID-related news. And of course, the annual celebrations of a Pride parade have been cancelled.

Hence why it’s even more important for the hiatus to be filled with self-reflection, individually and from a corporate perspective too – because the racially fuelled incidents that occurred in the US directly affect some of the most marginalised in the LGBT+ community.

And, much like Black Lives Matter, Pride is about making the marginalised both acknowledged and heard with humanity and acceptance.  

Governments failed to move the needle on equality and social justice. But businesses have the power to lead by example and facilitate change for those who – by accident of birth – enter a lifelong contract of disadvantage. If ethics aren’t the driver for organisations to reform, then unemotive evidence showing how diversity and inclusion makes commercial sense must be heeded.

This year’s data from Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers 2020 tells a mixed story.

While trans employees report a drop in negative conduct, they still feel workplaces lack inclusivity. Plus, there’s a 15% decrease in lesbian and gay employees who say they’d feel comfortable coming out at work.

Of course, minorities within minorities are the hardest hit.

As the economy flatlines, many LGBT+ people are forced to move into unsafe spaces. Unable to afford rent, many moved back to unaccepting families where they face a choice between open hostility or going back into the closet.

This affects the BAME and trans communities the worst, often facing greater levels of hostility and discrimination. BAME LGBT+ people are also disproportionately affected by homelessness. As job losses and furlough schemes prevail, so does the impact on the most vulnerable.

I came out as gay aged 19. It was a proud moment, beginning living life authentically. But when I left university and got a job, I had a new bunch of people to tell. And I had to find the “right” time again to reveal the full picture of my true identity. Coming out isn’t a one-time thing; it’s something that one has to do over and over. After a while it stops being empowering and starts getting stressful.

Pride’s messages of embracing identities that have long been a cause for shame and persecution still stands even as the 2020 parades fall silent. Businesses can still honour commitments to make organisations inclusive and diverse. Mental and emotional wellbeing of employees has never been more fragile under the constraints of lockdown and gross injustices that signify – as a human race – we have still a long way to go.

Yet we must still let our most vulnerable employees know that we’re here for them - now more than ever.


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