Be a Workplace Ally

Support Your LGBT Coworkers and Coworkers with HIV

Allies find supportive ways to interact with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and HIV positive co-workers.

  • Earn trust and be a friend. Recognize the individuality of all of your co-workers. Make people feel comfortable being out and open to you about their relationships and families. Wear LGBT-friendly buttons or post stickers in your work area. Never "out" somebody or treat a person with HIV as if they are "contagious." If you learn that one of your coworkers is HIV positive, don't disclose his or her HIV status to anyone else without the person's permission. Be respectful of issues of privacy, comfort and safety.
  • Educate yourself about the forms of discrimination that your LGBT co-workers and co-workers with HIV face, as well as facts about HIV infection. Ignorance about how HIV is transmitted contributes to HIV stigma and discrimination. Read the works of LGBT authors; watch films and documentaries by and about LGBT people and people with HIV. Pay attention to media stories about HIV and LGBT issues.
  • Expand your perceptions. Do not make assumptions about people's sexual orientation or gender identity based on feminine and masculine stereotypes. Practice challenging the ideas you form about whether or not someone is straight, male or female.
  • Pay attention to the language you use. Don't be afraid to say "lesbian," "gay," "bisexual," and "transgender" or "LGBT" when it is appropriate. Instead of referring to a "wife" or "husband," try "partner," or "significant other." If you work with transgender people, find out what pronoun they choose to describe themselves — and use it! Don't use the phrase "AIDS victim," which implies defeat, and remember that HIV positive people are only occasionally "patients." When you refer to someone as a "person living with HIV," you show respect.

Allies take steps to change discriminatory practices and policies and encourage others to be allies.

  • Demand a respectful work culture for all of your co-workers from all of your co-workers. Train yourself to "interrupt" homophobic, racist, and sexist statements and actions. Similarly, don't participate in or condone speculation or comments about co-workers HIV status or negative comments about people living with HIV. Look people in the eye and make simple statements such as "Please don't use that language around me" or "I don't agree with that." If you do not feel comfortable interrupting bad behavior as it is happening, you can talk to participants afterwards to tell them how you feel.
  • Get it in "writing." Learn the mechanism for changing employee policies and find a way to participate. Ask your employer to add language about respectful workplaces, sexual orientation, gender identification and HIV status to their employee handbooks, including reasonable dress code and restroom accommodations for transgender people. If you are in a union, mobilize to add protections for LGBT people and people with HIV to any contract you negotiate with your employer. Demand that the partners and families of LGBT people be given the same benefits as the rest of the staff.
  • Monitor hiring, promotion, termination and disciplinary practices at your workplace. If you witness discrimination against a co-worker, report it to the appropriate person. If you consider candidates for jobs or promotions, scrutinize any bias you or others may have against LGBT people or people with HIV. Recognize that some people living with HIV need (and are legally entitled to) a reasonable accommodation to perform their work. If a co-worker is being accommodated — for instance, being allowed to take time off to visit a doctor — be sensitive to that person's needs.
  • Encourage your employer to present workshops on sexual orientation, gender identification and HIV status. Participate in the planning of these workshops to make sure that they are practical, respectful and effective.
  • Support your co-workers' right to form an LGBT employee group. Stay informed about any workplace concerns this group identifies. If they have a newsletter, read it. Attend events or meetings that are open to allies. Recruit other allies to participate.
  • Invite the partners and families of LGBT people to all social events (company picnics, holiday parties, etc.) Make a conscious effort to welcome and engage everyone, without making them feel conspicuous or uncomfortable.

Allies understand that the fight for civil rights goes far beyond the workplace. They are visible, public and comprehensive in their support of LGBT and HIV positive co-workers.

  • Advocate for change. Some states have employment protections for LGBT people. If yours doesn't, work with national and statewide LGBT organizations to advocate to your legislators for these protections. Fight any legislation, such as an anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, that discriminates against the LGBT community and people with HIV. Write letters to your newspapers' editors.
  • Join Lambda Legal's "Out at Work" campaign.
  • Volunteer with groups that work on behalf of equal rights for LGBT people and people with HIV. Help to connect LGBT and HIV civil rights to the broader fight for civil and economic rights and a just society. Participate in Pride events and educational forums featuring LGBT and HIV rights. Introduce this issue to groups (i.e. churches, parent teacher associations) that may not yet incorporate it into their work.
Lambda Legal Web Feature
April 23, 2007