Voices of Experience: LGBT Visibility in the Workplace

by guest blogger Milaina Manganaro, Campus Engagement Ambassador for the Faculty of Arts.

After attending the Voices of Experience panel focused on the LGBT community, I can honestly say that I have never been to an event that made me feel more appreciated for my uniqueness. The most important thing I learned from this event was that we must make sure that as members of the LGBT community, we are both visible and safe in the workplace. Our diversity is part of the strength of Toronto but in some circumstances, it can be dangerous. There is a very real concern that it may be unsafe in certain workplaces to reveal that you are part of the LGBT community. However, I endorse the belief of Danielle Araya who stated that with endurance, energy, and strength, we can create small ripples by exposing people to diverse identities that lead to large-scale change like creating a safe, inclusive space in the workplace. With the right support networks, this is definitely possible.

The question I thought was most intriguing, asked by the moderator, Councillor Kristin Wong-Tam, was: How much of you should you reveal in your workplace? One of the most compelling answers for me was stated by Catherine Meade, who said that it is important to bring your whole self to work and that might include sharing your gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Personally, I have struggled with this as a woman who does not feel as though she fits into any category pertaining to sexuality. I do not identify as heterosexual nor homosexual nor bisexual nor any of the other classifications that I have come across. This made me wonder: how would I come out with no label? During the panel, I realized that I don’t necessarily have to come out as a member of the LGBT community in order to bring my whole self to the workplace. As Dr. Marc Narayansingh said at the panel, it is not common for straight people to come out to their coworkers as heterosexual. Why should I? Instead, I can be just as happy and fulfilled by sharing that I am currently dating someone who identifies as a woman without having a label on my sexuality. I think it is important for us all to figure out how we want to present our unique identities in the workplace.

Your identity consists of several characteristics and factors that people tend to ignore. Instead, they focus solely on your race or on your sexuality. I agree with Catherine Meade who claimed that people are not just one thing. I believe that bringing my whole self to the workplace is more than just coming out as LGBT, as many of the panelists mentioned. If you are going to express your sexual orientation then why not express your culture, your background, your religion, your favourite sports team, and your hobbies and interests? I think that if we focus solely on revealing our sexuality, this further stigmatizes the LGBT community and allows people to refer to us as “the lesbian” as opposed to the person who is lesbian and an accountant and a Blue Jays fan, or the “transgender guy” as opposed to the person who identifies as a male and who is a father and a dancer. In order to bring our whole selves to work, we must be seen as more than just our sexuality.

The Voices of Experience events are innovative opportunities to learn valuable information that may broaden your understanding of yourself and the world in which you live. There are so many ways of learning and so many people we can learn from. Unfortunately, the education system tends to focus on one mode of learning: professors teaching through lectures. Voices of Experience events, on the other hand, allow you to ask important questions to community leaders who are highly immersed in the topic, whether it be the LGBT community, disability, or the upcoming event which will focus on the retail sector. I encourage you to pick a Voices of Experience topic that you are intrigued by and come out to hear the various perspective of the Voices of Experience, or catch up on the sessions you missed by reading other blog posts here.

The reason I am promoting this series of events is not because I have signed up to write the blog for this event, as some might assume. It is because I have a passion for promoting mental health and well-being and I have begun working on a project that has to do with engaging diverse members of the community and making resources more accessible. What does this have to do with the topic of the LGBT community? I feel as though many mental health professionals may be ignorant to the fact that the same treatment that might benefit one person may not be applicable to all members of the LGBT Community. The idea of equity suggests that we are all unique persons with unique needs and I genuinely believe that mental health services should do a better job of accommodating their treatments to reflect the very real issues that members of the LGBT community face. After attending the Voices of Experience panel on the LGBT community and the workplace, I have more confidence that I will be able to develop services that will better serve diverse populations.