Workplace Guides: Straight Allies

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Straight Allies at Every Level

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Straight people at any level in an organisation, even those without management responsibilities, can have a significant positive impact on people's behaviour and help to make their workplace more gay-friendly. The motivations for these straight allies often stem from personal values.

"You just do it because you believe in it - you have to. If you don't stand up for what you believe, you're just a spineless jellyfish. And really what's the worst that can happen if you step in with a few words to say something's not right? For me, that doesn't take a hell of a lot of balls." Martin, Graphic Designer

"I just don't think that people should be treated any differently just because they may not be heterosexual. I don't see that it makes them any different to anyone else." Louise Bailey, Permitting Officer, Environment Agency

TIP: Talk to your gay friends and colleagues about what challenges they face at work

Many are inspired to stand up for gay equality at work because they have gay friends or family-members.

"Members of my family are gay - they're not an alien race. They're my closest family members in every way. I'd stick up for my sister if she was being picked on. I don't think about it. I just do it because you believe in it. I don't go out of my way to be a guardian of gay rights - that's not what it's about. It's just instinctive." Martin, Graphic Designer

"My inspiration is my friends. I feel privileged to have gay friends because I see a side of society that a lot of straight people don't. They have this illusion that gay people are 'like this and they do this' but they're actually not. My gay friends taught me a lot of things so I feel I should return that to them in the best possible way I can." Alex Little, IT Manager

Some meanwhile recognise that being a straight ally has helped distinguish them from their colleagues.

"It does give you some visibility that you care about it. So from a completely non-altruistic perspective it's an opportunity to be noticed, to show that you  are and to be involved in things that aren't your day to day work, but which are still incredibly important and valued by the organisation." Corey Dixon, Associate, The Parthenon Group

"It affects everyone so it's important that straight people do pick up on inappropriate stuff they hear because that will really help gay colleagues that aren't out at work. They might leave work because there's a lot of homophobic 'banter' - so you could lose a good employee just because of stupid conversations in the office." Alex Little, IT Manager

Straight allies agree that one of the most effective ways to make a difference is to challenge homophobic behaviour. They know that this type of negative workplace culture affects everyone in an organisation.

"A joke email went round - the punch line was at the expense of gay people. It was sent to lots of people, and everybody was replying saying 'That's really funny', and adding to what I felt was the insult to gay people. I replied 'I didn't find it funny, and in fact I found it insulting'. Included in the email were a few gay people but it wasn't on their behalf that I did it. I just felt I wouldn't find it funny to joke about being black, being a gypsy or any kind of stereotype. It just seems cheap, and a bit like being a bully." Martin, Graphic Designer

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TIP: Use personal examples to explain why gay equality is important to you

Simply explaining to colleagues why something they've said is inappropriate is often an effective way to make them think about it and to change their behaviour.

"If you feel it's bad you should speak up - it shouldn't be seen as just the diversity person's responsibility. There are very few organisations that won't support you in that. Personally I wouldn't work at a firm where I didn't have that support." Corey Dixon, Associate, The Parthenon Group

"We've all been bullied at some time. Sometimes it takes that voice to stand up. If someone's doing something that you don't believe in, you should have the courage in your convictions to say what you believe. It's a fundamental thing to do. You don't want to be sheep all your life. You need to lead as well." Martin, Graphic Designer

"I was on the help desk and a colleague used the phrase 'that's so gay' so I pulled him up. I said 'that's derogatory towards gay people. One of them argued and said 'no, it's fine, I've got gay friends and they don't mind'. I said 'well, it's not - it's like saying someone's stupid.' We actually had someone on the help desk who was gay but not out. That's partly why I did it and from that point they stopped using that term." Alex Little, IT Manager

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TIP: Become an ally or friend of your LGB network group

Using personal examples and stories to demonstrate why gay equality is important to them helps straight allies raise it in a natural way when talking to colleagues.

"You don't have to wear a badge to say 'I'm gay-friendly'. It's more subtle than that but by talking about stuff like having been to gay clubs and civil partnerships and about your own family members who are gay - just letting somebody know that it's an everyday part of your life - may put them at ease with how they feel about their own life. My boss was gay, but it was a predominantly male, stereotypically male work environment so he was never open about his family or his partner. He knew I had close family members that are gay and that made him more comfortable around me to talk about it." Martin, Graphic Designer

"There's a role for straight people to openly talk about their gay friends. Just doing that sends a message that there are gay people out there and they are my friends and they're exactly the same - it makes no difference. When it's more talked about people become less willing to attack it." Corey Dixon, Associate, The Parthenon Group

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TIP: Ask your managers what they're doing to make your team or workplace more gay friendly

Talking positively and actively about gay equality is also another way for straight people to help make their workplaces more gay-friendly and to spread the message that it is important.

"The kids look up to me a bit because I play rugby so hopefully some of those kids will believe what I believe, which is in equal opportunities. When I'm in schools talking about it, the first question the kids have got for me is 'are you gay?' And I say 'no, I'm not', and then they'll ask 'why are you doing this then?' And my answer is 'I think it's important for everybody to be treated equally and I think everybody should be able to be themselves', and I think that's the best answer I can give." Mitch Stringer, Player, Sheffield Eagles Rugby League Football Club

Straight allies feel strongly that clear messages about the importance of gay equality from more senior staff gives them confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour if and when it occurs.

"You've got to have an organisation that's supportive and have senior people explicitly saying it too. That's so important because if you know that the top of the organisation agrees, then you feel so much more confident to say things at the bottom, which is often where it's taking place. So I think there's definitely a role for further leadership right from the top." Corey Dixon, Associate, The Parthenon Group

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