Bis at Work

A new report from the TUC draws attention to the continuing challenges of bullying and harassment facing bi, trans, lesbian and gay people in the workplace – more than ten years on from the equality regulations that should have ended discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, at least.

The Cost Of Being Out At Work notes: “Only half (51%) of LGBT people taking part – and just one in three (36%) young people – are out or open about their sexuality to all their colleagues at work. More than one in four (27%) of bisexual respondents hide their sexuality at work.”

In comparison, five out of six gay and lesbian respondents said they were out at work. And: “More than one in three (36%) of LGBT workers have been harassed or bullied at work. Nearly two in five (39%) LGBT workers have been harassed or discriminated against by a colleague, more than one in four (29%) by a manager and around one in seven (14%) by a client or patient. This harassment and discrimination could include anything from “jokes” at the expense of LGBT people, to bullying, or blocking someone’s career development.”

No research is perfect and the survey of more than 5,041 LGBT people – 976 of them bisexual – probably understates the problems in two ways.

First, that in a survey of members of trades unions many will be in workplaces where there is a degree of support infrastructure for people facing biphobic, homophobic and transphobic behaviour. Second, as the survey was one which workers opted in to, rather than taking the experiences of LGBT respondents from a wider survey, those people who are more closeted will have been less likely to take part.
The latter is reflected amongst the responses quoted, including:

“I am not out at work. I am a bi woman in a hetero marriage so it’s just easier to not raise it as an issue as everybody assumes I am straight.”

“Whenever there is office ‘banter’ about a trans person on the media or general discussion about trans/LGBT issues or feminism I feel pushed further into the closet.”

Many bisexual women who took part reported feeling that they were targeted for sexual harassment because, being bi, they were perceived as promiscuous.

“The shift manager told me to remove a used condom from the toilets without gloves or protective equipment because I would be used to handling other peoples’ bodily fluids as a result of my “shagging it up lifestyle choices”.”

Another bisexual woman said:

“I have had incessant requests for physical contact, hand holding, kissing a cut better, massage…. I have been told that I have “come -to-bed-eyes”, and been asked if I would have a threesome. These are pretty much all questions bisexuals get asked regularly.”

In short: it’s not all good at work, and it’s quite possibly worse.
The report concludes with recommendations for action including:

  • Abolish employment tribunal fees – a significant barrier to accessing justice in discrimination cases.
  • Promote the importance of LGBT+ inclusive equality training in all sectors.
  • Make Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) statutory and LGBT+ inclusive to ensure education and awareness on LGBT+ equality starts early and tackles homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
  • Legislate to place a duty on employers to protect workers from third party harassment.