There has been a rise in homophobic and transphobic behavior in central Indiana over the last year. Depending on your circle of friends, you may or may not have noticed it.
The LGBTQ+ community needs business leaders to better understand the bigotry that many experience every day. We need leaders to play a significant role in eliminating discriminatory behaviors that were learned outside of the workplace.
It’s helpful to begin with common language. Homophobia is a hatred, mistrust and prejudice against those who identify as or are perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender based on irrational fear and ignorance. “Transphobia is the fear, hatred, disbelief or mistrust of people who are transgender, thought to be transgender, or whose gender expression doesn’t conform to traditional gender roles,” according to Planned Parenthood.
Gallup estimates that 5.6% of the U.S. adult population is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. However, this number is not accurate: The percentage is actually much higher. Gender and sexuality data is seldom formally collected and many people who are LGBTQ+ may not identify themselves for fear of retribution. The bottom line is that there are plenty of LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace. We want them to feel safe and supported in their work environment—especially because so many face homophobic and transphobic behavior outside work.
Homophobia and transphobia are more common than you might think. Here are just a few examples from my orbit:
Just before the pandemic, an entrepreneur was told by a local investor that she may not be the right face for her startup because she is transgender.
In the summer of 2020, the pride flag on my property was dismounted, broken and laid on the ground next to the mailbox with an empty pink egg carton carefully placed inside the mailbox. The backside of my home was completely egged.
About a year ago, a dear friend of mine in Nashville, Indiana, had a brick thrown through her family room window because she is transgender.
A few months ago, a camera caught a teenager from Westfield tearing down a pride flag on my property while recording the act on their phone.
Students at Westfield schools were told to remove any placards representing LGBTQ+ inclusion in an effort to “be more inclusive.” It had the opposite effect.
One month ago, I was called an “alphabet creature” on Facebook. (That is a derogatory term for a member of the LGBTQ+ community.)
On Giving Tuesday, a local not-for-profit executive was approached at a meeting of supposed “Indianapolis leaders” and told, “The Bible says that parents who throw their LGBTQ+ children out of the family home are correct in that decision.” They implied that young people living their truth deserve homelessness and food insecurity. It’s hard to imagine any executive leader would believe this, let alone say it in front of other people.
Homophobic and transphobic activities may not be appearing in your line of sight. However, these acts are happening around you constantly. If leaders commit to ongoing education and building relationships with LGBTQ+ leaders, we can begin to reduce homophobic and transphobic misconduct in our community.
Here are some things that you can do. Kit Malone has developed an outstanding program for the ACLU that helps Indiana employers and employees understand their transgender colleagues. It takes about one hour to complete and is totally free. You can join the Rainbow Chamber of Commerce and attend events on Zoom and IRL to meet and build relationships with LGBTQ+ executives and leaders. On Facebook, follow Pride in Tech for upcoming events, and Queering Indy to learn about rising stars and up-and-coming businesses founded by queer entrepreneurs.
You can financially support and volunteer at the Indiana Youth Group—the state’s leading organization providing education, services, food, safe space and housing to LGBTQ+ youth ages 12-24. Learn more about how Gender Nexus brings transgender and nonbinary communities together while helping to navigate and eradicate social and systemic barriers. Dine out for Life in June to help the Damien Center continue the effort against HIV in our community and help support those affected by it. Sponsor Indy Pride and march in one of the nation’s greatest PRIDE parades in June.
If your company has or will be investing in diversity, equity and inclusion training, be sure that LGBTQ+ issues are part of the curriculum. Whenever there is a national matter that degrades or attempts to take rights away from LGBTQ+ members, take action to protect your family, friends, colleagues and employees. Speak up, vote and create corporate policies that support, encourage and value all people you work with and who work for you.•
Cooper is founder and CEO of The Startup Ladies.