You’d be surprised how often I am asked if I have a wife.
It’s usually obviously people who don’t know me: a stranger on a train, a person at a supermarket checkout etc.
But it’s one of the regular occurrences no-one ever prepared me for – that 20 years after I came out, I’d still be coming out to someone every single week.
Because many people don’t guess I’m gay, they simply assume I’m not – or rather start with the assumption that I’m straight.
Assumption leads to exclusion
Which means I have to decide to correct them or just let it go.
For years I would just let it go, which led to even more difficult conversations.
When I would meet someone in a business context and they assumed I was straight, I’d rarely correct them because I was never sure I would actually see them again.
But then when that person became a partner or a customer, I’d find myself three years down the line, having never corrected them having a chat about whether I was planning on having kids with my wife.
It’s actually quite exhausting and serves as a constant uncomfortable reminder that I am different.
We automatically exclude so many people the moment we make an assumption about them
Common assumptions can be oppressive
Something that isn’t really spoken about enough is actually how oppressive it is when someone makes an assumption about your race, gender or sexuality.
As a ‘straight presenting’ white gay man, I’m not at all insinuating that I am oppressed, but these common assumptions we have about the people we meet would be incredibly oppressive to some.
We live in a world where someone’s gender and sexuality exists for millions on a broad spectrum that we have to walk into new situations with an open mind.
We automatically exclude so many people the moment we make an assumption about them.
Something that isn’t really spoken about enough is actually how oppressive it is when someone makes an assumption about your race, gender or sexuality
We are risking walking backwards
When I grew up there were a handful of well-known gay men.
Fast forward to 2023 and likely anyone reading this knows someone who belongs to the LGBTQIA+ community.
It often feels like our work is done, that we have (in many places) created a comfortable society that welcomes and celebrates gay people.
In a work context in the UK, I would say we are incredibly advanced.
Diversity and inclusion has been at the top of the HR agenda for many years now and most UK organisations understand the need to represent society and their customer base within the four walls of their organisation.
Most UK organisations understand the need to represent society and their customer base within the four walls of their organisation
Peace and love aren’t harmful
But today, as I write this article, Target in the US is removing more than 2,000 pride-related items from the shelves of their stores for fear of being targeted.
This, coming from an employer who on their website says: “Target has a longstanding commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. They are part of our core values, shape our culture and drive our business”.
Which, quite frankly, I think is obviously bullshit.
This is an organisation that has DE&I goals, has won awards but when it comes to the crunch, it’s not prepared to stand by its convictions.
I can’t imagine what it currently feels like to be LGBTQIA+ and working for Target.
This is an organisation that has DE&I goals, has won awards but when it comes to the crunch, it’s not prepared to stand by its convictions
Is the dial stuck?
Its events like this which seek to remind us that we often live in a bubble where we think the world is accepting, where we believe gay men like me have nothing to be afraid of anymore.
But when Prime Ministers make homophobic slurs, when we continue to work with Governments who still preside over laws that make homosexuality illegal and while employers carry on failing to meet their promises with action, we haven’t actually moved the dial that much.
These assumptions happen because we still view gender norms and heterosexuality as the norm
Engage first, assume never
Less than 90% of the UK describes themselves as ‘straight’ in 2023, which means for every 100 people you meet, 10 of them will likely fall foul of any assumption you make that they are straight.
These assumptions happen because we still view gender norms and heterosexuality as the norm.
We tell a man who is scared of something to ‘stop being a girl’. Kids in playgrounds still call stuff they don’t like ‘gay’.
Just adding your pronouns to your social channels and email signatures has been shown to make non-cis straight employees feel more welcome.
A small change could make a big difference
The small things you can do as an ally make a big difference.
For example, just adding your pronouns to your social channels and email signatures has been shown to make non-cis straight employees feel more welcome.
When we start from assuming that someone’s pronouns might not be the standard, when we don’t make an assumption on someone’s gender or sexuality, what we are doing is normalising a wide spectrum of people, rather than making that 10% feel like they are a minority, that they are the odd ones out.
When you meet someone for the first-time day, try to engage with them without making any assumptions.
If you enjoyed this, read: There’s far more we could do to allow LGBTQI + employees to freely participate at work