For those of you born after 1980, you might not get the reference in the post title to the famed 80’s band known for their timeless “Down Under.” The good news is the band name has nothing to do with the content of the post; I’m just borderline stuck in the 80s which, by all accounts and memories, were not my glory days and yet my heart is still held by all things synth, sitcoms with catchy theme songs (Thank you for being a friend, anyone?), and The Legend of Billie Jean.
Being a child of the eighties has nothing to do with this post either so I’ll get to my point.
As I write this, the US Supreme Court is debating whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Known as Title 7, the Act bans employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, and sex. Whether sexual orientation and gender identity are classified under ‘sex’ is the core question.
I’m not into political and legal analysis so that’s as much as I’ll say about the cases being heard. Of course, as a gay man and coach & counselor for LGBTQs, I hope the court decides to protect me and my queer brothers and sisters.
I bring up the landmark court case as a point of distinction to a core mission of my business – and I’m speaking to my “gays” here - your gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and queerness is not just something to be proud of at work but it has huge, untapped value for your professional success.
And your company’s success too.
Like most political discussions about marginalized communities and civil rights in the US, this one is equally tone deaf to the lived experiences of the LGBTQ people being discussed, debated and voted on. In its insensitivity, it misses the mark, leaving out a vital piece of the conversation.
The vital, missing piece being all the good that LGBTQs at work bring to the table. And not in spite of their sexual orientation and gender identity but because of it. It leaves out an acknowledgment of the contributions we make, the unique perspectives only we have and the gifts we come bearing. Y’all, we’re serving it up at work!
While the courts and much of society debate whether LGBTQs should have civil protections at work, we show up anyway. We show up at your companies, schools, hospitals, police stations, and yes, salons and interior design firms. And we do our thing. Like everyone else. And with an added bonus – our unique experiences, perspectives and sensibilities – that as yet, have gone largely unnoticed and are hidden in plain sight. Hidden even to us.
My mission is give voice to this missing piece and bring it out into the open. Think of it as Coming Out 2.0. Our gayness is already out there; now it’s time to realize the full value of it.
And this starts with you. With me. With us. We need to see it in ourselves first. In the words of patron saint, Rupaul, "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?"
In Ray Rigiglioso’s groundbreaking book “Gay Men and the New Way Forward,” he asserts that gay men have entered a new stage of our development where our sexual orientation informs our identities, lives and impact on society in different ways. Ray’s eloquent and informed hypothesis is that the identities that got gay men where we are today must evolve so we can fully realize our potential and so society can fully receive the benefits of its queer members.
Ray’s model identifies 14 “Distinct Gifts to Humanity” which include the foundational gift of what he calls Masculine-Feminine Intelligence as well as others like:
A gentle, collaborative social orientation
Models of authenticity and courage, cleansers of shame
Friends, “Soul Mates,” and Co-Revolutionaries with Straight Women (stay tuned for something fun I’m cooking inspired by this one.)
Ray’s work inspires and supports my mission to empower LGBTQs in the workplace to become aware of their intrinsic gifts and begin intentionally expressing them as value adds at their companies.
Value adds like…
A more balanced, integrated approach to workplace gender dynamics – in the age of Me Too and Time’s Up, this seems very necessary
An intrinsic desire to be of service – to mission, stakeholders and the bottom line
A keen awareness of, commitment to and talent for improving workplace culture
In the age of declining employee engagement, increasing demand for interpersonal skills and need for inclusive, strategically diverse org cultures, employers should be courting this value.
What does it look like in action?
It looks like my client expressing his gay gifts to launch and lead the first LGBTQ
Employee Resource Group at his large, global corporation. It looks like another who is modeling courage as she leads her nonprofit to be first in scaling personalized, psychosocial cancer care for women. And like my client bringing his seemingly innate orientation to collaborate to a new company that needs soft skill leadership to retain its staff.
I also have countless friends and colleagues who, in Ray’s words are ‘Models of Service,’ sharing their gay gifts through careers as therapists, healers of various kinds, spiritual counselors, and community leaders.
And these are just a few scenarios of gays leading in the workplace. It’s laughable and yet enraging to consider how these leaders could be legally fired simply for being out at work.
These are also just a few of the gay superpowers that are changing the face of work and workplace dynamics as we know them. This conversation is just beginning. And I mean just. Like literally only a few of us are talking here. It’s pretty quiet.
Let’s change that, okay? Let’s get you in on this, get you talking about how your gay, bi, transness is a tool in your work toolbox. I invite you to spend some time thinking about this. What’s in your queer back pocket that could be a game changing influence where you work? And in your career in general?
What if the conversation in the courts today was about how employers could harness the power of their LGBTQ staffers because of their LGBTQness? How might you show up differently at your team meeting today? What could be possible for you?
It’s time for queer people to step fully into our power at work, becoming the leaders we are and the ones our companies need us to be! I know this is a tall order; I’m not naïve to think this will be easy or a short game. But since when is easy our thing? LGBTQs are not where we are because the ride’s been easy.
And if you’re a business owner, leader, or employer reading this, take a minute to consider you might be sitting on a goldmine of wisdom, talents, and hidden utilities in your LGBTQ employees. These just might be the secret ingredient you’re looking for.
Working Gay, (clearly still stuck in the 80s)