March 7, 2023

You’re Queer and Being Stereotyped at Work: Six Ways to Respond to Harmful Stereotypes

There are currently 378 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the United States, including several in more liberal states like New Jersey and Connecticut. These bills that primarily target transgender and non-binary individuals impact the mental wellbeing of many LGBTQ+ individuals by threatening our safety and feelings of belonging. They also provide fertile ground for the proliferation of LGBTQ+ and TGNC stereotypes.

It is no secret that LGBTQ+ professionals face discrimination and marginalization in the workplace, in many cases making it harder for us to thrive. In this article, we look at some of the hurtful stereotypes faced by members of the LGBTQ+ and TGNC communities in professional spaces and outlines ways you can combat and challenge these stereotypes.

Common LGBTQ+ and TGNC Stereotypes

Stereotypes based on sexual orientation and gender identity are some of the most prevalent and harmful stereotypes that LGBTQ+ and TGNC professionals face in the workplace. These stereotypes include assumptions about a person’s ability to perform certain job functions or excel in certain roles based solely on their identity and expression of their identity. Such biases can lead to discrimination, harassment, and exclusion from career advancement opportunities.

One of the most common stereotypes is the assumption that LGBTQ+ professionals are not as capable as their heteronormative and cisgender counterparts. This can manifest in various ways, such as assuming that an out LGBTQ+ employee cannot lead a project or handle a client because of their sexual orientation. This stereotype is not only false but also damaging, as it prevents LGBTQ+ professionals from being able to demonstrate their strengths and abilities and advance in their careers.

Another harmful stereotype is the belief that all LGBTQ+ and TGNC professionals are politically motivated. This stereotype is especially prevalent for queer professionals who don’t conform in how they dress and talk in professional settings. Authentic self expression can lead to stigmatization and ostracism of an individual, resulting in more of focus on how a person acts or looks instead of their capabilities and talents.

Common stereotypes of transgender professionals include that they are intentionally calling attention to themselves by openly transitioning in the workplace. It is important to understand that these stereotypes are not only untrue but also harmful. They can prevent talented and skilled TGNC and LGBTQ+ professionals from being hired or promoted. Additionally, these stereotypes can cause transgender individuals to feel isolated and unsupported in their workplace, which can lead to decreased job satisfaction and productivity.

A Note About Intersectionality of Stereotypes

When it comes to examining stereotypes of LGBTQ+ and TGNC professionals, it’s important to take into consideration the intersectionality of your identities. Intersectionality refers to how different identities and social categories intersect and interact with each other to create unique experiences for individuals. This means that LGBTQ+ professionals may face stereotyping not only based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, but also based on other aspects of their identity such as race, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, or socioeconomic status

How to Professionally Respond to Stereotypes

Stereotypes are harmful and can be particularly damaging when directed towards the LGBTQ+ and TGNC community in the current political environment. It is important to know how to respond to stereotypes in a professional manner. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Safety first: Your safety and well-being come first. You decide how and when you want to respond to stereotypes. You don’t have to educate anyone, unless you want to.
  2. What’s your intention?: Setting your intention for a conversation around stereotypes can help you decide how you want to show up in the conversation. Do you want to align your words and body language with your value of openness? Or would you like to walk away from the conversation knowing that you gave the other person a piece of your mind? Which approach will help you get the outcome that you desire?
  3. What needs are you trying to meet?: Understanding the core of your motivation for responding to stereotypes can help you make choices about how you respond. Are you desiring a sense of belonging? Do you want to reinforce that you are capable at your job? How might your response differ based on your core motivation?
  4. Use facts and personal experiences: Use facts and personal experiences to show how the stereotype doesn’t align with reality. This can help the person understand the harm their words may cause and take the focus away from the greater political environment.
  5. Use curiosity: When responding to a stereotype, it can be tempting and understandable to become defensive. However, this can leave you feeling like you’ve done something wrong. Instead, try to approach the situation with curiosity. What do you want to know about the person and their behavior?
  6. Offer resources: If the person seems receptive to learning more, offer them resources to help them understand the LGBTQ+ and TGNC community better. This could include books, articles, or even personal contacts who can provide more insight.

About the author: Kirsten Bunch is a writer, speaker and certified leadership coach who helps LGBTQ+ professionals get promoted to leadership positions without sacrificing their queer identities. Get your free The Out CEO Checklist.

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