Members of the LGBTQ+ community are regularly asked questions about their identity. So before you ask them a question, particularly in the workplace setting, take the time to consider these things.
As we learn about the queer community and the diversity of people within the community, it’s natural to want to know more. The number of recognized identities is growing and it can seem intimidating and complicated to those who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a great thing to be eager and willing to learn, and education is an important part of creating a more safe and inclusive environment for everyone. You might know someone who identifies within the LGBTQ+ community and figure they’re the best person to ask those burning questions. They might be, but they also may not. So, let’s talk about asking questions with particular attention to questions not to ask LGBTQ+ co-workers.
What To Consider Before Asking Questions
Before asking questions consider a few things:
- Is this something you could educate yourself on? If you haven’t already attempted to look up the answer, do that first.
- Is the person you want to ask the appropriate person to ask? Consider the relationship you have with that person. A close friend or family member is likely the most appropriate person to ask, rather than an acquaintance or co-worker.
- Consider the context. Is it the right time or place to be asking this question? Ideally, if you want to learn something about the queer community, a question should be asked at a time when the person is able to give an appropriately in-depth response and they’re in a comfortable atmosphere to have that conversation. The workplace is likely not the place to be asking these questions.
Get Consent First
It’s important to not only be cautious of who you’re asking, but also the questions you ask. It’s equally as important to ask for consent before asking a question. Asking for consent can be as simple as “can I ask you a question about X?” and waiting for an answer. It’s also important to be prepared to hear and respect the answer ‘no’.
Questions Not to Ask LGBTQ+ Co-workers
You may be thinking, how do I know whether or not a question is appropriate to ask? So here is a list of things to consider, as well as explanations as to why questions can be challenging to receive for those in the LGBTQ+ community.
- Many of the well-meaning questions are hurtful or make people feel uncomfortable. For example; “What’s your type?” “So is it a he or a she?” “Who’s the guy and who’s the girl?” “So what’s your real name?”
- People in the LGBTQ+ community get a lot of questions. It takes a lot of emotional energy to educate people, and it can feel even more exhausting when asked the same, or similar, questions particularly if that information could be found online.
- Often questions don’t have a straightforward answer. Gender and sexuality are complicated and exist along a spectrum. People in the LGBTQ+ community are changing expectations of how humans look and act based on preconceived notions about gender, as well as changing the dynamic of how romantic relationships should look like. So, even if they want to encourage your learning they may not have the ability to answer a question for you in a way that makes sense without all the background knowledge of queer history.
The workplace is most likely not the best setting to be asking personal questions about a person’s identity. So, consider the appropriateness of timing and context when thinking about asking questions of LGBTQ+ co-workers.
If you’re motivated to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community consider checking out sites like TheSafeZoneProject for terminology, PFLAG a website for families and friends of LGBTQ+ people, or GLAAD, an organization devoted to shaping conversations about LGBTQ+ folks.