Despite penning some contentious lyrics over the years, multiple Grammy Award winning song writer, Eminem, had this to say recently: “I don’t care if you’re black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, short, tall, fat, skinny, rich or poor. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Simple as that.”
I would say Eminem put his LGBTI credentials emphatically on the line with that statement. Like a great many other members of the human race, he’s simply saying he likes to be shown respect and will return it regardless of other things.
For many of us the human element is what it comes back to, and that includes our leaders. Hilary Clinton makes the very valid point that “being gay is not a western invention. It’s a human reality”.
And never missing a chance to throw in a gag, Woody Allen once noted enviously that being bisexual “immediately doubles your chance for a date on Saturday night”. Sadly, it can also reduce a person’s prospects in other ways, employment being one of them.
The fact is that many people from the LGBTI community have been on the wrong end of exclusion and discrimination for generations.
I am writing about this subject today because it’s fresh in my mind from AHRI’s diversity awards luncheon in Sydney last week.
For the first time this year we included among the categories an award for LGBTI Inclusion. There was no shortage of entries and the three short-listed finalists all made known their outstanding credentials, giving the judges a difficult time. Apart from the new category, I very much enjoyed seeing all the awards given and received so warmly in 11 categories. And for the second year running it was a great pleasure to have the Commonwealth Bank as our principal sponsor.
Telstra and the University of Western Australia were two of the LGBTI award finalists, and both made a strong point in their submissions of the idea of allies. Telstra has an LGBTI Employees and Allies Network and the UWA actually titled their program ALLY, which is a culture change initiative focusing on the heterosexual world with the aim of creating an alliance to end LGBTI exclusion.
The idea is much like gender equity initiatives that strive to engage men, there being little point in restricting interest to the group who will gain from it without engaging the group who cause it.
The problem with LGBTI inclusion is everyone else, and that’s where the change needs to happen. The rest of us need to accept that many human beings want to honestly present who they are to the world. Attitudes that impose a strict monoculture restrict the flourishing of the culture and also damage the potential of individuals within the culture who do not fit the square hole which has been prescribed for them.
That idea was expressed revealingly by Tony Fiddes in his acceptance speech when the Westpac Group was announced as the LGBTI winner: “In order for people to make outstanding contributions, they need to bring their whole selves to work,” he said.
That insight coming from an executive at the big-end-of-town echoes the words of people like Hannah Hart on coming out: “This is my life. It’s my one shot and I have to be true to who I am.”
AHRI is keen to help make that happen in workplaces throughout the country, and as CEO of the institute I was proud to be playing our part last week.
During the same week, that objective gained extra impetus when the Australian Parliament passed legislation to protect LGBTI people from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
I refer to the Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill 2013 that now offers LGBTI people the same protection as that already covered by gender, race and disability discrimination, and makes it unlawful for anyone to discriminate against a person based upon sexual orientation or gender status.
It was a good week.
Lyn Goodear is the chief executive of the Australian Human Resources Institute. Case studies of the AHRI Diversity Award winners are here.