Battle for tolerance amid continued homophobic slurs at work

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A former Health Care New Zealand worker said that he was left with no choice but to resign after his employer did not adequately support him following homophobic slurs made by a colleague.

Grant White resigned from his role earlier this year after confiding in a colleague that he was gay. According to White, the colleague damaged relationships he had with clients by saying he was a “dirty homosexual”.  Following the reactions by some clients, many of whom were mentally ill, White took his complaint to the district manager and lodged a complaint against his colleague – but when no action was taken, he resigned from his position there.

The action is now being handled by the NZ Employment Relations Authority – yet the case represents a relatable scenario for Australian employers and shines the spotlight on the handling of complaints related to tolerance and sexual orientation.

Championing workplace tolerance of sexual orientation remains a battleground for HR. While companies may routinely assure anyone who asks that they are inclusive employers, the time to walk the talk has come. Offering quality workplace diversity practices can be a key point of difference for employers looking to make a name for themselves in the diversity space.

A 2011 Angus Reid survey of Canadian members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered (LGBT) community found that while most said their employers were tolerant, and that workplaces in general were becoming more tolerant, Almost 20% said either their employer, or their co-workers were intolerant towards LGBT people.

However, almost three-in-four respondents (72%) feel the attitudes in their workplace towards LGBT people have improved over the past five years. In fact, only two per cent of respondents who are “out” at work say that their colleagues had a negative attitude towards that aspect of their lives.

The online survey of 983 gay, lesbian and bisexual Canadian adults who are employed—conducted in partnership with the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce—sought to review specific workplace issues that may arise because of a person’s sexual identity or orientation.

One third of gay people (34%) and almsot half of lesbians (40%) had experienced some form of discrimination throughout the course of their professional lives. Social exclusion (43%) and ridicule (42%) were the most likely forms of discrimination. The likeliest reaction to these incidents was saying nothing (69% for social exclusion, 43% for ridicule).

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