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Allyship, at its simplest level, means being a supporter. 

I’ve experienced homophobia in the workplace, and in my case, it was from a patient. Unfortunately, when the matron spoke to them, they denied it. Even though other patients and staff witnessed what happened, nothing was done. At the time, I felt like my organisation didn’t care about me. I was a professional, all I wanted was to be treated like a professional.  

Allowing colleagues to feel safe and comfortable is so important. Even if your actions of allyship are small, they amount to something greater.

1. Avoid assumptions

Homophobia and transphobia can look like a lot of things. There are obvious examples, such as name calling, excluding people and making rude gestures, but there are also more subtle manifestations, like making assumptions.

If you have new or temporary staff, it’s a good idea to be cautious of the language you use. People can sometimes think others are automatically straight, and if they’ve got a partner, that they are of the opposite gender.

My simple rule is to follow their lead. If you’re unsure, ask questions such as “what name do you go by?” and “what are your pronouns?”, and if someone mentions a partner, you should refer to them as “partner” in a gender-neutral way until you know otherwise.

2. Call it out 

Being an ally is also about challenging other people if they make stereotypical judgements. People might defend what they’ve said, often calling it “banter”, but to someone else, it could be deeply offensive.

As a bystander, I would encourage people, if they feel able to, to call that behaviour out. If you are a manager, there is an additional responsibility for you to act and take concerns seriously and not gaslight or undermine the individual raising their concerns.

My simple rule is to follow their lead

Be confident, calm and assured. Not calling this behaviour out can have serious repercussions. Don’t be a passive bystander: be an active one.

Having said that, if you don’t feel confident or able, check in with the colleague who might have been affected. Recognise their feelings and be supportive if they want to take further action.

3. We all make mistakes

If you ever find yourself in a situation when you’ve got something wrong, made a mistake, or accidently misgendered someone, the best thing to do is apologise.

It may be that the person affected hasn’t corrected you in the moment, but if you find out later, it’s good to acknowledge your mistakes and apologise all the same. Be mindful, try to learn from the event and take those learnings into future conversations.

4. Be visible

While being vocally supportive of the LGBTQ+ community is a great thing, there are other ways you can be an ally. I’d suggest adding your pronouns to your email signature. You can wear badges, stickers or even rainbow lanyards to make it known that you’re an ally. This sends a message to staff that they can be themselves.

5. Know how to escalate

It’s important to know the chain of escalation – this is something everyone should know, not just members of the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve come across instances where there has been explicit discrimination, and staff LGBTQ+ networks are well equipped to tackle it as a group.

If you ever find yourself in a situation when you’ve got something wrong, the best thing to do is apologise

Use your Freedom to Speak Out Guardians, your equalities team, and your workplace reps. Report incidences on Datex. A combined effort and commitment from across the workplace are what’s needed to eradicate homophobia and transphobia.

Reps and managers should have an open-door policy for this kind of thing and should make themselves easily accessible. If there is no LGBTQ+ support network in your workplace, set one up. Anyone can and should get involved.

Billy Nichols is a steward and sits on the RCN Steward Committee, he is also chair of his organisation’s LGBTQ+ staff network. 

Billy Nichols

Above: Billy Nichols

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