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2SLGBTQIA+ - One acronym, many communities: Ways to build a welcoming workplace culture for all

Inclusive LGBTQI+ Pride Flag

Even if you don’t know exactly what each letter in the 2SLGBTQIA+ acronym means, you are probably aware that it represents gender and sexual minority groups. “Over recent years, the acronym has grown to become more inclusive of the wealth of diversity in the queer community,” says Tova Larsen, a Health and Safety Consultant with WSPS. As employers work toward creating inclusive workplaces, understanding what this acronym means and the distinct communities it represents is an important step in fostering a work environment that is free from harassment and discrimination.

According to Statistics Canada, 4% of Canada’s population aged 15 years and older identify as a member of one or more 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. In fact, with younger generations, it’s even higher. Twenty-eight percent of Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ. So, whether or not you are aware of it, you likely work with someone who identifies with a gender or sexual minority group. 

Protections for 2SLGBTQIA+ people under the Ontario Human Rights Code are very clear. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to provide a working environment where all employees are free of harm. “You need to make sure that all of your staff feel welcome, valued, and supported,” says Tova. “When they don’t, it has a negative effect on the mental health of staff, a negative effect on the organization’s productivity, and could even lead to a human rights complaint.” 

What does 2SLGBTQIA+ mean?

When it comes to gender and sexual minority groups, understanding the different groups that make up the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is the first step toward promoting inclusivity. “A little bit of knowledge can go a long way,” explains Tova. She provides these brief descriptions of gender and sexual minority groups.

Two Spirit (2S) — A culturally distinct First Nations-specific identity used to acknowledge the fluidity and spectrum of gender identity and expression, such as a person with both masculine and feminine spirits or who may identify as a third gender.

Lesbian (L) — A woman who is attracted to other women. 

Gay (G) — Someone who is attracted to people of their own gender. It’s most often used to describe men but can be used to describe women as well. 

Bisexual (B) — Someone who is attracted to people of both the same and different genders (i.e. more than one gender). Bisexuality is a continuum of attraction with some bisexual people attracted mostly to their own gender, others mostly to other genders, or equally attracted to all genders.

Transgender (T) — Someone whose gender identity and expression do not align with their sex at birth. It does not necessarily describe a person who transitions from a man to a woman or vice versa. A transgender person may transition to a third gender (i.e. non-binary).

Queer (Q) — An umbrella term that is often used by people who prefer not to put a label on their sexual orientation or gender identity but can be used by anyone who does not conform to cultural norms related to gender and sexuality. Formerly a derogatory term, the word has since been reclaimed and is sometimes used to describe the 2SLGBTQIA+ community as a whole (e.g. queer community). 

Intersex (I) — Someone who is born with primary sex characteristics including genitals, gonads, and/or chromosome patterns that do not fit typical notions of male or female bodies.

Asexual (A) — Someone who is not sexually attracted to people of any gender. 

Changing the workplace culture

Tova recommends keeping these points in mind when developing your workplace culture to become a welcoming environment where all employees are valued and supported.

  1. Develop clear policies and codes of conduct for workplace violence and harassment—particularly when it comes to prohibiting vexatious comments and behaviours regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
  2. Take reports of harassment seriously and follow procedures. This ensures that all employees know that they are valued members of the organization.
  3. Train staff on behaviours and actions to make your workplace more inclusive and respectful.  For example,  the use of preferred names and pronouns. 
  4. Teach cultural competence. As Tova mentioned earlier, developing a greater understanding of diversity in the workplace can help people have a better sense of how to be respectful to everyone. Be aware that employees who are new to Canada may have come from places with different cultural norms. Certain language and behaviours may have been accepted there but are offensive here.
  5. Let go of assumptions. Take a critical look at your organizational policies and practices to eliminate gender and sexuality-based assumptions. Remind staff that it’s not about their personal or political beliefs. It’s about their attitude and behaviour at work.

How WSPS can help

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The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.