Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown on how self-education is the key to supporting LGBTQIA employees

It’s always a good time to take care of your employees, especially minority employees, but June, which is LGBTQ Pride Month, is the perfect time to make sure your LGBTQIA employees feel heard, safe, and appreciated at work. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest in the country, it’s easy to become overwhelmed during this time.

Karamo Brown, who is the culture expert on Netflix‘s Queer Eye, urges professionals and organizations to switch from using fear-based language and focus on using love-based language instead.

“I personally, throughout my career and my personal life, always look at times of growth as happy moments, and not as challenging moments,” Brown said. “When you think of something as a challenging moment or a weird moment, it becomes daunting.”

Brown recently spoke with LinkedIn’s Get Hired News Editor Andrew Seaman to discuss how companies can support their LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied) employees and coworkers, and how members of the LGBTQIA community can advocate for themselves in the workplace.

How to support LGBTQIA employees at work

“The first thing if you are in a space where you are wanting to support your LGBTQ+ coworkers is doing the education yourself,” Brown said. “I don’t know how many times I have to keep saying to people, ‘It is 2020 and we all got the Googler.’ So go Google stuff. Go learn.”

Educating yourself and not putting pressure on others to educate you is a common theme throughout various movements, like the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQ+ movement. Brown encourages people looking to help to first educate themselves by researching history as well as current events.

“If you really want to support somebody it’s about taking that pressure off of them to have to be the one to Google for you and educate… do some education on yourself,” Brown said.

Once you have done that education, the next step is to bring what you’ve learned to the office and check-in with your LGBTQ+ coworkers.

“Bring back what you’ve learned and show this person who is part of the LGBT community,” Brown said.

When you bring back that information, don’t simply repeat the knowledge and history you have learned. Instead, you can say, “I now have some more information I didn’t have before and I want to know, are you okay with me using this information I’ve learned to amplify your concerns and your voice?”

“I think that’s key as well,” Brown said, on the point of asking your colleagues where they need help speaking up. “If you really want to support, do the work, but then ask if it’s okay that I amplify your voice because sometimes people lovingly try to say, ‘I’ll run into battle for you,’ and it’s like, I didn’t ask you to run into that battle, I need you to be over here.'”

So once you have educated yourself, Brown recommends asking employees where they need help speaking up and doing things at work.

“I think that’s a clear way that people can truly support members of the LGBTQ+ community,” Brown said.

How LGBTQIA members can help themselves and each other in the workplace

“One of the first things that we have to understand is that, as members of the LGBTQIA community, we actually have the power to set clear boundaries about who we want to let into our lives, and when we want to let into our lives,” Brown said. “It doesn’t make you ashamed and it doesn’t make you dishonest about who you authentically are…it’s saying that I’m in control of my life.”

Brown shared that he doesn’t actually use the term “coming out” because he believes it gives the power to the wrong person in the situation.

“[The term] says to someone that you have the power to accept or deny me, and the process that all LGBTQIA members do is accepting and loving ourselves first,” Brown said. “When you do that, then you have the power to say, ‘I want to let you into my life, I want to let you in… you, I don’t want.’ And that’s okay. It doesn’t make you shameful. It means that you are in a space where you know that it’s okay to make boundaries.”

Loving yourself first is the important first step to helping others.

“Secondly, I think it’s about talking to the people in charge about creating safe spaces for LGBTQ people,” Brown said. “I think sometimes we forget that we do have the power.”

Whether you are in school or in the workplace, there are laws and policies that are there to protect you, including the newest civil right law that makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Brown encourages people to use the power they have to go to their head of human resources or school counselor when they need help creating a safe space.

“They can support you in creating a space that is safe, that does not need to be publicized, where you can go and feel as if you can be your most authentic self and also gain resources that you need,” Brown said.

Additionally, Brown encourages members of the LGBTQIA community to lean on the allies that they do find in their space. When it comes to allies in the workplace, Brown encourages you not to shy away from asking them for help.

“If you have not the courage in yourself yet, say, ‘Listen, you saw that right? That was not okay what they said or did to me. I’m nervous about my position here if I speak up… would you be an ally and amplify my experience and my voice and advocate for me?'”

When it comes to fighting battles, Brown emphasizes that the number one thing that comes before anything else is your own personal safety.

“Don’t run into battle if you don’t feel as if you have the armor to do what you need to do, and you’re going to feel safe,” Brown said. “Make sure that you lean on those systems of support that can actually make sure you are being protected.”

The next part of fighting for yourself is leading with empathy and education if you have the capacity to do so.

“Make sure that you are teaching them, trying to allow them the space to learn and to grow,” Brown said, “If you don’t feel that it’s possible, that’s where you have to step in and not be afraid to say ‘You know what, I am going to document what you’ve done, and I’m going to report it.'”

Jennifer Fabiano is an SEO reporter at Ladders.