It’s World Pride Month, and people are discussing issues that impact the everyday lives of queer people, workplace included. Here’s a guide on what not to ask a queer colleague in the workplace.

I think one of the toughest spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community to navigate is the workplace. A queer person is constantly gauging if they should be out or not, how people will react, and how behaviour towards them may or may not change. Not to mention the (inappropriate) questions that might come their way.

queer people workplace

It infuriates me to think of the number of awkward questions at the workplace openly queer people like me have been asked. The kind of comments passed by bosses, and sometimes, just the ludicrous things people end up saying in an office. Let’s first remember that this is the professional environment we are talking about, and some lines just can’t be crossed as a rule.

For someone who has always moved between a crew cut and then letting my hair grow as long as I want, I had a colleague say to me right after a haircut (on a day when I am in a sari, long earrings etc.), “I like the statement you are trying to make!” Once, when a senior colleague, after three years of working together, got to know I was a lesbian, thought it funny to flirt with me in the middle of the office floor. Till I ended up flirting back, just to scare her.

I spoke to friends across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and what was funny and shocking was that nearly all of us had been asked the same questions at least once in the workplace. All of us wanted to scream “Sexual Harassment”, but of course, chose to reply sarcastically.

queer people workplace

The list of such question is honestly endless, but below are the highlight of what one should never ask queer people at the workplace. They don’t ask you such personal questions because it is inappropriate and also because they are far more vulnerable to be accused of harassing a colleague.

You have questions? First, Google it, read up. And then if you need more clarity, check with the person (only if the person is also a friend) if they might be comfortable answering such queries.

Are you out? Do your parents know?

Are you out to your parents that you are only sexually and romantically attracted to the opposite gender? And, if I wasn’t out, not even in the least, how do you think you would know about it?

You don’t look gay

Do you imagine all queer people have rainbow-coloured confetti showers fall on them from the sky when they walk by? Sorry to disappoint you, but just like all straight people, we too come in all shapes, sizes, personalities etc.

queer people workplace

How did you decide you were LGBTQIA+?

When I was 10, one morning I woke up and decided I wanted to be different from everyone around me. And I knew it then that being queer was the only way do so. NOT. One doesn’t decide to be queer; it is just who you are. Just like one is straight.

Do you fancy me? I mean I would totally experiment with you if I had any such tendencies.

How could you even think I am not? I mean, you have all the body parts that matter to me! How does it matter who you are as a person? Also, what makes you presume that I would be even mildly interested in having a romantic/sexual encounter with you?

How do you do it?

Well… a) Not the way you do it! b) Definitely not how porn says we do it c) Since we are in the 21st century, just Google it.

queer people workplace

Have you ever done it with someone of the opposite gender? If you haven’t, how do you know you are LGBTQIA+?

Have you ever done it with someone of the same gender? (Usually, the answer is NO) Then how do you know you are heterosexual? You should try it.

You just haven’t met the right man/woman

Thanks, but unlike you, I am very sure about who I am interested in.

To all the queer people – who is the man in the relationship?

There is a reason we call our partners – partners. It is an equal partnership not defined by stereotypical gender rules assigned to a narrow, patriarchal mind. It is an equal relationship which means both do their bits without assigning gender roles.

To all bi-sexual people – how does that work? Who do you like more?

Every morning, I wake up and flip a coin! If it’s head then it’s a woman that day; tails, it’s a man. I don’t need to choose. I can like both and equally.

You’re queer, but you don’t behave like you are. How come you like XYZ activity?

How do you and I look like the same species and have similar interests? Our sexuality doesn’t define what we may enjoy as a hobby or otherwise.

All illustrations: Courtesy Getty

Noor Enayat

Noor, as she describes herself, is a publicist by the day and an activist by night. She is currently a partner with the PR Firm Peepul Consulting in India. She lends a hand to social movements and works closely with LGBTQ activists in India, raising her voice against issues around, gender equality and women’s rights, communalism, and others.

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