Supporting Employees from the GLBTQ Community

Heterosexuality is often assumed in the workplace and discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity is often subtle. However, all job seekers and employees deserve respect, dignity and protection from discrimination and harassment.

In this Section:


 It is important to be informed and use terms correctly. The following definitions will help.


An individual who is sexually attracted to either males or females.


A man who is sexually attracted to other men. 

Gender identity

An individual's sense of being male or female.


An individual born with both XX and XY chromosomes, the full or partial sex organs of both genders, or with underdeveloped or ambiguous sex organs, in addition to hormones of both genders. Individuals who are born intersexed may also embody secondary sex characteristics of either gender.


The acronym used as a collective term to refer to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people.


A woman who is sexually attracted to other women.


Formerly an exclusively derogatory term for all GLBT people; now proudly used by some as an umbrella term for the entire GLBTQ community; also used by those who see their own gender identity, sexual identity, and/or sexual orientation as not fitting the widely recognized pattern of straight, gay or lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.

Sex reassignment surgery

The medical procedure to surgically create the physical appearance of the opposite gender.

Sexual orientation

Affection and sexual attraction for people of the same or opposite sex.

Transgender person

Individuals who are uncomfortable with (or reject in whole or in part) their birth assigned gender and may include transsexual persons, whether or not they have undergone sex reassignment surgery.


An individual who self-identifies and lives as the opposite gender but has not decided to undergo sex reassignment surgery.


The process of changing gender, including hormones, cross living and surgery.


An individual who identifies herself or himself as a member of the opposite gender and who acquires the physical characteristics of the opposite gender. A transsexual can be of any sexual orientation.

Two-spirited person

An aboriginal term to describe an individual who has both male and female spirits in their bodies. The term is sometimes used by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Aboriginals to describe themselves.

Potential GLTBQ barriers

For many GLBTQ employees, revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity can have serious consequences. Many do not feel safe in the workplace. Will they be let go or passed over for a promotion? Will they be the source of jokes? Will they be ignored and isolated? Will colleagues treat them differently than before?

Here are a few possible workplace scenarios that a GLBTQ employee could face:
  • When providing the name of an emergency contact person, GLBTQ persons must come out if they wish to give their partner's name and are asked the nature of their relationship.
  • When required to attend the funeral of a member of their partner's family, GLBTQ persons must come out if they want to request bereavement leave rather than vacation leave.
  • When they begin the process of changing their name and sex on official employment-related forms, transgendered persons must come out to their managers.
  • If GLBTQ persons wish to include their accomplishments in the GLBTQ community among the volunteer activities listed on their CV, they may have to come out to the prospective employer.

(Source: Canadian Heritage and Parks Canada, Out and About: Towards a better understanding of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons in the workplace)

It's very difficult to report discrimination or harassment because in doing so, an employee who has not previously revealed her or his sexual orientation will have to do so regardless of whether she or he feels comfortable about doing so.

The effort workers invest in hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity certainly takes a toll on an employee's productivity as well as emotional and physical health. Therefore, employers who seriously invest in a healthy, inclusive workplace for people from the GLBTQ community will discover tangible benefits.

Practical and supportive practices

 Creating an inclusive and supportive workplace involves:
  • Leading by example with a clear commitment from the top down that diversity is important
  • Adopting policies and procedures to support diversity, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment
  • Promoting (both internally and externally) the organization's commitment to diversity
  • Holding all staff and volunteers accountable
  • Providing training and awareness in the workplace
When the focus is on building an inclusive environment that is welcoming to people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, the following is a list of practical and supportive practices:
  • Make reference to sexual orientation and gender identity in your workplace diversity policies.
  • Do not assume heterosexuality
    • When you interact with a job seeker or new employee, ask inclusive questions that do not assume that the person has a spouse of the opposite gender.
    • Review your human resources orientation sessions to make sure they reflect more than just heterosexual examples.
    • Use the inclusive term "partner" rather than husband or wife.
  • Extend employment and pension benefits (if applicable) to same-sex couples including:
    • Bereavement leave
    • Medical and dental benefits
    • Emergency leave
    • Group life insurance
    • Maternity/parental leave
    • Pension plan

Important:  Consult the employment standards for your province or territory for current information on your legal requirements regarding extending benefits to same-sex partners.

  • Have and uphold zero tolerance for inappropriate comments, jokes and/or behaviour.
  • If possible, involve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in your organization's conversations about diversity.
  • If you highlight specific significant days or events for employees make sure you also mark annual Gay Pride celebrations (usually held during the month of June).
  • Equally acknowledge the relationships of staff by ensuring, for example, that anniversaries, births and marriages/union ceremonies are celebrated in the same way.
  • When inviting spouses to social activities, use the term “partners” instead – a more inclusive and nongender-specific term, which includes same-sex couples.
  • Arrange for sensitivity training for all staff. Investigate local GLBTQ organizations that might provide this training for your organization.

Important: Remember that you should never reveal a GLBTQ person's sexual orientation or gender identity without her or his permission. Sharing this kind of personal information about someone shows a lack of respect and might, in some cases, create problems and even be considered a form of harassment.

Supporting a transitioning employee
In addition to the above ideas, here are some additional practices for supporting a transgendered employee through the transitioning stage:
  • Management needs to lead by example by demonstrating respect to the transitioning employee.
  • In a large enough organization, switching departments or taking on a new assignment may help staff and the transitioning employee adjust.
  • The issue of washrooms will need to be dealt with so that everyone feels comfortable. A solution, if available, is to have a single use washroom available instead of separate male and female washrooms.
  • If relevant, discuss how your workplace uniform/dress code will be handled.
  • The transitioning employee will need to be accommodated with time off for medical procedures.
  • Refer to the transitioning employee by their preferred name and pronouns.

Once the employee has completely transitioned to the other gender there will need to be an official name change for your human resources and administrative records (pensions, medical and dental, and government filing).