7 Things NEVER to say to LGBT co-workers

I subscribe to Diversity Inc and I thought that their latest article would be of interest to you if your workplaces include GBLT individuals who are GayNotToSay310x236recently out of the closet. In the article they listed 7 things never to say to GBLT co-workers, as suggested by GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), the Out & Equal Workplace Project. I’m not presuming that you would make these common mistakes, (I needed a reminder of what not to say), but you may wish to pass this information on to someone you know whose workplace includes recently out LGBT co-workers. For the entire Diversity Inc. article here’s a link:

Things NOT to Say to Your LGBT Colleagues

No. 1: “I suspected you were gay.”
Although it is a common response, it’s insensitive and plays into stereotypes.

No. 2: “I’m sorry.”
Why should you apologize for a colleague’s orientation? This implies judgment and can make the situation more difficult. Would you apologize for a person’s ethnicity or gender?

No. 3: “Why did you tell me that?”
It’s important for people to bring their “whole selves” to work, and coming out of the closet is certainly a part of who one is. “The notion of leaving a big part of your self at home and walking into work is like walking around with two types of shoes on,” says Selisse Berry, founding executive director of Out & Equal, an advocacy organization that provides services to companies, human-resource professionals, employee-resource groups and individuals.

No. 4: “Which bathroom do you use?”
Transgender people often are asked what gender they are. Such questions are inappropriate, warns Out & Equal. It is important to remember that gender identity is becoming an increasingly sensitive subject.

No. 5: “We are not close enough for you to share that information with me.”
Not all employees are interested in their coworkers’ personal lives. If you feel a colleague may have shared too much information, you can simply say, “Thank you for telling me that,” says Price Waterhouse Cooper’s executive Stephanie Peel.

No. 6: Referring to coworkers as “she-male.”
There has been a lot of uproar these days over this phrase. Transgender employees often are the brunt of culturally insensitive jokes and comments.

No. 7: “What do you like to do in bed?”
Sexual questions and comments are always off-limits. Not only do you run the risk of offending a colleague, you are also teetering the line of sexual harassment. It’s important not to be confused between trying to understand someone’s personal life and inappropriate sexual harassment, warns Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Arcus Foundation and founder of GLSEN.



I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball


  • I’m in a heterosexual relationship (a well-known fact), but I’m also interested in women (a less-known fact). Recently, I was having a casual conversation with a coworker when it came up that I was not straight.

    She stopped me mid-sentence to say, “Shy, do you have a crush on me?”

    :sceptic: I’m married. I’ve never flirted with her. Never indicated she was, in any way, my type (and she isn’t). I am, in other words, completely unavailable. And she still feels the need to stop me and make absolutely certain I’m not interested, just because she happens to belong to a gender I am attracted to. :grumble:

    I wanted to slap her, but I just politely told her she wasn’t my type.

    Next time I’m gonna say, “Bitch, don’t flatter yourself.” 🙄

    • “Bitch, don’t flatter yourself.”

      Lol! It’s a shame you didn’t. Although I don’t imagine that sort of language would be tolerated in most workplaces. I’d go more for the really nasty (but said in a sweet as pie tone), “No, I tend to be attracted to more classically beautiful women.”

      Although I should add that in my particular workplace, a “F*ck off” would have been an acceptable rejoinder.

  • This is an interesting post. I work for a large open minded company knowm in the business world for their diverse workforce, so I have a lot of gblt co-workers (at least 2 to 3x the percentage of the general population). We have so many gblt employees that they generally do not need to come “out” at my work just because they are never “in”. During training for any position, we have a diversity seminar, which empasizes our company stand on diversity and all the various minorities and then through the year, we celebrate diversity (i.e. gay pride week, black history month).
    That being said, there are some people who are not as open as others about their orientation and I feel compelled to respect their right to keep their private life private, so I woul like to add something to this list. It’s not something you shouldn’t say to someone who comes out to you but something you shouldn’t do. DO NOT out them to others in the workplace. Let them tell who they want to tell when they wan to tell.

    • Hi Jenni

      You’re really lucky to work for such a company because many of them are not even there in terms of addressing the issue of diversity.

      The point you made about not outing anyone is a principle I think most of us are all aware of and practice. Those who don’t are, for the most part, ignorant, and thanks for reminding them that it’s not their job to out everyone they think is gay.

  • In general I agree, but I’m curious as to why, “Why did you tell me that?” is a rude question. I mean, it’s sort of a legit question.

    Imagine this scenario:

    “Hey Frank, I’ve got some ad copy for the new toothpaste launch for you to look at.”

    “Yeah, thanks, Ron, by the way–I’m gay.”

    I think Ron would rightly wonder why Frank chose that second to share. Is there something relevant? Are gays against toothpaste? Is there such a thing as gay toothpaste? WTF?

    But maybe they’re thinking more like:

    “Hey Frank, we’re having a barbecue. Bring along the wife.”

    “You know, Ron, just FYI, I’m gay.”

    “WHY did you have to TELL me that?”

    –which would be tacky.

    • Hi Nicole

      I think Ron would rightly wonder why Frank chose that second to share. Is there something relevant? Are gays against toothpaste? Is there such a thing as gay toothpaste? WTF?

      I agree with your response to this question in the first scenario.

      In the second example this response would definitely be inappropriate. Frank is probably wondering if his partner would be welcome at the BBQ which is why he told Ron in advance that he’s gay, but Ron is now pissed at the knowledge and doesn’t know how to respond.

  • I usually go with a ‘thanks for telling me, I’m glad you trust me’ or some variation of that, kinda depends on the person and how well we know each other

    Some of those things mentioned up there are beyond rude 🙁

    • Some of those things mentioned up there are beyond rude

      I agree Majken however there must have been instances when these comments were made, or GLSEN probably wouldn’t feel the need to suggest appropriate answers. 😮

        • Incredibly rude to ask No. 7. I’ve heard no. 4 a few times at meetings. A couple of the people asked didn’t know how to respond – they ended up walking away from the person asking the question.

  • Proves to me that there is a distinct lack of common sense out there if there is the need for a list of what NOT to say!

    After all you don’t ask hetero people half those things so why ask someone of a different orientation?

    • As we all know, sometimes common sense is in short supply when we don’t know what to say in a specific situation. A lot of people are still uncomfortable about working with GBLTQ individuals, despite the strides made in the last few years.

      I’m black and you have no idea of some of the stupid things people say to me, and then they finish their sentence by saying “no offence” as if that made it okay. 🙁

    • The responses proposed by GLSEN would seem to be obvious, and one would think there isn’t a need for such guidelines. However when I saw this article yesterday I asked a few straight friends what they would say under these circumstances and the result was not 100% or even 75% pass. I guess we all need reminders especially in light of changing workplaces.


Please comment! We'd love to hear from you.