Beware the lone voice of the silent majority

Workplace values are a reflection of community values. In a simple sense, most people at work watch or read some version of the news and form their opinions accordingly. Those opinions inform values, and for a lot of us, those values come with us to work.

Sometimes this brings out the best, uniting us in a collective sense of pride and identity. Remember the office conversation on the morning when the Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens team won the inaugural gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Sometimes it has the opposite effect. And that’s when things become dangerous.  And for the LGBTIQ community, particularly, hard-fought reforms are firmly within the sights of Australia’s own alt-right politicians keen to capitalise on the rising global tide of populist policies. 

The rise of the alt-right

The recent political rise of Queensland National Party MP George Christensen, is something Australia’s LGBTIQ community cannot ignore. His extremist beliefs are toxic to Australian workplaces. Already an outspoken opponent of marriage equality and the Safe Schools program, Christensen’s announcement yesterday that he has resigned (effective this week) as the National Party’s whip due to - in his own words his - "constant outspokenness" opens the door for him to dial up the hate speech and rhetoric aimed at making Australia’s LGBTI community unsafe – in schools, in workplaces and the wider community.

Emboldened by his new-found freedom to speak his mind, Australia’s LGBTIQ community can expect to feel the sting of his homophobic mindset. It’s likely that rather than ignore him, the media will follow his every move and provide him with plenty of oxygen as long as he keeps giving them soundbites that sell papers and increase clicks.

Don't stay silent

So what can we do to protect notions of diversity and inclusion in what is shaping up to be an ultra-conservative, but hopefully short-term, future?

We have four clear options:

  1. As employees and employers, we can bury our head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening.

  2. In the workplace we can lead the conversation by reiterating workplace policies that are inclusive, fair and in place to make work a safe environment for everyone. It’s critical that we ensure our workplaces continue to acknowledge days on the calendar intended for community reflection – World AIDS Day, International Day Against Homophobia and Harmony Day.

  3. We must speak up – especially those of us working in industries and sectors more likely to embrace the conservative views of the day. By choosing to stay silent in the face of the subtle rollback of workplace rights, we are only hastening the demise of our freedom to be ourselves.

  4. Most importantly of all – continue to be ourselves. Nobody wants to be forced back into the closet and have the door slammed behind us.

The workplace will be a key battleground

The emboldening of those who share the extremist values of the alt-right politicians in pursuit of policies that are a reflection of their extremist views will motivate people to fight back. The workplace looks set to become a key battleground in the defence of human rights against populist policies designed to bring out the worst in people.

This weekend, from its beginning as a gay right's march in 1978 that ended in the participants’ arrests, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, now one of Australia’s biggest tourist drawcards will take place. It will bring hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets of Sydney to enjoy the parade as it travels down its Oxford Street route.

This year the Board of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras made the brave and honourable decision to formally un-invite the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull to the Parade as an official guest.  While that decision was ultimately overturned, the impact is hard to deny. We can only hope the Prime Minister, while pandering to Australia’s political players on the extreme side of politics, is not blind to the community values held by the people he represents in his own electorate.

It’s is up to our leaders, both political and corporate, to ensure diversity is accepted and not just “tolerated” and we cannot afford to stand in silence and bear witness to the erosion of our human rights in the workplace.

The battle is just getting started.

TOPIC: Social justice
RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Employment law

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