Welcoming LGBTQ+ Volunteers

LGBTQ+ Volunteers

It is still common, sadly enough, to see organisations recruit people from the LGBTQ+ community simply to claim that their programs are diverse. It’s a nasty habit, and it doesn’t work. Oh, yes, organisations can claim diversity, but anyone who looks at all closely will see that they’re just “checking a box”.

Full disclosure here. I am straight and cisgender. I cannot speak as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Because of that, I have had this article reviewed by people who are, to make sure what I write is accurate and appropriate. Thank you, Spencer Toth and Dana Litwin! And if you are at all interested in digging a little deeper into this and other volunteer issues, I highly recommend Dana’s YouTube channel “Dana’s Priceless Advice for Leaders of Volunteers”.

Diversity and inclusion are more than just boxes to be checked. Unless you are willing to take the time and make the effort to really embrace them, you may get diversity – temporarily – but you won’t get inclusion. And the diversity won’t last, as newly recruited volunteers will just leave again.

I believe, though, that more and more leaders are wanting to fully embrace people from all sorts of different communities, including the LGBTQ+ community. They may not, however, understand how to do so successfully.

I suggest you start with understanding the terminology.

LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, and individuals with a range of other gender identities and sexual orientations. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things. Someone’s gender identity is how the individual views themselves: non-binary, female, transgender male and others. Sexual orientation refers to the type(s) of person that the individual is sexually attracted to. Transgender refers to people whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth (ie: born with male genitalia but are female). Cisgender refers to people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth

Pronouns are how an individual would like others to refer to them: he/him, they/them, she/her and others. Someone’s pronouns may or may not match how you perceive their gender. I am friends with someone who uses he/him pronouns because they match his physical characteristics, as he is uncomfortable with many people knowing that his gender is actually female.

Yes, it can be confusing. But it’s okay to ask. In fact, it’s encouraged to ask rather than make assumptions.

“Nothing about us without us.”

In a workshop that I took a few years ago, Dr. Moussa Magassa, Associate Vice-President of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Mount Royal University, said “We can’t create inclusion for people. We have to co-create it with them.” Unless you are yourself a member of the LGBTQ+ community, talk with people who are before you go out recruiting.

Find out what would make them feel comfortable or uncomfortable. Have them suggest training that yourself, staff and other volunteers should take, on topics such as unconscious bias or microaggressions. Tell them about your program and how applications are processed so that they can tell you if there are any barriers that may need to be removed. For example, if your application form asks for the applicant’s sex, ensure that you provide more choices than just male or female.

Until you know what would make someone feel welcome, you can’t provide it. Guessing just isn’t good enough. To build a culture of respect, acceptance and understanding, you need to collaborate with them. Be careful, though. If you only go to these communities so you can recruit their members, you may be seen as insincere. You need to honestly value and want to partner with the community itself, not just use it as a place to find volunteers.

Create and implement an LGBTQ+ inclusive environment.

In addition to fostering a welcoming culture, you have to have policies that explicitly support LGBTQ+ individuals. Implementing non-discrimination policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression should seem obvious, but there are still organisations out there without them. If you do have them, make sure they are clearly communicated to all staff and volunteers, and enforce them rigorously.

It’s not just policies, though. Simple changes like offering gender-neutral washrooms can make a significant difference in creating an inclusive environment. Your collaborative discussions should give you other ideas to make the environment more inclusive.

Recruiting LGBTQ+ Volunteers

Once you’ve co-created a welcoming culture and an inclusive environment, it’s time to actively recruit. Reach out to LGBTQ+ organisations and community groups to build partnerships and connections. Attend LGBTQ+ events and networking opportunities to show your organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and to engage with potential volunteers. Finally, include your organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in your outreach materials, website and communications.

Celebrate LGBTQ+ diversity within and outside of your organisation.

Recognize and honour LGBTQ+ history and milestones by attending and/or commemorating events such as Pride parades or days of significance, such as Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Highlight the impact LGBTQ+ volunteers have had in your organisation, and showcase testimonials from current LGBTQ+ volunteers to illustrate the positive experiences they’ve had within your organisation. If they haven’t had any, you still have work to do!

Welcoming LGBTQ+ volunteers into your organisation isn’t just about your diversity rates.

It’s essential for increasing the impact you have in the world. By welcoming LGBTQ+ members, you not only strengthen and add creativity to your organisation, but you will reach more people and make a greater difference than you could otherwise.

Remember, diversity is not just a box to be checked; it’s a journey of learning and sometimes uncomfortable growth. Embrace the opportunity to learn from and with LGBTQ+ volunteers. You’ll find that we all benefit!

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