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Words matter -- Understanding terminology in the workplace

The way Missouri companies express themselves is very important, and much can be gleaned from the terminology executives and supervisors use when referring to their employees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

There are as many terms as there are shades of skin color, but an unequivocally respectful term remains LGBT. While most are familiar with the terms lesbian and gay, much confusion surrounds those identifying as bisexual and transgender.

Bisexual employees are physically, emotionally, sexually and/or romantically attracted to both males and females, often in varying degrees.

Transgender encompasses a broad spectrum of those living substantial chunks of their lives expressing a different gender from that which they were assigned at birth. Transsexuals and cross-dressers fall into this category. Some transsexuals physically transform themselves into the other sex, but a great majority do not.

An employer that uses the word "Queer" to describe an employee can be considered to be making a derogatory remark. Opinions within the LGBT community vary on the use of the word "queer," but as it has in the past been considered a slur, it has no business in the workplace.

The concept of gender also is fraught with confusion. Gender and sex have two separate meanings. Gender refers to the specific cultural and social roles that define males and females in a context, while sex is a reference to the biological features of men and women.

Gender can be fluid and varies greatly around the globe. Other factors that influence gender are social class, race and age. To have gender awareness means one has an understanding of gender issues and the negative inequalities arising from misperceptions.

Including LGBT workers' input in diversity training programs is one way employers can prevent employment discrimination. Simply because a superior or company executive uses outdated terms for their workers' preferences does not in itself indicate discrimination, but is a strong marker that diversity training is needed on all levels of the company ladder.

Employees exposed to harassment in the workplace due to gender or other reasons can file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to resolve their disputes. Failing that, a Missouri attorney who handles employment law can be a good source of support and information.

Source: Pride at Work, AFL-CIO, "LGBT 101 Basic Terminology" Jul. 28, 2014

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