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6 ways to be a year-round ally to your LGBTQ+ colleagues

Beyond that rainbow Zoom background, this trans activist lays out how to take real action that lasts past Pride month.

6 ways to be a year-round ally to your LGBTQ+ colleagues
[Photo: Hleb Usovich/Getty Images]

Behind the joy and celebratory sentiment of Pride month, we sometimes forget that LGBTQ+ health and basic rights–including employment, marriage, and healthcare rights–are relatively new. For many of us in the LGBTQ+ community, the overturning of such a landmark abortion case is a stark reminder of how our community’s rights, which we’ve fought for and won over the last few decades, now hang in the balance. 

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My day job at Intuit is in cybersecurity on Intuit’s Trust & Safety team, but my gay job is as an out and proud transgender woman who advocates for the rights and experiences of people inside and outside my company. Ensuring that LGBTQ+ folks feel included year-round. This starts with human rights and spans to improving working conditions for LGBTQ+ and fostering community across the greater PRIDE network. 

For three years now, I’ve driven a landmark event at Intuit, called Trans+ Summit, which brings together over 600 people from Intuit and other leading brands, legislators, media, and others to discuss the Trans+ experience and how we want to change it. The team behind this event is made of individuals from the Trans+ community and allies who are energetically engaged to see it succeed.

During this year’s summit, which took place in March on International Transgender Day of Visibility, Trans+ individuals and allies from VMWare, Dell, Reddit, and Intuit participated in a panel hosted by author and journalist Dawn Ennis, who was the first transgender journalist to come out in network TV news. From the conversation emerged best practices, common challenges, and opportunities for designing a more inclusive workplace. These learnings are specific to Trans+, but in most cases apply more widely to the greater LGBTQ+ community.  

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These insights are critical because they are directly from the mouths of folks who are working for leading brands and paint a picture of what true allyship can look like. Rainbow-washing by brands is at an all-time high, and if we want to make progress for the LGBTQ+ community, we must take real action that lasts beyond June. Here are some of the ideas that came out of the summit.

Know and normalize a wide gender spectrum and expression

A 2022 Pew Research study found about 5% of young adults in the U.S. say their gender is different from their sex assigned at birth, which includes people who describe themselves as man or woman or nonbinary, or who use terms like gender-fluid or agender to describe themselves. Interestingly, 44% of U.S. adults say they know somebody who is transgender, which is up from 37% in 2017. This data doesn’t tell us that more transgender people exist—rather that we’re finding words to describe their experience, and creating and acknowledging the fluidity of gender within the human experience. 

Communities—including workplaces—have shared expectations around what’s “normal,” and in many cases, the norm is still man or woman. To support LGBTQ+, including non-binary and transgender individuals, we must change these shared expectations and normalize the idea that people’s internal sense of self might change, or show up differently day to day. Pragmatically, we must use appropriate pronouns (or when in doubt, use they/them) and show respect for an individual’s affirmed identity. 

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Support the Equality Act

In 29 states, those who identify as LGBTQ+ lack basic freedoms like the right to rent a home or access medical care or receive public goods. Since 2018, nearly 670 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been filed and during this past March, over 200 bills targeting transgender individuals emerged. Overall sentiment across the U.S., however, doesn’t line up, with nearly 8 of 10 Americans supporting laws that protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations, according to a March 2022 survey. By supporting the federal Equality Act, basic freedoms and protections for every American in every state will ensue. With the overturn of Roe vs. Wade, this has never been more urgent.

Partner with racial equity advocates 

Fighting for LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion are complex and intersects with several other issue areas—it’s not an either-or conversation. People of color comprise one-third of the LGBTQ+ community, so allyship that doesn’t consider racial justice issues misses the mark. Allies and corporations might consider partnering on areas that intersect. To start, does your organization’s racial equity program consider how it’s impacting the LGBTQ+ community, and does your organization’s PRIDE community ensure it’s inclusive of people of color? 

Building Pride coalitions

My journey of coming out as a transgender woman at Intuit was made possible by the small handful of allies around me who embraced and supported who I was with all the potential challenges I may face. Before knowing how my colleagues would react, I was hesitant, because I was the first. Now at Intuit, we have a long history of paving the way for each other and building allyship across our Pride network, and even have key executives at the company that helped move the needle on diversity and inclusivity for LGBTQ+. 

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But not every LGBTQ+ individual has this support, and to improve conditions for the collective group of us, it takes coalitions outside of individual company Pride communities. This is one of the reasons we host a Trans+ summit—we wanted a forum for sharing best practices with and from peer companies. There is a myriad of opportunities for idea sharing, coalition building, and making it easier for those who might still be closeted, or exploring their gender expression, to feel comfortable enough to talk about it.

Acknowledge the trauma of the legislative and news cycles

Anti-LGBTQ+ headlines emerge nearly every day. As a transgender woman, I know these news cycles trigger me, and I take time to recover. As an ally, I remind others to do the same. For allies who aren’t feeling personally targeted by anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and news cycles, you can help carry this burden by listening to and sharing what’s happening on the ground and reminding people that it’s okay to step away and take a breather. What’s happening across the U.S. spurs trauma for the LGBTQ+ community, in the form of fear, anxiety, and more. We must acknowledge it, seek help and counseling when we need it, and allow each other to have space to process and grieve when necessary.

Work on LGBTQ+ advocacy for the other 11 months

Pride month is great. There’s perhaps not a better way to raise awareness of and focus attention on LGBTQ+ rights. It can be a great source of joy and comradery, too. But unfortunately, brands often capitalize on the month to sell more products or get their name in front of an LGBTQ+ audience. This is not allyship; it’s rainbow-washing. I want to see brands engage with the LGBTQ+ audience, influencers, customers, and employees during the other 11 months of the year, too. 

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Sometimes, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community feels like a full-time job, and it shouldn’t (because that is exhausting!) We need allies at work and in our communities who want to fight for LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion alongside us. I’m proud of the network we’ve built within Intuit and the broader tech community, and I’ve seen firsthand how sharing our stories and ideas has paved the way for more folks to express who they really are. I hope more allies and corporations can dedicate themselves to partnering and advocating for the LGBTQ+ community beyond a single month of the year.


Jessica Darke is a customer account protection operations lead for Intuit and cochair of Pride ERG Tucson.


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