In a country where acceptance for ‘homosexuality’ is claimed to be as high as 73%, being gay in the capital city of the Philippines, let alone for someone working in the marketing and advertising industry, seems like a stroll in the park. This vivacious energy of the LGBTQ+ community certainly rubs off on everyone at the office. In a good way, I would like to believe.
I am openly gay but would consider myself to be low-key. Proud but not loud. Unique but not flamboyant. All due to the fact that I had to restrain a bit for the corporate world.
In the past 16 years of my professional career, I have observed that being gay has certain expectations in the workplace. Funny enough, these are things like “He’s going to be a funny guy!” (like I’m a stand-up comic), “You will make a great host during the Christmas party!” (probably related to how they see drag queens working up crowds), and “They should lead the Halloween decorations for the office!” (as if I automatically had an interior design degree.) Totally unrelated to any of the roles I got hired for whether as a brand manager, IMC manager, sustainability director, or strategy lead, if you ask me. Guilty! I gave in to all of these nonetheless because fortunately for my colleagues, I can do those things quite well.
Just based off how I have seen it unfold for a former ‘butch lesbian’ colleague and friend, the jovial spirit expected of me by officemates was conversely translated into something more distressing for her. It appears like they were more awkward to be around her than with me. They thought she will be rough, abrasive, and simply not fun to be around with. I can attest that she is far from all of that.
Both of us were judged unfairly in different contexts because of the unconscious bias that exists in the heteronormative definitions of what members of the LGBTQ+ community can and should do.
These creative presumptions or voids bring about real pressures to everyone in the LGBTQ+ workforce. There are all of these additional ‘roles’ we need to perform on top of what is expected of us in the office. And on the contrary, opportunities we are devoid of because our cisgender workmates are walking on eggshells around us.
We should not be weighed down by this pressure but instead channel inspiration to be our best selves. Every single day!
Sure, there were some instances where I was told during an evaluation session that I do a great hosting and singing job during company events but is that all I am good at? Or that I should wear a plain button-down shirt for an important meeting and my vividly colored shirts be used some day else. Still, I am fortunate enough that my sexuality and gender preference have not become barriers or that I have been victimized by these pressures to the point that I cannot perform my duties well.
I know my role to play. I always had confidence that I knew I had it in me to succeed in my career because I have the chops and stamina for it. But why does it still feel that extra effort had to be exerted to excel? I came across this YouTube video of Vox on ‘Why Meritocracy is Flawed?’ as it narrates the issue from a racial perspective. A lot of the discussions resonated with me as someone who associates as gay; most specially the point that merit alone does not best set me up for success. Ability + effort makes up merit which is driven by personal talent and attitude. The role institutions should play is to provide far more opportunities for minorities and a strong point of view that diversity is a force for social good. Only then can we get closer to realizing that inclusion is not a burden but an accelerator for growth – for the individual and the company we work for.
I am so happy that dentsu is generally a safe space where I can be unapologetically me and bring my 100% authentic self to work; a place where I can be an expert panelist in an industry webinar hosted by dentsu, be on camera with my ravishing blue hair, and freely greet our audience “Happy Pride month!” without prejudice. I got dozens of congratulatory messages for the session and my gorg locks with nil hate messages that day! I hope that every LGBTQ+ employee in our global network feels the same way too!
In case any members of the community have doubts on how to handle fiddly conversations when it comes to their gender identities, or if anyone out there would want to become better allies and be more conscientious with the way they speak to LGBTQ+ individuals, visit www.theunlimitedlovelanguage.com. It is our &Proud project in dentsu Philippines for a stride towards acceptance beyond tolerance which starts with knowing what words are hurtful and finding better, more sensitive ways to say things that are full of love.
We all have a role to play. Let’s give it our best!