What does it mean to be LGBTI in 2017?

Afsar Syed Mohammad, Senior Technical Specialist, Gender Equality, Diversity and ILOAIDS

Neline M., who works for an American multinational company in Geneva, Switzerland, considers herself lucky to be working for a company that does not discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) employees. After her partner was transferred to Geneva, she informed her HR manager about her relationship and requested a transfer to Geneva. Her company accepted the request under its “dual career” policy, which acknowledges LGBTI couples.
More companies, and many governments, could do a better job improving the laws, policies and working conditions for LGBTI employees, studies find.

According to a 2016 study by the Center for Talent Innovation, 58 per cent of LGBTI employees at multi-national corporations feel their companies have a policy of non-discrimination based on sexual and transgender identity, but many of those companies still struggle to provide any protection to their employees in countries where they face a hostile legal environment. For example, many multinational companies operate in the 72 countries that still criminalize same sex consensual activity.

“My company expects us to be regionally flexible in order to grow in our career but I can’t be transferred to the Middle East and Africa where I may be jailed due to my sexual orientation,” said Neline.

The problems that LGBTI people face transcend geographical boundaries. LGBTI and their families face several challenges related to marriage/partnership, parental or employment rights, as laws change from one country to another.
There remains a lot of work for employers, governments and trade unions to do to promote and ensure decent work for LGBTI workers. The ILO’s research – Promoting Rights, Diversity and Equality in the World of Work (PRIDE) – undertaken in nine countries between 2013 and 2016 – confirms that stereotypes and prejudice affect the employment prospects of LGBT persons. They face discrimination, including violence and harassment, at different levels. They are compelled to hide their sexual identity.

The importance of addressing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has been highlighted in several ILO reports as a follow-up to the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and by the ILO Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations. The ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) allows for inclusion of additional grounds of discrimination other than those mentioned in the Convention, and some ILO member States have specifically referred to this provision to acknowledge coverage of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, the ILO has two specific instruments: the Private Employment Agencies Recommendation, 1997 (No. 188) that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in vacancy notices or offers of employment; and the HIV and AIDS Recommendation, (No. 200), that mentions protection of human rights as key to the success of HIV prevention efforts and calls for the coverage of all workers, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Neline said the application of non-discrimination policies is changing slowly, but changing nonetheless. “It’s an evolution,” she said. Constant, open and public conversations between LGBTI persons and their heterosexual colleagues, neighbours and friends will help improve attitudes. She regularly speaks about herself at her workplace.

“To be public is the only way to be equal,” she said.

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