Last week, the UK’s Ministry of Justice found itself in hot water when a story came to light of severe abuse of a bisexual person in a workplace.
The Guardian reported how Ben Plaistow, 41, a prison officer, experienced a campaign of direct discrimination and harassment because of his sexuality. Plaistow was victimized and unfairly dismissed after he complained about what took place.
He was subjected to a litany of abuse. This included being called ‘poof,’ ‘gay’ and ‘vermin’, being pushed and slapped, and having water squirted in his face.
To add insult to injury there is also a claim that government officials altered and redacted documents in the case.
Whilst this situation may well be an isolated incident, the picture for bisexual employees in the UK is concerning.
Workplace discrimination remains rife
Research shows that roughly 60% of bisexual people have heard biphobic jokes or comments in their workplaces. This appears to correlate with the low number of bisexual people who feel comfortable coming out at work.
UK LGBT rights charity Stonewall found that bisexual employees are eight times as likely to be in the closet compared to lesbian and gay counterparts, with 55% of bisexual employees not out to anyone at work.
However, one report, put that number a lot lower and found that only 11% of bisexual people said most of their closest co-workers knew about their sexual orientation.
Do you need to be out at work?
Many people may ask, why do you need to be out at work? Shouldn’t you just ‘get on with your job’ rather than preaching about your sexuality?
Well, many workplaces in the UK encourage a good rapport amongst the staff. After work drinks, team building exercises and watercooler conversations help build staff relations.
With that in mind, it would be completely unrealistic to say our personal lives don’t come up in conversations in the workplace. LGBT people shouldn’t feel any more nervous about talking about their partner than a straight man should his wife.
If we truly are to have equality and feel unashamed of who we love then we must remove the anxiety LGBT people have in talking about their personal lives at work.
Luckily many workplaces seem to have done a good job with this when it comes to gay and lesbian people. Stonewall figures have shown that only 7% of gay men and 4% of lesbians remain closeted at work: not perfect but certainly heading in the right direction.
Don’t forget the bisexuals
But if employers truly want to make a better world for their LGBT staff, they are going to have to stop seeing us as LGBT and start seeing us as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender: Four groups that, whilst bound by common issues, actually have very different issues and characteristics.
When it comes to bisexuals, employers need to be wary that the issues they face are unique.
For example, making a joke about bisexuality is seen as fair game by a lot of people. Whilst most people know that making a joke about race or religion is inappropriate, those same people often see no harm in ridiculing bisexuality: ‘Oh, here he is: greedy!’ or ‘Oh, the ‘bisexual’ is getting annoyed,’ with sarcasm in their voice. Just a couple of examples of how people try to make bisexuals uncomfortable.
Bisexuality isn’t a joke. Jokes about black people or gay people are not funny. And we either all get equality or none of us do.
Bisexual women in particular are at risk of being over sexualized or harassed. Reports have found bisexual women specifically experience sexual violence more often than straight and lesbian women.
A shocking 50% of bisexual women have experienced rape at one point in their lifetime and 75% report experiencing sexual violence. A bisexual woman should not be viewed as overly sexual or ‘up for a threesome’ – especially in the workplace.
Bisexuals earn less
For those not called to action by bullying or sexual harassment, bi discrimination also impacts our earning potential.
Whether it be the result of prejudice or prejudice in itself, reports have proved that bisexual men in the United Kingdom are at the bottom of the wage scale, and earn on average 30% less than gay colleagues.
One report found that the average gross hourly earnings for bisexual men is £9.39 compared to £12.30 for straight men and £13.33 for gay men.
That’s right people, there is a bisexual pay gap. And we need more research in to the reasons why.
Taking all this into account, is it any surprise so many bisexual people don’t want to come out at work?
A way forward in the workplace
I encourage companies to make sure that issues around bisexuality in the workplace are given the same care and attention as all issues of inclusion and anti-discrimination.
For those that may be involved in LGBT roles in a company, I hope you can explain how the support and safeguarding you offer to gay employees differs from the care you offer to bisexual employees. It’s really not enough to say the company supports LGBT people and simply throw a rainbow flag at things.
And for bisexual employees dealing with workplace discrimination, know you are in the right.
It’s common to feel that it’s better to ‘just put up with it’ than make the problem bigger. However, we shouldn’t have to live that way. Emailing or talking in person to HR or your boss and explaining the issue should be your first step. Don’t suffer in silence.
Here’s wishing Ben Plaistow justice: I hope his case is an eye opener for all employers.
Follow Lewis on Twitter: @lewyoaks