Leo D'Angelo Fisher Columnist

Leo covers management and leadership issues, business trends and corporate strategy. He is a former senior business writer at The Bulletin and a former host of The Business Hour on 3AW.

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Gay tag gibberish

Published 14 May 2012 07:22, Updated 15 May 2012 07:06

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The guest speaker at the Australian Institute of Management’s Outstanding Women breakfast series in Melbourne last week was Queensland gay rights activist Shelley Argent, who is described as “one of Australia’s strongest advocates for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community”. It’s that ugly phrase again – commonly abbreviated to GLBT.

Argent’s advocacy for gay rights – which began in 1989 when her son told her he was gay – is to be admired and she has won many accolades for her work. Most recently she was named the 2011 Senior Queenslander of the Year. But I have trouble with the notion of a “GLBT community” – more expansively known as the GLBTI community, the additional “I” being for intersex. (A more inclusive term is GLBTQIA – “Q” being for queer, “A” for asexual.)

These terms, which have been kicking around since the 1990s, are now finding themselves in corporate and (of course) public service human resources manuals as sanctimonious HR people with too much time on their hands find ever more ways to patronise employees and further complicate workplaces. HR departments have contrived elaborate programs to make “GLBT people” or “GLBTs” feel welcome in their workplaces and to ward off abuse and discrimination from co-workers.

Where do I begin on this sensitive topic – made all the more sensitive by our politically correct friends in HR – without my comments being misconstrued? I shall give it my best shot.

Except for the most ideological, or misguided, proponents of a GLBT “community”, I cannot believe that homosexuals (and others) take this concept seriously. I simply do not accept that a homosexual man or woman, or someone who identifies as bisexual or transgender, consider themselves to be part of a community. Why should they?

It is a social contrivance to suggest that an individual who happens to be gay would, or should, feel some affinity with someone who is bisexual or transgender, let alone intersex or asexual.

Were I to take it upon myself to lump this assortment of people under one catch-all umbrella term, I would be rightly accused of stereotyping, marginalising and demeaning a diverse group of individuals according to my own “mainstream” social mores. I would be described as narrow-minded, myopic and exclusionist. But no such charges are levelled at hardline gay activists, politically correct HR people and those gullible managers and consultants who have hitched a ride on the latest bandwagon.

It is not my intention to embroil important social campaigners such as Argent in this discussion, but I will point to politically correct extravagances such as the (official title follows) GLBTI Health and Welfare ministerial advisory committee just appointed by Victoria’s Baillieu government (a Liberal-National party government).

Government MPs have been critical of the move, privately questioning the need for such a committee. “I don’t see overt discrimination [any more]. It’s unnecessary. You don’t need a committee for everything,” one senior MP told The Sunday Age.

The problem with such busy-body committees – and this includes those in the corporate sector and government departments – is that once instituted they feel obliged to do something. Suddenly, there are manuals, policies and online training courses – whether or not any of those things are needed.

Where HR departments introduce GLBT policies, suddenly the homosexual man or woman who didn’t realise he or she needed special attention becomes “a GLBT” overnight. Somehow, I don’t think they will appreciate it.

In the case of workplaces, where there are problems of abuse and discrimination against employees because of their sexuality or “gender identity”, the solution is hardly going to be a GLBT action plan. Someone who bullies a co-worker because of their sexuality, race or ethnicity has deeper problems than can be addressed by such HR flim-flammery. Yes, such workplaces and problem employees need expert and considered attention, but do we really need to place everyone in neat ideological boxes to underscore their “otherness”? I thought we had progressed beyond that.

A recent survey of 4000 “GLBT people” by La Trobe University and government agency Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, found that nearly 80 per cent of “this community” have suffered at least one instance of “intense anxiety” in the past year. Although the survey was not limited to workplaces, one can only suppose that discrimination in the wider community is felt in equal measure in the workplace.

However, I’m not convinced that the incidence of discrimination is so high in Australian workplaces. I see no hint of it in my own workplace, nor do I hear from others that it is an issue in theirs. Nor do I believe that the distinct constituents of this so-called community suffer common issues or difficulties.

No doubt there was a time, when there was open hostility against anyone who dared to be different, for disparate groups to band together under artificial banners such as GLBT, but we have moved on from such times. The emergence of GLBT policies and programs in the workplace is a backwards step. It is condescending, patronising and artificial.

Where there are problems, whether in the community or at work, they should be dealt with. And the underpinning of any response should be respect for the individual. Creating a new social ghetto is not the answer. The GLBT push is simply inventing new problems. It’s an ugly descriptor and an uglier concept.

I’m at a loss to understand why people who have suddenly been branded “GLBTs” have not protested at their inclusion in this backwards, unwanted piece of social engineering. Perhaps they’re ignoring it and hoping that it goes away. Let’s hope it does.

Do you agree? Write and tell me your views.

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