Q: Where I work we do a couple of fundraisers every year. I think it helps morale when we work together for a good cause and we try to keep it fun. This year someone suggested that -as a gag- the male members of management could cross-dress as women. I was surprised that others seemed to be okay with this, because I I’m pretty sure it would be insensitive to our LGBT employees. I reminded others that there was a time when wearing black face –as a gag- was acceptable but that now we know better. Am I being hyper sensitive?
A: From an HR perspective, I think you are right and not over-sensitive.
The objection to doing this is not because you’re increasing your legal risk. You are not. LGBT employees are not considered a “protected class” like religion, nationality, age, so they don’t enjoy the same federal workplace protections as those classes do (note that some states and localities do offer those protections). The objection comes from the shared sensibilities we have slowly acquired as a society.
It’s taken a while, but as a culture we’ve experienced a big change in attitude toward LGBT issues and a growing acceptance that this community is an integral part of our society. Whether it’s the legalization of gay marriage or the very public transition by Bruce Jenner into Caitland Jenner, the mainstreaming of the LGBT community is happening.
So as our views evolve, we now have a new sensitivity to others’ perspectives. Remember when it was perfectly normal to make Polish jokes? Or when no one blinked when a disabled person was called names that now makes us cringe? So, who knows, you might be right in suggesting that cross-dressing could someday be the new black-face, in other words, something that violates our collective sensitivity.
Let me go on the record here to say that I think -in general- people are too quick to be offended or as it’s now known “triggered”. So, I can completely relate to those who feel like political correctness can feel oppressive and become counterproductive. Having said that, in a work setting, I’d err on the side of PC.
So, go with your instinct. There are many other fun ways to do fundraising that don’t run the risk of offending your employees (and customers). Just Google it.
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