Why it’s time to show gatekeeping the door

Sand Owsnett · 10 May 2021

As members of a trade union, we have to work to ensure that equality and inclusion are built into our workplaces. We need to create the positive change that we want to see, and make sure everyone feels welcome, equal, and represented.

In an ideal world, the LGBT+ community would be a safe and inclusive place. But all too often, members of our community and others are excluding people. They are behaving like gatekeepers.

What is gatekeeping?

Gatekeeping is when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity; or questions the authenticity of an individual’s lived experiences.

Basically, it is when someone tries to set limits and requirements on what it means to be part of the LGBT+ community.

Gatekeeping can be seen in the language people use about certain groups, unfair policies, or when people work to exclude others based on their own prejudices and stereotypes. It can be done for a variety of other reasons too, for example due to misconceptions and bias (unconscious or otherwise), lack of knowledge or understanding, societal expectations, or ignorance.

It can sound like this:

“She can’t be bi; she’s married to a man”
“He isn’t camp enough to be gay”
“You don’t *look* trans”
“They’re too feminine to be non-binary”

We’re all different

It should be acknowledged that just because we are part of a minority / marginalised community, that doesn’t mean we’re all progressive and inclusive. We are not homogenous, amongst us there are differences of opinions and beliefs, much like any group of people.

Gatekeeping can also be used to reinforce cis-heteronormative gender roles and expectations. Not everyone wants to or can conform, and no-one should be expected or made to so other people feel more comfortable being around them. Making acceptance conditional on “being a certain way”, is not acceptance, it is exclusionary.

Whilst gatekeeping is needed in some forms, for example by creating safe spaces for people to learn, develop, grow, and share experiences with others; it can be harmful to exclude people from their own community, and harmful to the health and wellbeing of those excluded. There has to be a good balance.

We can learn by listening

We must become aware of our own unconscious biases, learn more about marginalised groups, and call out gatekeeping behaviours – whether we are in the LGBT+ community or not. People should be able to be themselves at work – not be marginalised or seen as ‘other’.

The best way to do this is to listen to LGBT+ people and actively educate yourself about the discrimination that they specifically face. Spend time supporting and understanding them.

Prospect works with members and reps to ensure that we build as open and fair workplaces as we can. We work to stamp out bad behaviours in the workplace and train our reps to support everyone equally. We offer webinars and support to workers to help them become aware of unconscious biases, and the impact that language and behaviour can have on those around us.

We’re all valid

There is no “right way” to be a human; to be a person; to be trans, non-binary, lesbian, gay, bi or however you identify. We are all different. We all have different lived experiences. We are all valid.

Sand Owsnett is a Prospect member and activist. Find out more about Prospect’s LGBT+ work.