Roll out the rainbow tablecloths and sing to the gay heavens, it’s pride month. Just as delicious as a wonderfully curated meal are increased equality, inclusion, and the effort toward making a more aware and supportive gastronomical industry. Here is a list of things your queer (LGBTQI+) colleague would love you to know.
1. The difference between gender identity and sexuality
Gender identity means the gender that a person feels comfortable presenting as (male, female, or non-binary, i.e. someone who identifies as neither male nor female). Sexuality is who you feel drawn to romantically and/or sexually.
2. The acronym: LGBTQI+
L- Lesbian (sexual orientation), B – Bisexual (sexual orientation), G – Gay (sexual orientation), T- Transgender (gender identity). This acronym is constantly expanding and deepening, knowing it is essential. If you work in a restaurant, terms like ‘86ed’ and ‘back of house’ are acquired knowledge – to be an ally, you have to absorb vocabulary, too. Click here for more terms. (Keep in mind: not everyone is keen on labels and some steer clear of them altogether.)
3. Break free of your stereotypes about queer people
Not every gay man loves fashion, not every lesbian has short hair, not all queers are into being ‘fabulous’. Thinking each queer is the same would be like reducing all pasta to spaghetti.
4. Avoid invasive questions
Questions about our private sex life, or the wish for any sort of surgery, are off the table and should be avoided, especially in such a high-pressure work environment.
5. You are part of the solution
Noticed a co-worker making sexist jokes? Heard someone say a slur about a gay colleague in the kitchen? Say something. If you see us being mistreated (in front of our faces or behind them) be there and stand up for us.
6. Gender is a spectrum
Imagine a line where at the one end of the spectrum is ‘female’ and at the other end ‘male’. Where you align along this spectrum is fluid, meaning it can change. Being open to employees’ gender expression is queer-inclusive. Personally, my gender expression differs daily – with me presenting more tomboy one day and then putting on some blue eyeshadow and rocking sparkly jewellery the next. Restaurants that embraced and even celebrated my gender expression made me feel accepted and appreciated, which in turn made me a better worker.
7. Pronouns (he, she, they)
You might be surprised to learn that the pronoun your colleague or employee prefers doesn’t correlate with your assumption, so it is good to ask. ‘They’ is the pronoun for gender non-binary people. Outside of queer contexts, it’s commonly used when the gender of a person is unknown. “Who was the busser for the breakfast shift? They left the place a mess!” The third-person ‘they’ was awarded ‘Word of the Year’ by Merriam-Webster in 2019.
8. Being ‘cisgender’
This means your gender identity matches the sex you were assigned with at birth. If you were born as a male, and still identify as a man, you are a cisgender male.
9. If you misgender a colleague, apologise
If you call a new waitstaff member ‘she’ when ‘he’ is correct), it's only polite to say sorry. If a colleague corrects you, thank them. Make it your responsibility to remember their pronoun. If you can remember the ingredients to diverse dishes, you can also remember the pronoun of your colleague. I believe in you.
10. Give us space and listen to us
Make sure that we are represented in the hierarchy of the restaurant, that we are being given equal opportunities and are being promoted to thrive.
11. Gastronomy is extremely gendered
The customs, the etiquette and the work positions. In the United States, only around 7 percent of restaurant-leading chefs are female. I worked in a high-end deli where not a single woman made sandwiches. How come?
12. Who is the best man/woman/non-binary person for the job?
You might be surprised. I often had employers assume, because of my small frame (I’m 5’1”), that I wouldn’t be able to do any heavy lifting. Pity, since I’m an expert at lugging heavy boxes into basements and filing them into the refrigerator.
13. Some restaurants are fighting against gender norms (and more can join the party!)
Practices like ‘ladies first’, the selection of gendered uniforms, or the assumption that a man will foot the bill, all reinforce gender stereotypes. Several restaurants are now working to fight against gendered etiquette, like Tied House, Bad Hunter and Lula Café in Chicago, where sommeliers serve their guests in a counterclockwise fashion regardless of gender, starting at ‘Seat 1’ instead of at the ‘lady’.
14. Sexism is not fun or funny
I have laughed and flirted my way through many work situations simply to get through them, not because I was being genuine. If a guest gives me an off-comment about my ‘womanly’ appearance, I brush over it with a laugh and say “thank you.” Being pleasant or likeable in this industry can be a survival strategy to get us better tips or respect in the kitchen – it isn’t actually consent.
15. Working in a restaurant is stressful enough
Please be careful not to emotionally exhaust your queer colleagues. Oftentimes ‘effeminate’ people are pegged as being more ‘emotionally adept’ and end up getting their ear chewed off.
16. Gender-neutral (unisex) bathrooms are awesome
They’re great for transgender co-workers, for non-binary coworkers, for women (in my opinion), for basically everyone.
17. We want work to be a safe space for us
Your acceptance is valuable – we don’t want to have to defend ourselves, our gender and/or our sexuality at work. Then we can focus on the work at hand, like our menu for tonight.
18. Please don’t ‘out’ us
That is, telling others about our sexual orientation – this spans to all relationships within the restaurant. It isn’t appropriate for you to out us to a guest, co-worker, or superior, if we haven’t consented.
19. It’s a scary time to be queer
We need your allyship and support more than ever. While queers are getting more TV coverage (with shows like Queer Eye and Ru Paul’s Drag Race), life in the real world can be rough. Acceptance for queers is dwindling in the US, hate crimes are up, and the senseless murder of trans women is rampant…the news is all-too-full of reprehensible treatment of queers and it hurts.
20. It has been legal to discriminate against queers in the workplace
This has forced many to be very calculated about their choice to come out at work or not – a miscalculation could result in their being fired or laid off. As a result of the landmark Supreme Court case decided on June 15, 2020, gay and transgender workers are finally protected against discrimination under United Staes law.
21. Go the extra mile
Make your restaurant a queer-friendly establishment. Team up with a local queer organisation, make a queer event or evening at your restaurant, or donate to a queer cause. Time to post that rainbow sticker on your front door with pride.