Context

I have been in this company for 5 months now and I'm sharing an office with four men (35 to 55 y.o.). They all are white, heterosexual cis men. For the record I'm a white, 22 y.o., heterosexual cis woman1.

There's been a viral video in France in the beginning of July where a bunch of people discuss non-binary and LGBTQ+ discrimination. At the beginning of the debate the facilitator address these people as gentlemen, to which one of them responds:

What makes you think I'm a man?

Problem

Since this video was released my coworkers are making fun of them and making jokes about being non-binary. I do not want to repeat them here, but they are deeply offensive and spreads threats towards LGBTQ+ people. It goes very far most of the time.
They joke about it during work time, in the office, twice a day (and for 30+ minutes) since last week. Most of the time I put my earphones in so as not to participate2 (because I am shy and I struggle to be heard in debates and every time I confront them, they laugh at me and tell me my opinion is stupid), but this week they called me to get engaged in their LGBT-phobic conversation and jokes. It seemed like they wouldn't listen to me when I insinuate it's offensive and makes me uncomfortable (because I am a hetero cis woman), and I really want them to stop spreading those awful jokes while at work (at least when I'm nearby).

Question

What can I do to try to get my coworkers to stop their LGBT-phobic conversation during work time?
I would like to avoid confrontational suggestions if possible, since I'm gonna be around for a while and I would like to maintain a cordial atmosphere despite our differences of opinions.

Edit

  • They often start debates (most of the time on topics involving racism / homophobia / rape apology / ...). I'm bothered by the fact they do this during work time but mostly by their opinions themselves.

  • My manager doesn't know about it, but they're not managing all of us.

  • Yesterday I told them that my mom is non-binary1 after a very offensive and inappropriate joke. They were saying that LGBTQ+ people are freaks and that we should get rid of all of them, so I just "dropped the bomb". They laughed at me and went on. This made me really mad so I just put my earphones back on and didn't talk to them for the rest of the day, but it persisted for at least 30 other minutes.

  • Those are not "just jokes". They actually stand by the opinion held by their jokes. But TBH their hatred seems to be based more on ignorance and fear than real knowledge of LGBTQ+ "world", if I may.

  • I'm not trying to change their opinion. I surely don't agree with them, but it is not my place to try to change their mind, plus I'm not sure I could even change something. I'd just like them to stop uttering death-threatening jokes towards one specific part of the population during work time.


1: My mother does not consider herself a trans woman. She is what we call in French an ftoX, namely "female to unknown". There's no such thing in French as the neutral they (well, it's only starting with the "iel" pronoun but people fight not to use it), so we make a difference between (fe-)male (which stands for the sex) and (wo-)man (for the gender). Considering this, my mother was assigned female at birth and considers themselves neither a man nor a woman.

2: They often call debates on controversial topics. For instance when the verdict of the La Meute trial went public, they said it's normal for a woman to be abused of when talking to men in the streets.

Controversial Post — You may use comments ONLY to suggest improvements. You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Moderators will remove debates, arguments or opinions without notice.

up vote 60 down vote accepted

I've posted similar answers to similar questions before, but this isn't strictly a duplicate, so here we go again.

What I find helpful when I have to deal with similar things in my workplace is to shake my head to indicate "no" and walk away.

It's a simple gesture of disapproval and then an exit.

Even when I'm stuck working in the same room with people who are pretty awful, I can usually get away with leaving to go to the restroom or out for a quick smoke break, and by the time I return the conversation has usually shifted.

It seems to give people a strong indicator that what's going on isn't ok with me and it seems to reduce recurrences. Admittedly it doesn't eliminate recurrence, but most people seem to get the idea.

https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/14447/59

Or if you prefer, you could try a little hateful rant judo.

Something that worked for me, when I was working in construction, was to subtly redirect the rant. It was effective against a wide variety of divisive rants and it has helped me survive a number of US election cycles since then.

A person on a hateful rant usually doesn't care so much about what kind of hateful rant it is, so if you drop a bug in their ear about something else they hate when they're just getting started you can often perform a sort of hateful rant judo.

It sort of looks like this:

Ranter- Those damn immigrants rabble rabble rabble...
Me- Wait, did you see what [Most hated client] is asking for now? What the hell are they thinking?
Ranter- Let me tell you about [Most hated client] rabble rabble rabble!

It seems to work pretty well most of the time. It also helps a little bit with workplace solidarity. Most workplaces have a common enemy, in the form of an obnoxious client, or supplier or what have you... When people vent and joke together about a common frustration it can help to ease that frustration and helps them to relate to each other over something fairly harmless.

https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/6763/59

I've definitely been in these situations more times than I can count. There isn't really a fool proof way to make people see that they're being nasty and cruel without engaging with them fully over a really long period of time.

What I've said in my other answers is more ways to show disapproval, or to redirect. Actually getting people to change their views takes a hell of a lot more personal investment, and even then, they have to be willing. It seems that an awful lot of people don't see how harmful that kind of talk is, until it's about them or about someone they personally care about.

Force them to explain the joke.

Them: Ha ha stereotypical gay thing

You: <blank face> I don't get it.

Them: See, it's funny because gay people do this thing where...you know never mind.

By forcing them to explain the joke, you force them to confront the stereotypes that underly the joke. It's easy to hide behind a veil of humor, but it's harder for someone to stick to their guns when those stereotypes are laid bare.

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    Whereswalden have you actually tried this? Is there any experience or references you could use to back this up? Right now people are arguing about when or why it would work, could you elaborate? Are there certain circumstances where you'd be hesitant to use this or sure this will work? – Tinkeringbell Jul 19 at 6:25

Since you asked this on IPS, rather then on Workplace, I'll ignore other approaches like escalating to management/HR.

I want to make clear that this approach is not ideal. You won´t change their opinion, only maybe silence them. Also it may not work with all people. The idea is to stay in their lingo, and stay in joking/mocking tone - not to present this as an serious insult. But this approach has worked for me before.

What I found to be most effective to silence homophobes is to imply that their talking about it signals secret desires. Like:

They: some inappropriate joke about gays

You: Man, for somebody claiming to be only interested in girls you sure talk a lot about gay stuff. You sure you don't have some unfulfilled dreams there?

or if asked

They: So what are your thoughts about our discussion.

You: You know, normally I don't think a lot about it, as it does not really affect me. But your obsession with that topic lately got me thinking: Maybe it is true that most people are bi to some degree and that's why you are so fascinated about it...

A lot of people get pretty shy when they are suddenly the target. Repeat this in some form every time they bring it up - or even refer to them as the ones constantly obsessed with gay thoughts and chances are high they will keep a low profile with that topic around you.

(Reference: Own experience, with non PC friends etc.)

Anecdote: In my childhood I saw a woman silencing a man who couldn't stop his sexual banter by a simple Yeah, you know how they say about sex - those who need to talk about it usually don't have it! It shut him up and impressed me a great deal!

Further clarification as per statement in comments: First, you are essentially turning their own phobia against them. So while that does not convince them to become better people, I don't think this reinforces their opinion either.

Second, I imagine part of the reason why this is often quite effective is that there is a grain of truth in these assertions. See here

Most notably, alcohol intake was related to increased sexual willingness of men with a same-sex partner

and here

In a recent study, when asked to place themselves on a 'sexuality scale', of the 18 to 24 year olds participating, 1 in 2 chose something other than 100% heterosexual.

  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.. Daniel, if you feel like anything from this conversation needs to be emphasized in your post, please edit that into your answer. That way, people won't have to look inside the chatroom to see it :) Anyone else that wants to provide feedback, I can only move comments to chat once, so especially if you'd like to discuss something with Daniel, it might be better to use the chatroom! – Tinkeringbell Jul 18 at 7:53

You can't change their opinions, no matter how hard you try. Trying to do so can cause resentment and hostility, which I learned the hard way when trying to get my friend to tone it down on their liberal use of LGBTQ+ slurs. My solution was to shift the conversation from this topic to something else, preferably something that makes them look bad.

They joke about it during work time, in the office, twice a day (and for 30+ minutes) since last week.

Perfect. 30 minutes, twice a day ends up being 5 hours a week, which when you think about taking a half day on Friday is a lot of time. This is the topic that I would recommend switching to when they ask.

You stated you were putting in headphones to tune them out, which is a good solution so far. When they ask you about your opinions you can rebut them by saying something along the lines of:

I find that pretty offensive and don't want to take part, but don't you have work to do anyways?

or

I don't know why you are spending so much time talking about this.

This shifts the conversation to be more about their lack of work rather than LGBTQ+ issues, and makes them (hopefully) realize its a waste of time. If this persists, you should speak to the supervisor and explain that your coworkers are wasting lots of company time talking. You did note that the supervisor doesn't way anything to them when they do talk about it and sometimes laughs. Don't bring up the subject, keep it general.

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    I wouldn't go that way because I don't want to point out their "lack of work", as you way. Their work is brilliant and I think it's normal to have breaks once in a while (not necessarily in the office though). Furthermore, this seems a bit confrontational to me and I wouldn't be comfortable with such an approach. But sure it'd help people in similar situations. Thanks! :) – avazula Jul 17 at 12:57

I suggest that you remind your coworkers that all people have feelings and that we all differ in our own ways. Many of those differences are not chosen by us. They should spend more time being thankful for what they have, and less time making fun of what they perceive to be other people's problems.

I would tell them that ridiculing someone for something they are born with is just mean, similar to making fun of a birth defect or disease. (Please note that I am not saying that homosexuality is a disease. My point is that it is not necessarily a chosen lifestyle.)

I have a long history of making fun of other people. Not to their faces, but with my friends. I have matured a lot over 40-something years and seldom say things I regret now.

I keep much more control over my words because I now have an awareness that the people around me likely have friends and family members that my joking would disparage.

Personal Anecdote 1: About 10 years ago I almost made a joke to a co-worker about someone "riding the short bus" before I remembered that his daughter has down syndrome. I still remember it with shame even though I didn't say anything.

Personal Anecdote 2: Remember those "dead baby jokes" that were big in the eighties? I wonder if any mothers who lost a baby overheard us telling those. I sure hope not.

Personal Anecdote 3: When I was young, jokes about some diseases seemed funny. Since losing my dad, I cringe when I hear a joke about dementia. I try not to tell any joke that could dredge up those kinds of painful memories.

  • 2
    You could probably avoid having to add the caveats about "disease" by just using positive or at least more neutral examples, like hair color or height or a genetic tendency to taste grapefruit as extremely bitter, or even simply being straight. – Cascabel Jul 18 at 20:22

Had this question been about the behaviour of one lone individual, then I don’t think I would be able to offer any better advice than other answers posted here have already given.

However, because there are multiple individuals involved in this scenario, there may be some strange group dynamics at play that change the calculation somewhat.

When have you ever encountered a group of people who all feel the same way about a topic before? Why would this be any different? I’ll wager that some of your colleagues share your unease, but “play along” with the machismo in order to fit in. I have certainly been in that situation myself in the past.

Perhaps it’s worth observing each person a little closer to determine whether they are an initiator or a follower and then raise the subject with one “follower” at a time in a one-on-one setting, eg over lunch:

You know, I’ve never been in a workplace where there’s so much joking about other people’s sexuality. To be completely honest, it actually makes me feel a bit awkward, because I don’t think it’s entirely appropriate for a work environment and it could inadvertently be causing others considerable offence.

Even if they don’t discuss it with you any further, their mere awareness of others’ concern could make them feel awkward if/when similar jokes are raised in the future. Hopefully their (collective) unease/withdrawal from the situation will cause the instigator(s) to become isolated and self-moderate.

While the notion to try to handle the situation without going to HR or management may be the overall goal, this like many others, are sensitive topics and could heavily backfire/be twisted against you if you try to handle this alone and do it wrong. Since you have already tried isolating yourself (headphones) and used various techniques to get them to stop, I propose escalating this to HR and/or management. That will do 2 things for you, start documentation of bad behavior at work, and they can at the very minimum supply you with ways on how you can avoid further conflict including possibly moving your desk to a new location. I have gone to HR in the past for various behavior that I did not like, and they were usually kind enough to provide me with conflict resolutions that did not call for a witch hunt on the offenders.

Unfortunately, sexuality slurs and jokes are and have been heavily used to normalize and distance the "sting" just as minority groups have heavily used racial slurs in their everyday lingo and even in music. The difference is though, racial slurs became a cool thing to do among peers and in their culture while sexuality jokes are taken as being bigoted and homophobic.

You won't be able to change their behavior but you can remove yourself from the conversations by ignoring them and simply not reacting. This is often seen as a common suggestion to change behavior towards you that you do not like.

The best solution is to go to your manager since you said he is not even aware of this behavior. Of course, that will also put a giant label on your back if he were to talk to them about it, or he may be aware of it and not think it's a big issue so it continues.

You definitely need to make the company aware though. Should word leak that they tolerate such behavior, it could end up being a PR nightmare. They may even end up being sued should someone who is LGBTQ walk by and hear it. The result could net in an investigation (even if it isn't blown up in the public eye) and when questioned, they may ask why you turned a deaf ear to it. Many welcome videos provided on your first-day talk about workplace harassment which includes notifying the company of such behavior.

While you may not have done anything wrong, I have seen people fired for not notifying the company of behavior they knew about (should be noted this situation was mostly regarding theft of company products in a retail store).

Still, your boss and HR are there to make sure you have a safe environment to work in. You will find out real fast where the company stands on this behavior in regards to how they handle it. Of course, no one likes to get others in trouble or to be the "snitch". However, you are there to do your job, and if you cannot do so, then that issue needs to be addressed or you need to find an environment where the behavior is not tolerated and you can work to your fullest potential.

So with all that being said, I want to reiterate that trying to handle something like this could heavily backfire alone. No one wants to be a snitch, but some situations require notification of management. This I feel would be one that should not be handled by yourself.

  • 2
    While I think this answer definitely addresses a solution to the situation described by the OP it doesn't really answer their question. We expect answers on this site to focus on interpersonal skills. If you want to challenge the premise of the question and argue that the OP shouldn't attempt to talk to their coworkers about the issue that's also a possibility but you'll then need to clearly explain why this is the case. – sphennings Jul 17 at 22:18
  • @sphennings it was already indicated in the heading that to provide a diverse answer, I will be addressing this from a workplace SE point of view. – ggiaquin16 Jul 17 at 22:19
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    That's great but this question was asked on IPS not the Workplace. As such answers are expected to focus on the interpersonal aspects of the question. Can you edit your answer to make it more in line with site policy? – sphennings Jul 17 at 22:22
  • 1
    @sphennings well, I attempted to edit it to challenge the premise and provide an alternative solution. – ggiaquin16 Jul 17 at 22:33

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