One New Brunswicker wants to help the province’s businesses and organizations create a culture where both their employees and clients in the LGBTQ community feel valued.
AJ Ripley is the founder of Beam Diversity Consulting, a new business out of Fredericton that aims to help businesses and organizations learn strategies for creating a culture where LGBTQ people – specifically transgender and gender-diverse clients and colleagues – feel valued and included.
“I just wanted to give a chance for people who run businesses to learn the skills, learn the language, learn about the issues so that they can really make the best possible environment for their colleagues and clients who identify with the LGBTQ community,” says Ripley.
Beam Diversity does this through workshops that teach gender theory basics, inclusive language strategies and tools for allyship. Beam also works with organizations to identify and solve current social and structural barriers that gender-diverse people may face when accessing, or working for the organizations.
Ripley, who is a transgender man, got the idea for Beam Diversity watching the success of friend Kingsley Strudwick, who started Ambit Gender Diversity Consulting in Victoria, British Columbia. Ripley had already been doing this kind of facilitation work for a while, so it got them thinking about gaps in education for businesses and organizations in New Brunswick when it came to diversity.
“As a person who’s spent many years here and also lived away, people are always surprised when they find out I decided to settle here as trans-person,” says Ripley.
Some common examples of insensitivity and micro-aggressions experienced by the LBGTQ community include misgendering clients (“Hello sir” “Hello miss”) and making an LGBTQ employee the unwilling “expert” on the subject for the business.
But Ripley says it’s not that New Brunswickers are purposefully uneducated or insensitive about the experiences of the LGBTQ community, it’s more that many people simply haven’t had the education or information available to them, or the opportunity to learn.
“I’ve lived here as a queer person for a number of years before I came out as trans, and I really believe we have a vibrant LGBTQ community and I really think that it is a good place to be queer and trans,” they said. “It’s just maybe certain people don’t necessarily have access to the type of learning required, but I do think lots of people are open-minded and are willing to learn new things, they just don’t know what they don’t know.”
New Brunswick hasn’t had the most progressive record on LGBTQ issues, particularly when it comes to trans healthcare. The province was the last one to cover gender-confirming surgeries for trans people.
“When I was doing the activist work around that issue, that’s when I recognized [the knowledge gap],” they said. “I was sitting with health authorities, sitting with professionals, these are really well-educated people who knew nothing about what it means to be transgender, especially in a place like New Brunswick which has such significant barriers to access for health care.”
Though only in business for a month or so, Beam Diversity has already brought its workshops to some massage therapist programs in the province and to several pharmacies in Fredericton, including Bowman’s Pharmasave. Ripley says they hope to eventually bring workshops to both Horizon Health and to schools and educators. They’d also like to do workshops with the New Brunswick government, since it has such a wide impact on queer and gender-diverse New Brunswickers.<
“It would be great if we were able to line up some workshops with the government of New Brunswick,” says Ripley. “Just because part of every New Brunswicker’s life revolves around accessing government services, and how can you do that and be treated in a respectful manner when you’re a trans or gender-diverse person I think is an issue many people face.”
But Ripley says any type of business could benefit from getting more educated on creating a more inclusive culture for LGBTQ employees and customers.
“If your business is connecting with anyone, it’s beneficial because it teaches you best practices for approaching people. If you haven’t already worked with somebody who identifies that way, chances are you will eventually,” says Ripley.
“It’s not necessarily about reaching out from your business, it’s also about how you conduct your business, how you make your colleagues feel safe and valued when they’re members of the LGBTQ community.”
Though Beam Diversity targets New Brunswick specifically, Ripley says any region can benefit from becoming more educated on LGBTQ inclusivity.
“I think it’s a type of universal compassion-building exercise that’s beneficial to everyone and something we need to do regardless of what province we live in,” says Ripley. “We just need to remind people of the ways in which we can make everybody’s life a little bit easier and make people feel valued and seen as part of the larger community.”