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10 Key Recommendations for LGBTQ Assignees

Matthew MacLachlan

10 Apr 2017

Experiencing new cultures and exploring their differences can be a major part of the appeal of an international assignment. But what happens if the new culture has values that are incompatible with the assignee’s values? Even more worrying, what if the culture presents very real challenges for an assignee’s core identity? Let’s have a look in this article at the challenges faced by LGBTQ assignees.

Attitudes to LGBTQ assignees

Many countries the world over have seen attitudes to sexuality change dramatically over the last fifty years or more. Tolerance towards LGBTQ relationships has become normal, and more and more countries have legally recognised non-traditional family structures. This tolerance, however, is the cause of more and more cultural issues, especially in more religiously oriented societies.

 

LGBTQ Considerations

Let’s take one real case: A UK based company decided to send an Indian national on assignment to Miami for three years. During the assignment, the male employee came out as gay and married his partner. At the end of the assignment, the organisation either wanted to send him back to Mumbai or send on a new assignment to Kenya. In both countries, same-sex relationships are illegal; the assignee’s US visa had expired and he had no legal basis to reside in a different country. What would the future hold for him and his husband?

LGBTQ assignees are posing questions like the above that many global mobility teams are not yet ready to answer.

The Wall Street Journal has published an article about the experiences of several LGBTQ assignees and their challenges in many different countries. There are two major areas that must be considered: legal and social.

Legalities

For LGBTQ assignees, accepting an international assignment to a country where LGBTQ rights are not recognised presents a number of basic problems. Many countries may not accept LGBTQ relationships for immigration purposes, so the assignee is faced with leaving their family behind or refusing the assignment.

Many countries may not accept LGBTQ relationships for immigration purposes

Married and single assignees may face prosecution and severe penalty (up to the death penalty) for engaging in consensual sexual activity between people of the same sex.

Social impact

For some LGBTQ employees, making a decision about an expatriate assignment seems straightforward. Once they have researched the legal position of their new country to their satisfaction, they may be unaware of the social impact of their sexuality.

In Russia, same sex relationships are not forbidden by law, although not recognised

Unfortunately, in some countries, the legal position may not be wholly compatible with the country’s social attitudes. For example, expatriates from the LGBTQ communities moving to South Africa may find that they are legally protected but not always openly accepted in many environments.

In Russia, same-sex relationships are not forbidden by law, although not recognised. However, there are strict laws which prevent LGBTQ couples discussing their sexuality with children; Russian society is increasingly homophobic to the point of violent aggression towards LGBTQ assignees.

Russian society is increasingly homophobic to the point of violent aggression towards LGBTQ assignees

At work

Assignees typically accept an assignment abroad with the same employer they work for in their home country. In many ways, this is the one constant in the expat’s life during a relocation.

However, moving to another branch or subsidiary office of your organisation does not necessarily mean that values and attitudes in these offices are the same – in spite of the best will of the company’s hierarchy.

LGBTQ assignees should make sure they understand the social and cultural attitudes of their host country in the workplace as well. These can vary tremendously depending on a wide range of factors, including the line of business, the level of public tolerance towards LGBTQ topics and discussions.

LGBTQ assignees should make sure they understand the social and cultural attitudes of their host country in the workplace as well

Top tips for LGBTQ Assignees

  1. Learn both the legalities and attitudes of your new country.
  2. Understand the social norms that will best serve you and your lifestyle abroad. This may include practices that are unpalatable or that you thought were confined to history, such as ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’.
  3. Get realistic daily living advice for your host country.
  4. Recognise that in some cultures, social norms and tolerance may be different for assignees than they are for nationals of the host country. For others, there may be an implicit tolerance that does not or cannot extend into a public environment.
  5. Get as much support as possible from your employer both in your host country and at home. Creative organisations can help find ways for LGBTQ employees and their families to settle into less tolerant environments if they are otherwise prepared to accept an assignment abroad.
  6. Get realistic daily living advice for your host country. Keep in mind that this advice may be sourced from specific subcultures or from a younger generation in-country rather than the mainstream.
  7. Learn both the legalities and attitudes of your new country.
  8. Get realistic safety advice, especially if accepting an assignment in a hostile environment.
  9. Recognise that sometimes, it’s not always about your LGBTQ identity. Sometimes, it’s simply because you are different as a generic foreigner in a foreign land.
  10. Get professional advice from organisations such as Stonewall, which keep up-to-date information by country on issues facing LGBTQ assignees.