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Labor discrimination in diversity: what happens to the LGBTIQ+ community in Colombia

The testimonies of a little explored territory in the country.

Comunidad LGBTIQ+
A portrait of a transgender businesswoman sitting at her computer desk and working on a laptop in the office. - Foto: Tom Werner | tomada de

"When I came out of the closet, my parents suffered because they knew this was going to happen, that the world was like that." Sebastián Gómez is a 32-year-old young man from Cali who throughout his life has been in four companies, three of which, according to him, have been derogatory in the workplace due to his sexual orientation.

"He does it because he's a queer", "he doesn't take work things seriously", "very sensitive", "he's so mannered", are some of the phrases that Sebastián has heard both from some of his colleagues and from his friends. bosses. The calm and “submissive” personality of this Caleño, in his words, means that his only action in the face of the insults he receives is to step aside and resign.

Mercedes is a 51-year-old transgender woman. Currently, she subsists thanks to an empanadas business that she "had" to set up in the Santa Fe neighborhood of Bogotá. Moved and with tears in her eyes, she explains that 20 years ago, when she began her transition, she even looked for a job as a dishwasher, but they never accepted her.

“Not only did they reject me, but they insulted me to do it, she was not even worthy to wash the bathroom for them. That I was a transvestite, a man with a dress and boobs, that my face was horrible: 'too masculine for that skirt'... If I have a vagina or a penis, a dress or pants, that doesn't change my mental capacity. I feel in the time of the caves and worse”.

When diversity becomes subjectivity at work

More than three and a half million people in Colombia have stated that they are sexually diverse, Felipe Cárdenas, president of the Colombian LGBT Chamber of Commerce, told Caracol Radio. Cárdenas also pointed out that "unemployment in the LGBTIQ+ community is almost 4 percentage points higher than the rest of the population."

This large number of individuals, when we talk about the work environment, are subject to discriminatory aspects that seem simple, such as identification on forms. The binarity of the boxes to check, according to some members of the community, makes them feel uncomfortable.

In addition, trans people who are in the process of building their identity and must change their personal documents do not find an understanding on the part of the companies and feel that the people in charge are not prepared.

This is supported by a study by the LGBT Chamber of Commerce and the National Consulting Center in 2019, in which they point out that more than 50% of the personnel who work in the areas of Human Talent do not know how to approach employability in people diverse. The center also determined that only 4 out of 100 trans people have a work contract in the country.

However, the 'opposite' voice also has something to say. The manager of an economic consulting company, whose name he asked to omit, declared to Fuchsia that this discussion, aside from insults, makes no sense because each company knows who they want to hire and this should not be taken as discrimination:

“Surely you have been rejected in some job to which you applied. Sometimes the company tells you the reason, sometimes they keep it to themselves. You will not know if it was due to lack of knowledge, failed a test or simply because of your hair color. That is not discrimination, it is that you are simply not what they are looking for, normal, it happens every day in the selection processes, it has happened to all of us, or if they had not accepted us everywhere.

The controversial opinion of the businessman has more particular arguments: “Each company has an essence that it transmits with its employees. For example, 100% of my clients are conservative, my company should reflect the same. There are other creative and open environments where I would be rejected for sure, but a diverse person would be welcome. It's common sense."

What can be done? Overview of the law in Colombia

They may say that it was Sebastián's decision to leave, that no one forced him, but taking into account his situation, it is possible to notice another problematic aspect around the subject and that is the difficulty in ascending; only his sexual orientation was criticized. We can make the assumption that he would be the underdog for an upcoming promotion, not even considering his accomplishments and abilities on the job.

Panorama de la ley en Colombia
Gay pride march in Bogotá in 2017. Credit: Semana Magazine. | Taken from

In Colombia, there are laws and regular channels that protect members of the LGBTIQ+ community who have been discriminated against at work because of their identity and sexual orientation. Starting with the Constitution, in article 13, where the Magna Carta establishes us "free and equal, with the same protection and treatment from the authorities and will enjoy the same rights, freedoms and opportunities without any discrimination."

Specifically, diverse people are included in Law 1752 of 2015, which establishes that said article "is intended to penalize acts of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, political or philosophical ideology, sex or sexual orientation" .

To assert these rights that are on paper, a tutela action must be filed and from there, the justice system indicates the following steps, depending on the particular case, taking into account the obstacles that arise along the way.

Labor lawyer Daniel Cardona told Fuchsia that discrimination in a selection process is arguable, but it is much more difficult to fight when it comes to harassment when you already have a job:

“It is not easy to seriously prove that a person was not hired because of their sexual orientation, it is complex. Now, the case reaches the courts, but unfortunately the special protection of the diverse group clashes with the autonomy of the company and it is the judge who decides which bonus, although it seems obvious to us what could be more important”.

In addition to the law, the LGBT Chamber of Commerce has been aware of the situation at the forefront of other aspects that are also very important. With dedication, the organization has been decisive with campaigns in Colombian companies where they apply education programs to create an inclusive work environment.

They have also had the initiative to propose mixed bathrooms, review the registration forms, train staff on how to act and speak in front of a person from the community so that they feel included in their own work: "We strive to establish inclusive environments and diverse teams because work is a right for everyone”.

Thanks to this, many well-known companies in the country are considered inclusive due to the renewal and implementation of policies for the diverse population.

Article taken from

By Maria Isabel Rodriguez

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