This question from a friend comes from a lively discussion I was having with a handful of colleagues. As you may know by now I often dedicate blogs to answering questions that some may find uncomfortable to ask for fear of being judged or afraid they may offend someone if they do ask. In my circle of friends and business community I am the go-to source for all of these questions and I answer them here for you.
The question is – is it okay to ask about a LGBT person’s kids while in a business setting? For example asking a lesbian, who happens to be a mother, “who gave birth to them?” during a business meeting.
As a mother who has received this question on many occasions I can say my answer directly relates to my comfort level with the person asking. That doesn’t mean that the person asking is wrong for being curious. I am just as guilty of wondering who had the child when I meet a lesbian who has children too. There’s no reason we should ostracize our straight colleagues for being just as curious as we are. It’s human nature.
The three rules to business are; know, like and trust.
Before you ask a business associate this question or before you answer this question when a business associate asks… consider the following:
Do you know this person?
- Is this someone you do business with frequently or someone you will have future interactions with inside or outside of a business setting?
Do you like this person?
- Let’s be honest – is this someone you like? Is this someone you like enough to divulge intimate details of your relationship?
Do you trust this person?
- Trust is always the kicker with me. Do you trust that the person asking is asking for a genuine reason? Simple curiosity even.
If I know the person I am talking to, like the person I am talking to and trust the person I am talking to – chances are I will be okay in talking about the personal details. But if you are someone that I am just starting to get to know I would advise against asking in the early part of our relationship building. You may be genuinely curious and mean absolutely no harm by it, but remember you are asking a personal detail about someone’s life that they may or may not want to share. If you ask upon your first encounter together – the chances are pretty great that you are going to make the person you are asking uncomfortable (myself included). But if this is someone that you’ve had a relationship with for a while, you should be able to tell when the right time to ask is.
I asked someone who is part of the LGBT community and much older than I and her opinion on the matter was – “you don’t ask, it’s none of your business.” So if you are asking someone you may get that type of response as well. This person does not have children but she’s equally of the mindset that it is none of her business to ask anyone else that same question (me included).
Accountants, lawyers and financial advisors – oh my!
Another possible scenario to consider is if you are in a business where you actually need to know who had the child for planning purposes. Ie. accounting, lawyers, or financial advisors. If you are an accountant who is preparing a tax return and you are gathering all of the information on your client, you likely need to identify a whole myriad of personal information from the person you are working with anyway. You could preface with “this may seem a bit too personal but for tax purposes or estate planning purposes, which one of you gave birth to the child, if either.” Don’t forget adoption is always an option too so you don’t want to offend or alienate the couple who has adopted by making an assumption that one of them must have given birth since they are lesbians. Similarly if you are working with a gay male couple, don’t assume that the child must be adopted. The child could be from a previous marriage or relationship.
So as you can see there are two sides of the coin here. One of the key points is never assume. I could get on a whole tangent about how assumptions are just bad news all around whether we are talking about LGBT or not but I won’t go there today – maybe another day!
I think common sense should prevail in these scenarios. If you are about to ask this question to someone, think it through first. Examine the type of relationship you feel you have with the person. If it is truly someone you know, like and trust and it is mutual – it should be no big deal that you’ve asked that question. If you are on the receiving end of such a question, just understand that the person asking likely means no harm and is simply curious. Then put yourself in their shoes for a moment and see if you would be curious too. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. You just need to be conscious and reading social cues as to whether or not it is okay and then proceed from there.
I hope this information helps those of you who may have been wondering about this particular topic. If you have additional questions – please comment below or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to address your question.