For LGBTQ2S+ employees and allies, the current news stream is particularly bleak.

In recent months, at least 20 U.S. states have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors. In both Canada and the U.S., LGBTQ2S+ events, such as drag queen story hours at public libraries, are increasingly subject to protest both in-person and online, where homophobic and transphobic vitriol is spreading across social media.

Amid these challenging times, there are many ways employers can support LGBTQ2S+ employees during Pride Month and beyond, says Michelle Grocholsky, founder and principal at consultancy Empowered EDI.

Read: Lack of LGBTQ2S+ inclusivity costing employers, says expert

One measure employers can immediately implement is regular mental-health check-ins with workers, she says, noting many companies took a similar approach following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. However, as some LGBTQ2S+ employees may not have disclosed their identity — and may be further discouraged from doing so amid the current political and cultural climate — it’s important managers approach these check-ins with a focus on the employee’s well-being instead of the underlying cause.

“We’re all humans and we’re going to have days that are worse than others and days that are better than others, so [mental-health check-ins] take the stigma out of self-disclosing when you’re not OK.”

Since a psychologically safe workplace is communicated from the top down, company leaders must be the ones to normalize mental-health conversations in the workplace. “Managers need to speak more openly about their own mental health, whether it’s sharing challenges they’ve had to overcome or strategies they’ve used to cultivate greater mental well-being,” says Grocholsky. “It’s not enough to talk about the importance of people taking care of themselves — it’s also about modelling healthy behaviours.”

Read: An in-depth look at LGBTQ+ benefits

While LGBTQ2S+ employee resource groups play a vital role in supporting workers’ mental well-being, it’s also important for employers to foster support among allies in the workplace to create a wider peer support network, she says. Similar to mental-health check-ins, she emphasizes the importance of providing support while allowing employees to maintain anonymity.

“A person shouldn’t have to self-identify — it’s important to make sure there’s anonymous ways for people to participate in these discussions and access information.”

Over the long term, says Grocholsky, employers can support LGBTQ2S+ workers by ensuring their policies — including hiring practices and rules against workplace discrimination — account for all employees, while providing inclusive health benefits that support employees and their dependants.

“Companies are so quick during Pride Month to put up a rainbow flag and to have these symbolic gestures, but I think where they fall short is knowing what actions they can take in order to drive systemic long-term change. LGBTQ2S+ employees want to see [their employers display] the rainbow flag, but they also want to know they’re safe.”

Read: AstraZeneca Canada supporting LGBTQ2S+ talent with employee resource group