Does it make a sound if there's nobody around to hear it? That's always been an interesting question to me. The answer to me has always been obvious, of course it does. The same holds true for bullying and discrimination. Just because the person it is directed at isn't around to hear it doesn't mean it doesn't matter or that it doesn't hurt. There is always the possibility of the ripple effect, and words and attitude have a tendency to leak out into actions.
The reason I bring this up is I deal with a lot of people in my workplace, both internally and externally. Externally the people I work with come from very diverse backgrounds. This includes many people from the LGBTQ community. The people I work with internally tend to be pretty conservative. As you can imagine this makes for an interesting mix. Now I understand that there are some people out there who still have very narrow-minded opinions on the LGBTQ community. Some may eventually change their minds and some may not. However, in a professional environment where the organization has made it clear that diversity is a priority it doesn't matter. Everyone is to be treated with respect.
The issue comes in when it is learned one of our external customers is part of the LGBTQ community and my coworkers make inappropriate comments. Now the comments are never made to the person in questions, but that doesn't matter. Some examples of comments made are:
In reference to a person who is transgender and has transitioned from male to female: "what am I supposed to call them? he, she, it?"
In reference to a person who was in a heterosexual marriage and had children then divorced and entered a same sex marriage: "Wow! I bet those family gatherings are awkward" or "I feel sorry for those kids!"
I don't believe these comments are made maliciously, but rather out of ignorance. The problem becomes whether they realize it or not it then can affect their interaction with them. They may be more awkward on the phone, or more reluctant to provide the same level of customer service they provide to other people. Again, it's not intentional, it's a subconscious thing based on the comments made.
And yes, this has been brought to the attention of management and human resources and additional sensitivity training is being designed as I type this up. But I wanted to call this out in case you are seeing this in your own work environment and ask you to take the stand as well and bring it to the attention of your management and human resources. Just because the discrimination and insults aren't said to the face of the person they are against doesn't mean it doesn't cause harm.