To coincide with World Pride 2023, taking place in Sydney from February 17 – March 5, HM’s Pride at Work series is celebrating LGBTQIA+ workers in the hotel industry and shining a spotlight on inclusivity in both the employee and guest experience.

Here, Treasury Brisbane Interim Chief Operating Officer, Justine Russell, proposes inclusive policies and practices to position hotel staff as visible and verbal allies.

Do you think the accommodation industry in general is inclusive and accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community?

Identifying as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community isn’t only about who our partner is, or what our preferences are. It’s part of our DNA.

Fortunately, being out, accepted and included has never been easier or safer and the accommodation industry has made significant progress in recent years. It starts with addressing some of the issues our community faces head on.

A policy such as prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression to creating spaces that are more welcoming and inclusive to LGBTQIA+ guests doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, adding gender-neutral bathrooms, or making modifications to existing bathrooms to accommodate gender non-conforming individuals.

However, I do believe more needs to be done, especially in comparison to other organisations and sectors such as entertainment, education and even government. Despite any progress made so far, The Star Entertainment Group remains as the only hospitality group to be rated as a Gold Employer by the 2022 Australia Workplace Equality Index.

This was an amazing achievement for our LGBTQIA+ employee network group and wider team, but it also highlighted how far our industry has to go.

Are there any ways you think the industry can improve in terms of being more welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQIA+ employees and/or guests?

The industry can take several steps to increase LGBTQIA+ acceptance and create a more welcoming environment. 

Education is always key to creating a truly diverse and inclusive environment. By informing team members and reinforcing the challenges their guests and colleagues may face, it will in turn contribute to greater understanding and more positive outcomes for all.

At The Star, we have developed a strong Ally Program, and incorporated both mandatory and voluntary training modules with the aim of better educating team members – particularly those who are in guest-facing roles such as reservations, housekeeping, and front-of-house. Since the program’s commencement, over 300 team members and leaders have taken part in the training.

Hotel staff can become more visible and verbal allies by introducing initiatives such as the active use of pronouns in guest correspondence and communication, or LGBTQIA+ pins and flags as part of their name badges and uniforms.

Visibility also flows into how we choose to promote our properties. Whether that be delivering inclusive advertising and marketing campaigns, partnering with LGBTQIA+ events such as Mardi Gras or working with third-party organisations that progress our community’s needs, and certify ‘rainbow friendly’ destinations.

More broadly, we can adapt the language used when welcoming guests, and adopt a more gender-neutral vocabulary. English has never been static, but rather has evolved with time. If words are used to be more inclusive of those around us, actions will follow.

Have you ever experienced homophobia while doing your job?

Fortunately, I haven’t experienced homophobia in my career. I’m lucky to work in an environment where we are encouraged to bring our best and whole self to work.

However, that’s not to say that homophobia doesn’t exist, or that it doesn’t affect others in the community or in their workplaces. Regardless of how we identify, each individual has a responsibility to remain vigilant and call out poor behaviour.

Do you feel like you can bring your whole self to work?

Absolutely! if I couldn’t, I would choose to work in a different organisation.

The work that Proud@TheStar has done in advocating for and promoting LGBTQIA+ issues, and ensuring those needs are met has been phenomenal.

As a result, I can be myself – as can everyone else – and together, we can focus on what really matters – delivering amazing experiences to the millions of guests that come through our doors from all over the world.

Are there any ways that you support other, perhaps younger, members of the LGBTQIA+ community in the industry/your workplace?

I hope that being an out, and visible LGBTQI+ leader is daily proof that they can overcome any real or perceived challenges they may face.

One of my proudest moments so far at The Star has been being trusted by a team member and asked to assist them in affirming their gender. This process helped us refine and further develop our inclusive practices and policies, the necessary support structures and highlight any challenges that we may not have previously been aware of.

Following this, more team members have requested the same level of support.

As a business we have a range of activities that I’m a part of and actively support – from our participation in industry events and panels, recognition of important dates such as Wear It Purple Day and IDAHOBIT to developing LBTQIA+ inclusive policies across areas including parental leave, domestic violence, and dress codes.

How will you be celebrating Pride 2023 in your workplace?

Personally, I spent Mardi Gras at a dear friend’s wedding, whose guest list was one third from the rainbow community. You could say we had a special party where inclusion is an everyday part of our lives.

Although I am based in Brisbane, Pride was still celebrated. Our Queensland-based team members had the opportunity to join friends, family and the public in Atrium Bar at The Star Gold Coast.

The Star Sydney has however come to the party, creating ‘Rainbow Central’ in celebration of 2023 WorldPride with activations across the property.