Creating Safe and Inclusive Spaces – with Michael Bach (CCDI)

On this episode of REALtalk, Michael Bach, Founder and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) , joins REALPAC COO & VP Member Engagement, Carolyn Lane, to discuss the marginalization of LGBTQ2S+ people, and the urgent need for businesses and society to create safe and inclusive spaces for them.

The episode covers:

  • Michael’s journey of coming out
  • The meaning of LGBTQ2S+
  • Differences between sexuality and gender
  • Importance of creating inclusive spaces for LGBTQ2S+ people

About Michael Bach:

Michael Bach is nationally and internationally recognized as a thought leader and subject matter expert in the fields of diversity, inclusion and employment equity, bringing a vast knowledge of leading practices in a live setting to his work. He has deep experience in strategy development, stakeholder engagement, training and development, research, solution development and execution, employee engagement, data analytics, measurement and diversity scorecards, targeted recruiting strategies, marketing and communications, Employee Resource Groups, Diversity Councils, and diversity related legislation (Employment Equity Act, AODA, etc.) among other skills and experiences related to field of diversity and inclusion.

Podcast transcript: 

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Hello, everyone, thanks for listening and welcome to REALtalk, the show that brings you unique insights from leaders in Canadian and international commercial real estate. I’m Michael Brooks, CEO of REALPAC.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Hello, my name is Carolyn Lane, and I’m chief operating officer and VP member engagement, and I’ll be hosting today’s podcast. My guest is Michael Bach, founder of the Canadian Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the CEO of CCDI Consulting. Michael is an award winning and best-selling author and global executive with deep experience in inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility, strategy development, targeted recruiting strategies, among other things. Under Michael’s leadership, CCDI has received numerous awards, including winning Canadian HR Reporter’s Reader’s Choice Award six times in the category of Diversity, Employment Equity Consultant in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. Michael has a post-grad certificate in Diversity Management from Cornell University and also holds the Cornell Certified Diversity Professional Advanced Practitioner designation. Welcome, Michael.

Michael Bach (CCDI): Thanks so much for having me, Carolyn. It’s great to be here.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Glad you could make it! Michael, in your first book, Birds of All Feathers, you talk about the notion that creating diverse, inclusive workplaces isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. And now you’re back with the second book, Alphabet Soup – The Essential Guide to LGBTQ2S+ Inclusion at Work, which became available for pre-order on October 11th in celebration of National Coming Out Day. Michael, can you share with me and our audience your journey of coming out?

Michael Bach (CCDI): Sure. So I came out relatively young. Truthfully, I was not a typical masculine child. I tended to have all girlfriends. I tended to want to play house. And when I was nine, I actually told a camp counselor that I liked boys. And subsequently, I ended up in therapy because, of course, this was 1980, and there was a belief still that being LGBTQ2S+ was a psychological disorder. I came out officially to myself when I was about 16, to my parents when I was 18. But I didn’t come out of work until I was 30. So there I was, living a bit of a double life where I had my professional life, where I didn’t share my personal life, or if I did, I switched language -switched pronouns.  And then my personal life, where I was very active in the LGBTQ2 communities and involved as a volunteer with a lot of different organizations. And it wasn’t until I was 30. I was working for a guy named George Smitherman, who was the first openly LGBTQ2S+ member of provincial parliament in Ontario. And I figured, well, if he can do what he does being open, not just to his coworkers, but to the entire province and the entire world, then I could do it as well. And since then, I have certainly blossomed into a very active member of the LGBTQ2S+ communities advocating for LGBTQ2S+ inclusion.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Well, thank you so much for sharing that. In your new book, Alphabet Soup, you use the initialism LGBTQ2S+. Can we start our conversation today by explaining to the audience what those letters mean?

Michael Bach (CCDI): Yeah, sure. I will start by saying there are lots of different versions of this, and I have chosen this one in particular. So the L stands for lesbian, which tend to be people who identify as women who are attracted romantically, sexually and emotionally to other women. G tends to be representative of gay men or people who identify as men who are again, emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to other people who identify as men. Sometimes, however, we do hear women, particularly older women, identifying as gay and not as lesbian. The B stands for bisexual, which are people who can be of any gender who are attracted to people of any gender. This term sometimes gets confused with or corresponds with pansexual. Historically, bisexual spoke very much about the binary of men and women being attracted to men and women. The T sometimes stands for transgender, but in this case it stands for trans or trans identified, which is an umbrella term for anyone who is gender diverse. So transgender, non-binary, gender nonconforming, gender, queer, etc. The Q can be either a sexual orientation or a gender identity. It stands for queer, historically a pejorative term. We don’t we didn’t know it was. It was very much a negative, and it’s now being reclaimed by the community. Some people love it, some people hate it. And then the two is meant to represent two separate people, which are indigenous people who are also members of the LGBTQ plus communities. The plus sign, lastly, is meant to represent that there are far more identities than included in these communities beyond LGBTQ, too. We can. We’re talking about asexual, a romantic, polyamorous, demi, asexual. There’s a ton of terms, and I talk about them in the book because I think it’s really important for people to have an understanding of the language, but that’s what the Plus represent.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Ok, terrific. So what’s the difference between sexuality and gender?

Michael Bach (CCDI): An excellent question. People get really confused by this because in the Initialism LGBTQ two plus we have two things we have letters that represent exclusively sexuality or sexually diverse people the L, the G and the B. There’s one letter the T, which represents exclusively gender. And then there’s three characters the Q, the two and the Plus. That can be either sexuality or gender or both. It’s confusing for a lot of people who are straight and cisgender to understand that when we’re talking about LGBTQ plus peoples, we’re talking about two different concepts. Sexuality, which is who you are emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to. And gender, which is about the sex you were assigned at birth. How you identify by your gender. How you present by your gender. There are two really different concepts that kind of got stuck together. And it’s an important differentiation. Because a person can be trans and lesbian. A person can be gender nonconforming and queer. A trans person is that’s not about their sexuality and a lesbian, that’s not about their gender. So it’s an important differentiation that people need to understand.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Hey, thanks for explaining that. So Michael, why does it matter that commercial real estate organizations and indeed all organizations create inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ people? What’s the business case?

Michael Bach (CCDI): Yeah, there’s a couple things to consider. And it really depends on kind of the motivations or values of the organization that you might draw on from the business case perspective. So first off, is about safety. It’s about creating safe spaces where people can be themselves. If I’m walking through the Toronto Eaton Center holding my husband’s hand, is that a safe space? Or am I going to face homophobic comments and potentially attacks as a consequence? So safety is one for some organizations. Next is engagement, particularly of your employees. The reality is, if I have to come to work and I have to mask who I am, if I have to hide my sexuality or my gender, if I have to be the educator around terminology. Then I am going to spend a chunk of my day doing something that isn’t my job, which costs the organization money, and my engagement level is going to be diminished as a consequence, which ultimately means that I’m not as productive and I’m not as profitable. Third is about customers is about creating space where people feel they can be themselves and that they’re valued and respected. And so when you think about commercial real estate’s about creating spaces where people can come to.

Michael Bach (CCDI): That’s about attracting customers, if you think about the value of what we call the pink dollar, the LGBTQ2S+ spending power in North America, it’s somewhere around, I think it’s 1.6 Trillion if I’m remembering correctly per capita. The math is in the book per capita. Each LGBTQ2S+ person on average is responsible for about 46,000  and that in fact, exceeds every other equity deserving group. So there’s a lot of financial power within the LGBTQ2S+ class communities that organizations may want to harness. But if I was looking for an office, let’s say, for sake of argument and I looked online to find out if a particular commercial real estate organization was LGBT friendly. And I do look and I find that they’re not, that I’m going to be far less inclined to take my business there. So it really depends on what is motivating you as an organization. But there is a solid business case for LGBTQ2S+ inclusion beyond. It’s the right thing to do, quote unquote.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Ok, really, really good points there. So Michael, you just mentioned safe spaces. So let’s talk about safe space. What is it and why is it so important in creating LGBTQ2S+ inclusive spaces?

Michael Bach (CCDI): Yeah, this is a concept that dates back a while and sometimes you’ll hear it called positive space, but safe spaces terms are relatively interchangeable in my mind. The concept is about creating spaces where LGBTQ people can feel comfortable, can be themselves and ultimately be safe, they’re not facing homophobic, transphobic, biphobic comments and actions. It’s not about having a little room. Where in this room you can be yourself, that is not it. It’s about a cultural mindset. It’s about making sure that every square inch of your space is safe. It the concept of safe space really took shape around colleges and university campuses where the schools were trying to ensure that students and particularly LGBTQ plus students were safe. And so you’d see, you know, rainbow stickers on doors saying, this is a safe space and where I have a bit of a problem with that approach and certainly schools have gotten a lot better since then. But where I had a problem with that approach is that it made the onus that say that, oh, this office is safe. But this office over here doesn’t have the rainbow stickers, so I don’t know if it’s safe. And the reality is what we’re really talking about is cultural norm and making sure that it is not, it is known that it is not culturally acceptable to exhibit homophobic, transphobic and biphobic behavior and comments.

Michael Bach (CCDI): The reality is for LGBTQ people throughout our lives, and even today we have faced situations that were not safe for us. There are 71 countries where it’s illegal to be gay or lesbian. Eleven of those countries have the death penalty. There are 15 countries where it’s illegal to be trans or non-binary. That’s our reality. Beyond that, there are significant instances of hate crimes that occur in the United States and Canada against LGBTQ2S+ people every year. Just this past summer, there was a hate crime committed on Toronto Island against a gay man where three people beat him senseless and he ended up in a hospital. You know, not to date myself, but that’s 2021. What we’re talking about is creating spaces where we can be safe, where we can be ourselves, and we don’t have to constantly be looking over our shoulder. And that’s what we’re looking to employers, but also any sort of commercial real estate provider to ensure we have.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Ok, well, that’s that shocking and thank you again for sharing that. So Michael, you talk in your book about how everyone is assumed straight and cisgender until proven otherwise. Can you explain what cis gender means and can you expand on the assumption assume straight and cis until proven otherwise?

Michael Bach (CCDI): Absolutely. So the term cis gender is spelt cis and then gender, and it is a term to describe a person who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. CIS is Latin. It essentially means same just as trans is Latin, and it essentially means different when I say sex assigned at birth. What I mean is that when you’re born, the doctor, nurse practitioner, doula, taxicab driver pulls you out, looks down and says it’s a boy or it’s a girl. What they actually should be saying is it’s a male or it’s female or it’s intersex. This is a visual assignment of a sex category and the difference between sex and gender. There are three sex options male, female and intersex person who’s intersex is a son is born with some form of both male and female reproductive organs. So the term cis gender is a term that is assigned to people who identify with that sex assignment. I myself cis gender. I was assigned male at birth and I identify as a man. When I talk about the assumption that you are straight and cisgender until proven otherwise. What I’m talking about is that this societal norm that we live in and it starts at a very young age where girls play with pink toys and boys play with blue toys, and we see it throughout our entire lives. It’s gotten better in years, but when I was growing up, you never saw an LGBTQ2S+ person or a same sex couple in any form of media. You only saw opposite sex.

Michael Bach (CCDI): You never saw a trans person in the media. It didn’t exist. It’s getting better. We’re seeing now examples of same sex couples of trans people, but it’s still a default. And I’ll give you an example. I got married about 12 years ago, and I called up my cable provider back when cable existed and I said, I just got married. I want to put my spouse’s name on my account. And immediately, the woman I’m assuming she was a woman based on her name and her voice. She said to me, Awesome, fantastic. Congratulations. What’s your wife’s name? I paused. And then I said his name is Michael, and yes, I’m married to a person of the same name. That assumption that default was that I was straight. The assumption is also that I’m cisgender because I have a beard, because I wear typically clothes that look masculine suits as an example. And that is an assumption, and we as LGBTQ2S+ people don’t have to come out once we come out every single day of our lives. I now use the term husband always. I never use the term spouse solely because it has the presumption of gender attached to it. When I say husband, it is automatically assumed that I’m married to a man. And I just got tired of answering the question. But this is a question that LGBTQ2S+ people have to deal with every single day of their lives in every interaction with a new person. We have to prove ourselves not to be straight and cisgender.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Thank you so much, Michael, for joining us today and for sharing and for your contribution to Canadian LGBTQ plus literature.

Michael Bach (CCDI): Thanks so much for having me.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): We’ve been speaking with Michael Bach, founder of the Canadian Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the CEO of GDI Consulting and author of the upcoming book Alphabet Soup The Essential Guide to LGBTQ Inclusion at Work.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Well, this is Michael Brooks and that’s it for this week’s episode of REALtalk. Be sure to visit us at and subscribe wherever you get your favorite podcasts. If you have an idea for a topic or a guest, please send me an email at And if you like what you hear, give us a 5-star rating. Thank you for listening and tune in next time.