Join us on September 25 for the September edition of ITequality’s Queer Conversations series to talk about our experiences coming out and what it means to be out at work. We’ll give tips and encouragement to those not yet out at work, or those who don’t want to come out at work — visibility is important but it isn’t for everyone!
What does it mean when one doesn’t feel safe to share one’s wonderful weekend with one’s partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, or theyfriend? Nodding and smiling when a coworker recounts their weekend with their significant other. Knowing that one holds a secret. Sliding in half truths about weekend plans or even having to bury one’s gender identity for 8+ hours a day during the work week.
Beyond the feelings of not belonging, or hiding a secret, there is the fear of losing employment, or having one’s career stunted due to prejudice. There is the feeling that if you come out at work, one will become the go to for everyone at work to ask questions about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Forty-six percent of all LGBTQ people do not feel safe enough at work to be out to their coworkers and employers1. And this number has not been moving much. Why would that be?
My personal experience led me to walk away from a job that I had held for 25 years. The factors were the general feeling that I would not be accepted by ownership and the fact that our insurance had exclusion clauses for all trans health care. Others have had the experience of remaining in the closet by omission. A gay friend of mine, let’s call him Brock, works remotely for a tech company. Brock just doesn’t talk about his relationships. When the subject comes up in small talk before zoom meetings, he remains silent. Mentioning in our conversation that while he is “Not out” that he is also “Not, not out”, and remaining squarely “In the closet door[way] at work”. Much of this fear comes from his internalized homophobia, because as he says “I am at the top of the queer privilege ladder…where I don’t have fear of repurcussions”.
Even when LGBTQ folks are out at work, how do they, or do they, choose to make who they are apparent to their customers or vendors. We can pick and choose, but what sort of things make us decide to show people from other firms who we are?
So how to navigate these stressful situations? Where can a closeted queer turn to figure out how to do this when they are ready? I have compiled a short list of resources that can help you direct your journey. But if I had to distill all those wonderful resources into a short phrase to help you figure this all out, it would go something like this: Use all the resources that you have available, but make sure to listen to your heart. And don’t do it before you are absolutely ready.
Human Rights Campaign: Coming Out at Work
Human Rights Campaign: Coming Out in the Workplace as Transgender
The Muse: How to Come Out at Work (Hint: It’s Not One-Size-Fits-All)
Lamda Legal: Know Your Rights
Are you an ally that is looking for advice on how to support their LGBTQ employee through the coming out process? Read the resources above, but also some good advice here:
How to Support a LGBTQ Employee Coming Out in the Workplace
1. “A Workplace Divided” Human Rights Campaign, https://www.hrc.org/resources/a-workplace-divided-understanding-the-climate-for-lgbtq-workers-nationwide/.