Coming Out at Work

Continuing to focus on career and business, let’s shift gears this month and look at being out in the workplace. For this week we’re covering coming out at work. There are a lot of things to consider before you make a move. 

Know Your Rights

In some places, there are a lot of protections in place that prevent employers from firing someone for their sexual orientation, or gender identity. But, protections don’t guarantee a safe, healthy workplace. 

In other places, your rights might not be protected on a national level. In the United States for instance many of your rights as an LGBTQ+ person are determined at the state level.  It’s important for you to understand what protections you have.

Sadly, there are many places in the world, even in Western democracies, where there are little or no protections. if you’re in one of them, be aware of the stakes. You can be a maverick and risk losing your job to fight for your rights. But, staying in the closet at work is also an option. They are both reasonable. Not everyone is in a position to risk losing their livelihood.

If you live somewhere where your sexuality, or gender identity, can lead to arrest, or even death, the workplace is not a safe place to come out.

Recognize a Toxic Workplace

Even in places with broad protections, homophobia in the workplace still exists. It’s up to you to decide if you can tolerate your work environment. In my last job, I was out right away. My boss was conservative and homophobic.  Because his boss wasn’t, I felt I could shift things for the better. Homophobia wasn’t a big issue in the cultures as a whole.

But, if you’re uncomfortable because of comments about queer people, think about whether the ignorance can be addressed. If your sexuality or gender identity prevents you from being recognized that’s a warning sign. Trust your gut. The environment may not be friendly, or safe, enough. 

Trust your feelings about the workplace. Many times, others’ ignorance is a sign of a queer-phobic corporate culture. If so, your best bet is to find another job. You can decide to try and shift the culture. But, recognize the battle you’re about to face. Fight if you’re up for it. I did in my time.

How to Come Out at Work

Coming out doesn’t need to be dramatic. That’s particularly true at work. Understand the corporate culture so you know how much to share before you start to come out. 

When I started that last job I put a picture of my partner and our dogs on my desk. You could use a pic of your close friend group. Create some questions that will ease the coming-out conversation. I really didn’t have to come out beyond saying “Yes” when someone asked if I was gay. The rumors spread quickly and I was completely out by the end of my first week.

You can also have brief coming-out conversations when co-workers ask you about dating or an opposite-sex spouse. You might talk more openly about what you did on the weekend but tread carefully. You don’t want to overshare. 

Coming out at work benefits everyone you work with and the company as a whole. You’ll be more open in every context, and contribute more to your company’s success. Coming out is always deeply personal and should be done in your own way, and in your own time. But, it is always worth it.

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