If you’re LGBTQIA*, coming out to your employers, coworkers, supervisors, and other staff on your team is definitely a personal choice. Some LGBTQIA* people may never feel the need to bring it up, for whatever reason. It may not ever come up in conversation or become an issue. However, many people feel the need to be honest about themselves, or may have specific reasons that require them to be honest – for example, if a transgender employee is facing discrimination for this reason by another coworker, and needs to tell their supervisor, or if a person in a same-sex relationship wants to invite their significant other to a work get-together.
Coming out at work is tricky business, because LGBTQIA* individuals still face workplace discrimination despite all of the community’s recent triumphs. Even in states, cities or counties where discrimination for reasons of sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal, employers can find other reasons to fire an employee to hide behind the truth: discrimination.
If you’re like me, and you want to enter a professional workforce, but you’re really looking to work long-term at a place where, if there’s a work party, you can invite your same-sex spouse, or if you mention your wife and kids, nobody throws up their arms, these tips are for you:
1. Decide for certain that you want to tell your employer, coworker, or other staff member that you’re LGBTQIA*. You can’t really take back the truth.
Once they know, they know. You want to make sure that you don’t have a high risk of being fired after admitting it or, if you’re willing to take that risk, you want to make sure you have all of your finances in order first – that you have enough savings for at least 3 months, that you’re prepared to re-enter the job search, and that you live in an area with enough job opportunities that you won’t be losing your only opportunity. I’d never advocate for people to not be fully themselves, but you also don’t want to starve or be unable to pay your bills, either. Take care of your basic necessities and then concentrate on deciding that the risk is worth it at this time.
2. Try to get a feel for how LGBTQIA* friendly your boss/coworker/etc. is. You can do this by bringing up the issue in casual conversation.
Recently, this was handed directly into my lap. My supervisor was checking her phone while waiting for the train, and she exclaimed about how her newsfeed was entirely filled with the SCOTUS marriage equality decision. I told her mine was too. She said that it was great news because half her friends are gay. I agreed, and began to say that a couple of my friends are gay, including me. I was nervous while doing it, but I felt it was the perfect moment to slip it into conversation without needing to bring it up. Sure enough, the conversation continued as usual, and nothing changed.
I was able to read the situation in this case. Sometimes you can’t read a person on social issues, but you can always try to see if you can get a basic feel before you take that leap. One thing I would caution against, however, is stereotyping. For example, don’t assume someone will be anti-LGBTQIA* just because they’re practicing a certain religion. Many of my past supervisors have been very involved in Christian church services, and a vast majority of my family is, as well – but not a single one of them have been against LGBTQIA* issues, or against my coming out as bisexual. As well, someone could be okay with same-sex couples but not with transgender issues, or with asexuality, for example. So try to avoid making generalizations, because not everyone who fits the stereotype will be 100% accepting or 100% bigoted.
3. Make all attempts to weed out discrimination before it’s too late.
You may not use this tactic if you’re on the job search, living in a rural area with little access to job opportunities or to LGBTQIA-friendly workplaces, or if you really need a job to feed you and your family, and are desperate. This is something I do because at this time, I have the luxury of knowing I have a family who will help take care of me if I’m unable to find work.
I try to weed out discrimination before it can get to me. My resume includes two LGBTQIA* hints: my activity in QSA during college, and my presentation these themes in literature for a high school GSA conference. Both are definitely examples of my experience with leadership, teamwork, community discourse knowledge and public speaking, but I could have left them off. I kept them on as a signal to employers that I may be LGBTQIA*, in the hopes that it will fend off really discriminatory companies from interviewing me. I also put a link to my blog on my resume – mainly, because I think it showcases my writing and design skills, but secondarily, because it’s clear in my ‘about me’ that I’m in a committed same-sex relationship, and that I love cats. If they aren’t going to hire me because I spend my weeknights cuddled next to my girlfriend and cats with Orange is the New Black on the TV screen, then I don’t want them to anyway.
4. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re having a hard time coming out at work.
It took me a long time of speaking to my coworkers and the company owner at my current position before I ever mentioned, and this was only to one person I work with, that I’m gay, and insinuated later in the day that my roommate is actually my girlfriend. In other conversations, I dodged the truth about who my roommate is, for fear of discrimination. I easily could have brought it up, because I was asked why we don’t live with other roommates, or why I wouldn’t consider living in a room inside someone’s house. (Besides how nit-picky I am about my living space, it’s for one reason alone: I live with my significant other, and most people probably don’t want to join in on that, because hanging out with couples when you’re single is annoying and gross.)
Don’t take it out on yourself too hard if you haven’t chosen to come out at work yet, whether you’re about to go through gender transition and are terrified of what your boss will think of calling you by different pronouns, or if you’re a 17-year-old guy with a boyfriend and terrified your boss will find another lifeguard for the town pool. You’re in a hard place, so remember that.
I had several past jobs at which I never mentioned my sexual orientation or my same-sex relationship, even though I could have. My supervisors, for the most part, later found out anyway – I befriended a majority on Facebook, because we had great relationships, and I stopped working for them, so there was no conflict of interest. (Plus, I don’t post a bunch of stuff that makes me look bad online. C’mon people, keep your drugs and skipping work to sleep off of Facebook!) None have responded negatively. But that didn’t keep me from, out of fear, not mentioning my girlfriend, even when it was brought up somehow and easy enough to do. What people don’t realize is that, even in 2015, coming out is scary. I have friends whose parents most definitely don’t support the LGBTQIA* community, or who say they do but don’t really. We’re not past all of the issues our community has to face, so think of it this way: any small triumph makes you extremely brave, even if you’re just using the SCOTUS decision as an excuse to tell someone you’ve been gay the entire time.