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June 9, 2022
What to Know About Coming Out at Work
Written by: Espyr
Coming out is an extremely personal decision. Deciding whether or how to come out to your family, your friends, or your coworkers can be a difficult decision and should not be taken lightly. Determining whether to come out at work can be an even more complicated decision, considering the fear of retaliation or questions about job security. In 2020, the US Supreme Court issued a decision in Bostock v. Clayton County that makes it illegal to discriminate against workers based on sexual orientation and gender identity under the federal law known as Title VII. Still, a recent Glassdoor survey found that 43% of LGBTQ+ employees are not entirely out at work. Moreover, 47% say they believe that being out at work could hurt their career.
Although you’re entitled to legal protection from workplace discrimination, it still happens, and many still fear the possible repercussions of coming out. Fear of the reactions or backlash is a genuine and legitimate concern. Despite these challenges, coming out at work can relieve some of the stress of hiding or covering up who you are. According to the Harvard Business Review, coming out at work increases job satisfaction, intention to stay, and emotional support from co-workers. Additionally, research reveals that being more open about one’s identity increases physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.
If you decide you want to share this personal information with your employer and/or co-workers, creating a plan can help you feel confident in coming out and help ease some of the stress and fear associated with it. Here are some things to consider when planning to come out at work:
Questions to Ask Yourself
If you’re struggling to create a plan for coming out, you’ll want to consider a few things to help you gauge the culture at work and decide on the best approach:
- Does your employer have a written non-discrimination policy? If so, does it specifically include sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression?
- Does health insurance cover domestic partner benefits? Does it cover transition costs?
- Is there an LGBTQ+ employee resource group at your workplace?
- What’s the overall workplace atmosphere like? Is it progressive or more conservative? Is it friendly or guarded? Do the employees make derogatory comments or jokes?
- Are there appropriate repercussions for discriminatory behavior?
- Are any of your co-workers openly LGBTQ+?
- What are your specific work relationships like? Do you share information about your personal lives?
- Is the company ranked on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index? If they are, how high is the rating?
- Is there an HR representative you feel comfortable discussing this with before coming out officially at work?
The answers to these questions can impact your decision to come out as well as your approach.
Approaches to Coming Out
When you’re ready to come out at work, or in any setting, there’s no right or wrong way. A lot of your approach may depend on the company culture and how comfortable you are with your co-workers. Here are some approaches:
- Get it out there organically. This approach is fast. It’s like ripping off the Band-Aid. If you’re not wanting to blurt it out, casually incorporate it into a conversation. Drop a subtle, but clear hint regarding your sexuality. A comment like “My wife and I….” or “I am dating this guy….” can help to make it clear to co-workers. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to make a comment relative to work, like, “As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I believe . . .” If this approach feels forced, just let it happen when you’re ready. When an opportunity presents itself and the timing seems right, seize it.
- Be selective. If you aren’t ready or don’t want to tell everyone at work, just confide in those you feel more comfortable with.
- Start by telling your boss, HR representative, or manager. Some LGBTQ+ employees route to protect themselves and receive official support. If possible, turn to a person in power and a known ally, such as a supervisor or HR rep. Ask them for tips or help planning if you have a good relationship with them.
- It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. This is a very personal decision and a journey only you can take. How you do it is completely up to you.
Benefits of Coming Out at Work
As tough as it might be, coming out can have some significant benefits you’ll want to take into consideration. Coming out can:
- Eliminate the need to hide who you are and who you love. It eliminates feeling like you’re lying to yourself or others.
- Establish deeper friendships. When people know the real you, they can love the real you.
- Break down barriers to understanding. Not everyone fully understands, despite it being 2022. Help erase the stigma.
- Build trusting working relationships. The basis of a good relationship is trust. Confide in your co-workers and they may feel comfortable doing the same.
- Becoming confident to bring your complete self to work. You don’t have to leave part of who you are behind when you enter the office.
- Make you more productive. When you’re happy at work, you’ll be more motivated and eager to work.
Expect to Have to Come Out Again and Again
Each time you meet a new person at work or build a new relationship, you’ll have to decide what information you want to reveal about yourself. Every person you work with is different, therefore every person will respond differently. Some people may forget or not pay attention, and the question of your sexuality may come up again after you first come out.
It Gets Easier
Coming out initially at work isn’t easy, but it does get easier.
As time goes on, you’ll become wiser and more confident in your decisions. Every day can bring new relationships and new challenges – but they can also bring new opportunities and room for growth. Building a community can help you process and celebrate your identity in the workplace and elsewhere. As most people spend a large majority of their days in the workplace, it’s critical that we are in professional environments that make us feel respected and cared for. This is a major factor affecting our overall well-being and can drastically help in reducing systemic discrimination.