Some people will never have to come out at work. One sashay to the copier and the whole office seems to give each other knowing glances. Except for Phyllis, the woman from payroll who ALWAYS leaves the break room wreaking of broccoli and fish. No one has made eye contact with Phyllis since she accidentally sneezed while helping Bob blow out the candles on his birthday cake. But I digress; while some inner divas will blow the office closet’s door off its hinges, the rest of the LGBTQ+ community has to develop a strategy to come out in the workplace.
The first step to coming out at your job is to consider the culture of your workplace. Does the company offer partner benefits or does every officemates’ family photo include a wife, a father and 2.5 children? The State of Texas does not protect LGBTQ+ individuals from workplace discrimination; so consider how much money you might need to save to be financially stable if you are fired. It can be helpful to think about which coworkers might have a difficult time accepting you and prepare for any conflicts that may arise. Some folks who enjoy the privileges that come with heterosexuality may not understand why your sexual orientation needs to be discussed at work. This coworker typically doesn’t realize that when he drones on and on about his weekend trip to the hardware store with his wife, he is discussing his sexual orientation. You may be the first LGBTQ+ person to reveal your minority status to a colleague, so ready yourself for whatever questions they may conjure up. It can be helpful to consider what subjects you are comfortable talking about and what topics may cross your boundaries. When people have their first interaction with the LGBTQ+ community they may not be familiar with the accurate terms to use, or they may expect you to speak for all people under the rainbow. This may present the opportunity to help coworkers understand new perspectives, but know that you are not obligated to be the ambassador for all things LGBTQ+.
So, let’s say that your workplace seems pretty accepting and you feel ready to come out. All you have to figure out now are the logistics. There are many ways to come out at work so think about what works for you and consider the culture of your company. Some people like to do it like a band-aid, one quick action and it is done. In a tight-knit working environment personal announcements are often made at weekly meetings, providing a platform to share with everyone at once. If coworkers share things such as illnesses, pregnancies or engagements during these meetings, it might make sense to share your news with everyone this way too. This method might be too bold for some folks. Another means of coming out is to simply put up a photo of a partner and wait for coworkers to inquire. (A work-friendly LGBTQ+ website left open on your computer can be substituted for a significant other.) If news travels quickly at your job, one nosey cubical neighbor can break the story for you. Some people find it easier to first identify a potential ally at work and then come out to that person. Coworkers who are possible allies might identify themselves by: talking about LGBTQ+ family members in a positive way, their involvement in LGBTQ+ friendly organizations, discussing TV shows and movies geared towards LGBTQ+ folks or by self identifying as a member of our community. Once a support is established in the workplace, it can be easier to open up to other colleagues.
Coming out offers a number of potential benefits. It allows employees more energy and brain power to devote to work tasks. Consider how much effort it takes to actively hide a part of yourself; changing pronouns or making sure your wrist is never limp. It is exhausting! New dating opportunities may develop. A coworker might have been daydreaming of you for months, and coming out offers that person a chance to take you out. Your courageous honesty may even inspire the company to become more LGBTQ+ friendly. Coworkers may have a difficult time remaining unsympathetic about LGBTQ+ issues once they realize that they work alongside a member of the community. There are a number of positive possibilities to coming out at work. When I reflect on the number of hours people spend at work in a lifetime; I find myself hoping that people can find a safe environment that embraces them for their many attributes, and encourages them to be true to themselves. If you need some support in coming out at work, therapy can offer a safe space for you to figure out what might work best for you.
If you would like more general advice on coming out, you can read Tips for Coming Out. If you or a loved one need any assistance, you can check out our fantastic LGBT therapists, read more about LGBT counseling, or contact us to make a counseling appointment.