Gay at Work: 5 Tips On Coming Out in the Workplace
If you are gay and out, you know that coming out does not happen once. There is no one conversation, Facebook declaration, or Instagram post that will save you from the consistent awkwardness of coming out regularly to strangers. And while it’s pretty easy to be visible and comfortable in front of your Starbucks barista, it can be excruciating to come out at work.We’ve all been in this situation, haven’t we? There you are – just a smart, eager, hardworking little gay professional on the job. You are ready to begin raking in that cash money.Yet, the work environment you navigate is fraught with uncertainties, so you tread with caution. You are unsure whether or not being out is worth the headaches and the uncomfortableness. Anxiety builds when you hear your sixty five year-old colleague, Donna, talking about how she doesn’t want to dine at a particular eatery for lunch because at night it becomes a gay bar. Let me tell you Donna, there is no difference between the mediocre burger you just scarfed down and the one that was made by the cook at the gay bar. The only discrepancy may be that the burger made at the gay bar was seasoned with a dash of tolerance. In another instance, you’re sitting with your colleagues in the cafeteria and, although you’re wearing a chunky men’s wear watch and resemble a slightly more business casual Ellen Degeneres, Barb still asks you if you have a boyfriend. No Barb, I can truthfully say that I do not.
These are just a few scenarios that can make coming out at work painful and daunting. If you are feeling uncomfortable about coming out in the workplace, know that you are not alone. In a recent survey, the Human Rights Commission found that 53% of LGBTQ+ workers in the United States hide who they are at their job. The Human Rights Commission reported that one of the most popular reasons for remaining in the closet at work was the fear of making colleagues uncomfortable. Their reasoning is not unjustified because the same survey also included responses from non-LGBTQ+ workers. About 70% of the non-LGBTQ+ workers surveyed disclosed that they think it is inappropriate to discuss sexuality and gender identity at work.This is a seemingly hypocritical response considering I have to hear about Barb’s previous husbands on the reg. With stats like these, it is no wonder LGBTQ+ workers find it difficult to come out in the workplace.However, coming out (as you may know) can be freeing and contribute to your overall well-being and professional success. If you are closeted in the workplace but feel the environment is safe enough to come out, here are some helpful tips that could make the process a bit easier:
“53% of LGBTQ+ workers in the United States hide who they are at their job.”
The Subtle Conversational “Slip- In”: Coming out is a lot easier when you can be blunt and direct. Let’s be honest – if you could get a little buzzed at work, drag your coworkers into the bathroom, andconfess your undying love for Shay Mitchell, that would be amazing. However, this isn’t college and that kind of behavior would warrant your prompt dismissal. Coming out to your coworkers can be as simple as casually slipping subtle hints into your coffee break conversation. For example, if a colleague asks you about your weekend you can say, “Well Dave, my girlfriend and I went to a Tegan and Sara concert; it was so much fun!” or “Thanks for asking Nancy – I attended an LGBT protest this weekend to fight for my rights.” If they are not oblivious, they will get the hint and hopefully won’t be asking you about your future heterosexual partner anymore.
Dressing To Send a Message : Firstly, let us acknowledge that it is impossible to “look gay”. There are many LGBTQ+ men, women, and non-binary people who choose to express themselves in a myriad of ways. However, although there is no one way to tell if a person is gay, I found that relying on stereotypes for the sake of not having to come out directly has worked. Sometimes I get up in the morning and ask my girlfriend, “So, how gay should I look today?” and then we both giggle childishly as I slip on my tomboyish work outfit. To me personally, “looking gay” means putting on a pair of chinos, a men’s short sleeve button down (sleeves rolled, of course), a large-faced watch, and a pair of wingtip oxfords. This sets off everyone’s “gaydar” and my sexuality is visible without having to utter a syllable.
Most Likely, Millennials Have Your Back: A recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows that nearly 75% of millennials are supportive of same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships. If you are a gay millennial, or even a gay non-millennial, and are trying to decide who to come out to first, three times out of four you will be accepted with open arms by a young person.
Social Media: In many ways, social media allows our friends, peers, and even family to surveil our lives. We have all experienced wanting to unplug ourselves from the world for a bit – or at least until Trump is impeached. However, if you are struggling to come out at work, relying on the stalker-like abilities that social media has offered the world can actually help you virtually tip toe your way out of the closet. If you are friends with your co-workers on social media and are publicly out on your platforms, it may be an easy way for your colleagues to find out a little bit more about you. If they have liked LGBTQ+ themed posts of yours, chances are they are comfortable and supportive of who you are and are great candidates for future on-the-job confidants and friends.
Connect With Other LGBTQ+ People at Work: Sometimes it takes one confident, proud person to give you the courage to come out. Coming out at work is an uncomfortable, dicey situation but there are many members of the LGBTQ+ community that choose to be visible minorities in their professional lives. Odds are, if you work in a large office, you are working amongst other LGBTQ+ colleagues.If you can identify any of your “out” colleagues and feel safe speaking with them, it may be worth it to ask them how they came out at work. They might be able to give you some insight into your office culture, tell you their own personal coming out story, or give you some helpful tips on being your most authentic self at work.
Coming out is a lifelong, ongoing process. However, with a bit of confidence and the right helpful tips, you can be your full gay self at work. If you have any tips for coming out in the office, let us know in the comments below! We would love to hear your stories!