Coming out at work. Again. And again
As a gay man, I make decisions about what I share about myself with others and what I don’t. This is true of friends and family, but also colleagues and clients. As time has gone on, this has become less of a concern for me. I am out. I am proud to be myself. However, there’s still a consideration at the back of my mind that makes me think twice, when approaching the subject.
What does ‘coming out’ mean?
Coming out is a term used to describe the action of an LGBT+ person telling someone, or a group of people, about their sexual orientation or gender identity. There aren’t rules to coming out. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. If you come out, it should be on your own terms. It’s also a process, and as we’ll cover here, something that doesn’t just happen once.
Personally, instead of using the term ‘coming out’, I prefer ‘letting in’. If someone has given you reason to trust them, they’ve earned a spot in being in on that part of your life. I’ll be referring to coming out here, however, because it’s a term we’re broadly familiar with. Drawing from my own experience, most people in the community have a coming-out story.
Should you come out at work?
It has, in the past, been difficult to gauge when I should come out to the people I work with. Today, in the UK we might be likely to assume, rightly or wrongly, that this should be no problem at all.
However, I do have a sort of ‘always on’ awareness about places I feel safe in. This is heightened in pubs, bars and other social spaces. And work is one of those spaces where I tend to be more aware, and I look for the signs - of green flags and red flags. For example, I would consider seeing a diverse group of people in an office to be a green flag, whereas a very heterosexual male environment, a possible red flag. It’s not always the case, and time always tells, but I have these innate internal checks and balances.
Perhaps this is because when I’m at work, I want to feel as though I’m accepted. Diversity plays a wider role into how we operate as human beings. Knowing that my colleagues accept me for who I am as an individual lets me relax on enough of a level to just get on with my job. This feeling builds a positive impact on your wellbeing and work ethic. I know I’m not alone it this. It’s one of the things that gives us a commonality – to be treated with respect in the workplace.
Showing that part of myself has been a stressful thing to do, and I have held back until I’ve gotten to know my colleagues better.
How I come out at work
One technique I have to let people at work know I’m gay is ‘match’ what they’re talking about when it comes to things like what they did on the weekend. There can be a lot of dismissal of small talk, but it’s here where many connections start. So the conversation with someone talking about going to the movies with their spouse becomes a chance for me to talk about time spent with mine. I’ve also done this with clients too, when it seems appropriate to get to that stage in a working relationship.
As I’ve said, I’m sometimes still wary, still testing the water. The most important thing I’ve learned is to understand the environment I’m in, and work out if it’s going to be supportive or not, then take it from there.
Fortunately, I can say that my experience of homophobia in the workplace has been limited to perhaps the very earliest times of my working life, more than 15 years ago. Since joining Walk-in-Media, it's given me the opportunity to be a more active driver of change, and I'm now a member of the DEI council. This in turn has led to being directly instrumental in providing LGBTQI+ informational resources for my colleagues and organising our workplace Pride event. I really hope this is the first of many and look forward to seeing as many of the agency join the evening events and educate further is this important topic.
As the slogan goes, it (mostly) gets better. Or rather, as LGBTQ+ people become more visible and accepted, we can progress as a society. Learning from different perspectives leads to evolved outlooks.
Yet personal experience is not universal truth. The best thing we can do is help to create an environment around us for us all to live our lives honestly and authentically. Only then can we develop not only ourselves, and each other, but our working environments to be accommodating to every individual.
Written by, Peter Shorney