Today, many employers have a written non-discrimination policy, and our culture as a whole is becoming more accepting of different sexual orientations and gender identities. Nevertheless, the question of whether or not to come out at work, is still not an easy one to answer. In fact, the Wall Street Journal ran an article just last year discussing how many recent graduates were “out” while in school, but decided to remain “in the closet” at the workplace.
Certainly you want (and deserve!) to work in an environment that makes you feel comfortable and accepted. The Corporate Equality Index run by the Human Rights Campaign is a great resource for finding out if a large company provides an accepting workplace. But what about smaller places that don’t turn up on a national index? And while the written policy may state one thing, specific office environments or individuals may not be very personally invested in upholding principles about workplace diversity.
What questions should you be asking yourself if you’re considering coming out at work? They range from the legal, to the practical, to the personal or emotional. Read on to find out what might be applicable to your situation.
1. Does your state have a non-discrimination law?
Between 2003 and 2007, nearly 10% of LGBTQ individuals reported losing a job because of their sexual orientation, and a whopping 38% reported workplace harassment. Over half of the US (31 states to be precise) has no ban on discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity in the workplace. That means more than half of Americans who identify as part of the LGBTQ community live in a place where they can be fired or denied housing. There is no federal law against workplace discrimination for reasons of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
Sometimes, it’s just not practical to be out in the office. Maybe you’ve just landed your dream entry-level job, but it happens to be in another country that’s much more conservative. Work there for a while to gain industry experience, but if you really want to be in a workplace more accepting of diversity, then move on!
2. What about your company?
The good news is fully 91% of Fortune 500 companies have workplace protections for LGBTQ individuals. If you’re at a smaller company, check to see if they offer domestic partner benefits.
Even better, are there any openly gay people in the workplace already? Their experiences may prove invaluable, so consider seeing if they’re comfortable sharing with you. Or if someone else came out in your workplace, have you noticed a difference in the way they are treated by colleagues or supervisors? Have you heard anyone making homophobic comments or using “gay” as a slur?
3. Why are you coming out?
Maybe you’re tired of your coworkers trying to set you up with their male friends because you’ve never felt comfortable mentioning your girlfriend to them. Maybe you’re tired of pretending, or having incorrect assumptions made about your private life. But your private life is just that, private.
Whatever the reasons or consequences, be sure you’re coming out for you, not because you feel pressured, perhaps by your gay friends who don’t understand why no one at work knows.
There’s usually no need to make a big announcement, unless that’s important to you. If you think being gay should be no big deal, set the casual tone yourself! Maybe your partner meets you after work to go out for dinner, or you keep a photograph on your desk. And there’s nothing wrong with gently correcting someone who asks about your wife during small talk, when you actually have a husband.