To come out, or not to come out, that is the question. When it comes to LGBTQ+ people and the workplace, it is a question with some complex answers.
Even if you are happy, well adjusted, and proud, LGBTQ+ people coming out at work are still a complex question to answer easily. Despite the legal gains that have been made, not all workplaces are hospitable. There can be enormous stress when figuring out if being out means creating better work relationships, or being out of a promotion, or even worse, a job.
Some employers are welcoming of diversity. They are willing to create safe and secure workplace environments for LGBTQ+ people. Depending on where you work, there can be safeguards in terms of laws that can protect you from capricious hiring and firing practices - this is all positive. However, simply because there are protections in place, that does not mean you are universally safe.
It is no myth that harassment still exists in the workplace for members of the LGBTQ+ community. It is also true that it is often incredibly difficult to prove discrimination, even if there is overwhelming evidence. Attorney Generals Offices can be so over burned to the point of not taking on such cases. Lawyers willing to take them on can be challenging to find. They can also be prohibitively expensive.
Should you find yourself in an LGBTQ+ positive workspace, that does not automatically mean all of your coworkers are necessarily on the same page. Sadly, it is easy for colleagues to undermine your success in ways both covert and overt. Not providing timely information, delays in answering emails, not returning phone calls, and leaving you out of meetings, are all tactics used to make your professional life less professional.
Proving that you were subjected to a hostile work environment based on cutting remarks, innuendos, and slurs is difficult to prove. Should more than one colleague feel the need to make you the target of discriminatory treatment, it can only compound matters. Reporting the improper behavior can degenerate into a “he said, she said” situation. It could come down to your word against several other people. There can also be a situation where your immediate superior may have prejudices which can turn into a no-win scenario, leaving you without any advocates. In a workplace like this, the only way to survive is to remain silent regarding your orientation, marital status, and the like. And you may have no choice but to elect not to disclose to stay employed. On the other hand, not being out and open can give the impression you are keeping secrets. Small talk and socialization are part of the work environment, and if you do not participate, you may come across as aloof or difficult. Your reluctance to be part of the group can put you at a distinct disadvantage where you may be labeled as “not a team player.”
In some professions, being out can make the difference between being hired or being fired. Not all occupations are LGBTQ+ friendly. Some can be historically averse to even gender diversity alone. You could find yourself facing a huge uphill battle just being in some professions. Making it past the first interview could be an impossibility. Should there be an opening, you could discover a ceiling limiting your advancement. You may get in, but that may not be a guarantee you will remain.
One comment I have heard many times over is that LGBTQ+ people are not taken seriously. Credentialed, credible and experienced, may not translate into respect. There are so many myths, prejudices, and lies circulating regarding the competency and capacity of LGBTQ+ people. It can be a struggle to establish authority. It actually comes as a shock to some that we have established ourselves in a broad spectrum of fields from the scientific community to professional sports. We are literally found in every profession. Even with achievements, honors, and degrees, being seen as an equal can be an arduous task.
Once situated in a chosen field, the stresses when, where, and disclosing personal information bring great uncertainty. How should you go about doing it?
Should you be fortunate to feel secure and safe at work, just how much is acceptable to share. Straight people have the advantage of being able to freely talk about spouses, children, partners, and even lovers with fear of losing their livelihood. Some may be comfortable with you not being straight and having no trouble with being a part of the workforce. However, they may not be so forgiving if you talk about your spouse, partners, or lovers. Clearly, there is still a double standard. One has to figure out who, where, and how to discuss matters without being seen as “promoting a lifestyle” or “flaunting sexuality.” Some prefer that we remain silent and keep everything about our lives private. Others want to know more about us and have no difficulty being part of this conversation. Navigating this tight rope of concerns is something many LBTQI people must contend with regularly.
The struggle to come out or remain tightly concealed at work is troubling. The stress of being closeted can lead to physical and mental health issues, including, but not limited to, stress. There can be a considerable amount of stress if you do come out as well. Can you tell this person, but not that person. Can you be candid with your boss, but not members of the HR Department. Do you monitor what you say so as not to be offensive, or do you become as open as everyone else? There are so many situations and sometimes no clear-cut answers. It can be tricky figuring out who is an ally and who is a mortal enemy at work. People can pretend to be “woke” out of fear of being seen as discriminatory. Just because they smile, it may not mean they really accept you. Some may simply tolerate you. And there is a big difference.
It is true that because of the social climate, media, and the strides made, there has been progress. But it also gives the impression that LGBTQ+ people have achieved true parity with their counterparts. One can look at some high-profile community members and believe that such access is available to all LGBTQ+ people. But, the reality is that it is not. The idea that all LGBTQ+ people have huge disposable incomes is yet another misnomer that obscures the fact that the vast majority of people in the community are working, struggling, or in some cases, barely hanging on for survival.
How to come out, when to come out, and to whom at work is such a delicate proposition. In some situations, it is best to be private. In others, it is perfectly acceptable to be out. No matter what the decision, this does not mean you are closeted or ashamed. One can be out and proud and chose to make the work world strictly professional and not in any way personal. It all depends on who you are, where you are, and any number of other variables. Coming out at works is not a black and white matter. In the end, it all depends.
If you’re struggling with coming out at the workplace, get connected to me or talk to anyone of Our Psychics here at PathForward. We’ll take a deeper look into your situation, provide guidance, and advice to support your next steps.
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