TALKING TO CO-WORKERS: Coming Out at Work for Marriage
February 11, 2009Guest Blogger: James Hipps
To be or not to be…out at work? That is the question. Although a seemingly straight forward question, there are many facets to consider when answering this question. Those facets are unique in almost every person’s case, much as the facets on diamonds differ on each individual stone. There are however, many parallels as well, which we can use as guidelines when making this important decision.
Many of us in the LGBT community are advocates of being out at work. There are many benefits afforded to the entire community when we make the decision to be out. Not only do we gain a sense of normalcy, but we also gain inclusion. In a society where gay stereotypes, many times uncomplimentary, are perpetuated by the media, it is important for us to be out so those whose perception of our community relies strictly upon what is depicted by the media, can come to know us in a different light and gain an understanding that we are a normal part of everyday society.
When making the decision to come out at work, the first, and most important thing you need to take into consideration is whether or not you can afford any financial consequences. Unfortunately, it is still legal in 33 states to be fired for being gay or lesbian. You must be prepared to face that as a result. I would note however, if you are working for an employer that would fire you for your sexual orientation, then you probably don’t want to be employed by them in the first place.
Once it has been determined that your employer is gay friendly, and your not going to loose your job because of your sexual orientation, then you have to consider yet another very important factor in being out at work, which is how to deal with your co-workers.
In many cases, you may find that straight co-workers actually want to support their gay colleagues, but without cues and input, it may be difficult for them to do so. Many times people won’t do or say anything because they are afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. You, as a gay or lesbian employee may mistake this silence as rejection. The end result of this scenario is a workplace where everyone is walking on eggshells.
It is the responsibility of LGBT employees to help their straight colleagues create a more supportive work environment for everyone. There are a number of ways to accomplish this. For one, don’t conceal your personal life. If you speak in a matter- of- fact manor about your life, then others will take that cue and be more comfortable discussing it as well. You don’t have to be overbearing about it, simply repeating the same name during conversation helps people catch on. You can also help break the ice by placing a picture of your partner on your desk. Seeing a photo of someone gives your co-workers permission to talk. Also initiate conversations that will open up to you answering questions about your partner. Ask your co-worker what they and their significant other did over the weekend. When asked in return, take the opportunity to answer openly and honestly. Opening up dialogue always helps to put people at ease.
There could be times however that you are not accepted because you are faced with the challenges of a homophobic co-worker. If you find this to be the case, remember education is key. Build relationships with those who are not homophobic so it becomes apparent that others accept you. The more they see you being yourself, and others accepting you, the easier it will become overtime for them to see the good in you. Avoid confrontation and be kinder than necessary. Homophobia is often a product of one’s own insecurities, so again just be yourself, and be kind.
It’s important for you to remember, what other’s say about you is really none of your business. If a co-worker wants to speak poorly of you, especially because of your sexuality, they will. The best remedy for this is to lead your life so no one will believe them.
If at all possible however, do be out at work. It will ultimately make your life easier and help the LGBT community as a whole gain acceptance and inclusion. Until we are a nation that sees all people as equal, it is up to us to help everyone learn and understand.
James Hipps is editor for GayAgenda.com