The first time I came out to a coworker was in 2014 the day after a Halloween party. I was living in San Diego at the time and my coworker who was out and proud invited me to a girl bar in Hillcrest (San Diego’s gay town). A few minutes into spotting her and her group of friends in the crowded bar she made it clear that she “doesn’t dance”. My then 22-year-old self wasn’t having it, so I excused myself when a good song came on. Not long before dancing alone was I joined by a gorgeous woman from out of town who approached me. After about an hour of dancing my co-worker came looking for me and saw me getting my life with this woman. I looked over to see her giving me a “wait a minute is she gay?” look. I was unbothered and continued to have fun.
The next day at work my co-worker was fishing for an answer about my sexuality. “Do you hang out in Hillcrest a lot?” She’s trying it. “So what ended up happening with you and that girl last night?” A tad personal. “Do you listen to Tegan and Sara?” Really?! What black person listens to—alright, it’s time. “Is there something you want to ask me?” I finally asked out loud. She let out a nervous laugh. “Are you into girls?” she finally asked. I shook my head and smiled, “Yes.” It was as if I said the magic word that led to us bonding over our shared interest. Working with her became more fun and less rigid. Now, 4 years (and a few jobs later) I have been out to coworkers and managers alike.
While I can’t tell you definitively if coming out at work is a good option for you, I can give you five reasons why it can be a great decision.
1. No Need to Front
As the great philosopher Ice Cube once said “You aint gotta lie to kick it.” It’s not unusual to hear co-workers in the break room casually chatting about their significant (opposite-gender) partner. How many times have you heard Julie talk about her and Brandon’s cute little date nights? Nothing is worse than smiling and nodding through another one of her stories and wishing you could do the same. When you’re out you don’t have to keep quiet about your significant other or the person you are casually dating. Before coming out to my coworkers, I would either keep tight lipped about my love life or (even worse) say I was single. Being out at the workplace means your conversations don’t have to be so calculated and forced.
2. You Can Encourage Others to Come Out
I know, you didn’t sign up to be a pioneer in the workplace, but sometimes it ends up that way. Chances are you aren’t the only queer person at your job. By living in your truth and being unapologetic about who you are, you could be inspiring your closeted co-worker(s) to do the same. I remember the relief one of my co-workers felt when I told her I date women exclusively. She literally let out a sigh of relief and said “I thought I was the only one.”
3. You Can Help Erase the Stigma
We have been given this idea that coming out has to be a “big deal”. Coming out is seen as this monumental, life-changing event (and in some respect it is), but it doesn’t have to be this epic moment. The interesting thing about coming out, is you don’t just do it once. You’ll have to it over and over with the more people you meet (and trust). In my experience people tend to match your attitude about it. Now, when I decide to come out to someone it’s in a super casual “did-she-just-say-she’s-gay?” kind of way. It isn’t necessary to have this dramatic sit down and tear-jerking revelation. It can literally be done by talking to them as if they already know. So next time Julie is talking about date night with Brandon you can tell her about your date night with Brianna. “I’m planning a cute first date with this girl Brianna. Got any places you recommend?” By following up with a question, it shifts the focus from who you are dating and makes it more relatable by focusing on the date itself, something we all do. Chances are if you mention it in a casual way, they will follow your lead.
4. You Can Bring Your Boo to the Company Picnics
This is arguably the biggest perk of coming out in the workplace! Company gatherings where you can bring a plus one (like a holiday party or company picnic) are much more fun when you can bring your bae with you. Company gatherings are when we get to know our co-workers and managers outside of the workplace, duty-free and seen as equal. You’ll undoubtedly meet your teams significant others and kids. You should be able to do the same! The people that support you, will support you. The ones that don’t can choke on Keisha’s dry ass potato salad! ;)
5. You Are Protected**
**Of course I can’t make a blanket statement about something like this so the asterisks mean in certain parts of the world this is not applicable. However in the U.S. it has recently been found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 inherently gives protection to gay workers (this has yet to go to the Supreme Court). Currently, in the U.S. 20 states are protected against workplace discrimination based on both sexual orientation and sexual identity. However, if you are not protected you need to decide if coming out is worth losing your job. If you work for a big name company, you can check to see if your company protects your rights on HRC’s Workplace Equality Index here.
Ultimately, the decision to come out in the workplace is yours. Don’t let anyone put pressure on you to share such a personal part of who you are. If you aren’t close with your team and just come to work to get your coins, I get it. However, if you see yourself building meaningful friendships beyond the workspace (and you are legally protected against discrimination) go for it. There is nothing more freeing than being who you are no matter where you are.
What are your thoughts on being out at work? Drop a comment below!