Coming Out Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgendered at Work
But if you do choose to come out on the job, there are ways to do so that can reduce the chances of facing possible discrimination.
The Joys Of Outing Yourself
Take a look at Kathleen Wynne, the first openly gay woman who became Premier of Ontario; International superstar Ricky Martin; NBA veteran Jason Collins, who just marched in Boston’s Gay Pride Parade; actor Zachary Quinto, or American journalist and CNN anchor, Anderson Cooper: each of these people came out publicly.
So did Peter Taylor, a gay senior manager of sales and service at TD Canada Trust. He returned to the bank as an employee after a two-year hiatus. Taylor is quoted in the Toronto Star as saying, “When I first came back to the bank, I went to an annual meeting, and the head of the retail bank specifically talked about diversity and LGBT. I was sitting next to another gay manager from the bank, and we were both just so taken by that.”
There is something hugely liberating about not having to hide your true orientation. You no longer feel like you have to live a pretend life. You can speak freely and bring your romantic partner to employer-sponsored events. Being out means never having to say, “I swear I’m not one of ‘those’ people.”
Why People Hide Their Sexual Orientation At Work
A dialogue clip from the popular TV comedy show The Office:
Michael Scott: Can you tell who’s gay and who’s not?
Dwight Schrute: Of course.
Michael Scott: What about Oscar?
Dwight Schrute: Absolutely not.
Michael Scott: Well, he is.
Dwight Schrute: Well, he’s not dressed in women’s clothes, so...
If you are straight (heterosexual), are you afraid that people at work will find out? Not really. Do you cringe at the thought of co-workers treating you differently because you are straight? That maybe they’ll start ugly rumours, and you’ll get passed by when it comes to promotions and raises because you’re straight? Straight people don’t ever have to think of the possibility of being discriminated against because of their sexuality. It’s a phenomenon called Heteronormativity, and it’s everywhere, especially at work.
But if you happen to be a pre-op (not yet operated on) transsexual male who is about to get physically changed into a woman, and you start to show up wearing makeup and less-masculine clothes to work, you may well be terrified about how people will react.
Employees who are GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender) face genuine hurdles. A Canadian survey conducted by Leger Marketing not long ago showed that over 55% of respondents think “it is difficult for people who openly admit their homosexuality to be accepted by their work colleagues.” Interestingly Quebec seems to be more open-minded in this area than the rest of Canada, and it became the first province in 1977 to include sexual orientation in its Human Rights Act.
Now younger Canadians are far more likely to say they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender at work than older Canadians, with 10% of those aged 18 to 34 answering the question with a “yes,” compared to 2% or 3% in the four older age categories.
“My generation didn’t come out until at least university,” said politician, Kyle Rae, 58. “Today, people are coming out in high school, if not grade school.”
Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are
There’s no guarantee that when you announce your orientation at work, there’ll be no downsides. However, you can lessen the risks by doing the following:
- Make sure you’re emotionally ready to be known as your genuine self
- If there are other people “out” in your workplace already, maybe seek their confidential guidance in how they approached their announcement
- Know your employer’s policies. Do they have specialized resources (groups such as Scotiabank’s Scotia Pride, a confidential helpline, intranet information) that could assist you?
- Think about how others at work might react. If you work in a place that is overrun with bigotry and small-mindedness, consider laying low until things open up more.
Once you’re prepared, announce in your own way. For instance, you could start by asking for a private session with your boss. Or start telling people who work near to you.
A more subtle way is to begin dropping hints, like mentioning the name of your romantic partner if you have one, speaking about events you attended that are obviously geared to one sexual persuasion or another, etc. Word will spread on its own this way.
Take Pride In Who You Are
Is it such a big issue that you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender? It shouldn’t be. Today “sexual orientation” is explicitly mentioned as a ground of prohibited discrimination in the Human Rights Acts of all jurisdictions in Canada.
Still, attitudes sometimes take longer to change than laws do. So if you do come out at work and experience a backlash, speak to your Human Resources department or consult an employment lawyer.
We’ve come a long way since homosexuality was appallingly considered a mental illness right up until the 1970s!
And so much farther than when the simple act of being gay was – shockingly – a criminal offence punishable by death (until 1869 in Canada). Hopefully, soon being LGBT at work will be mainstream, merely one more reason to pay tribute to diversity.
Now we celebrate that ten years ago, Michael Leshner and Michael Stark became the first gay couple to be legally married in Canada, which was in 2003!
In the end, it does not matter how or when do you come out. You will know when the right time comes, and not only you will feel relieved but proud of it!