Is it important to be “out” at work?


According to Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office and The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out Is Good Business it is important to be out at work. It’s important to be out everywhere. Their overall reasoning is pretty compelling.

When we spend time hiding parts of ourselves, we aren’t giving our work or home life all of us. When we expect people to spend concentration on every movement and on hiding things from every story, how can we expect that they have much concentration left for what they are there to do? Surely there are plenty of “in the closet” people of various sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions that are successful, but how much more would they have to give? We also can’t expect them to come out in an environment that they fear might become hostile.

Big business is increasingly accepting of LGBT people in their ranks, but in the way of every great policy stands a manager. A lot of the treatment that people get from a corporation is based on their direct management and teams. Those of us who are in these positions have a great impact on whether or not those who are LGBT on our teams feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work. We’re not always clear on how to do that, though. So what can we do?

While there are many things that can be done, I decided to stick to 5 things that we can do at work to make our workplaces feel like safe spaces to be out in:
1. Refrain from disparaging comments or jokes against groups. It should be possible to be funny without being insulting, if not, you’re really not that funny.
2. Don’t freak out or ask invasive questions when someone in the company does come out and others may be more likely to come out too. It’s my understanding that questions are generally fine, but there’s a line that people cross. That line is firmly in front of questions about sex, having sex, what sex parts you have or like. Don’t ask questions anywhere relating to these, they are bad.
3. Don’t assume things about your coworkers. If they are comfortable coming out to you, they will.
4. Reinforce the importance of diversity. It’s not just about equal opportunity. Diverse backgrounds, personalities and cultures give employers a wider range of possible solutions to problems and give companies are wider range of customer to relate to. There’s a lot more to diversity than what appears on the surface.
5. Be an active bystander. Sometimes people don’t know when they’ve crossed a line. If you’re the kind of coworker who doesn’t allow people to be out down around them, you may be more likely to be that person that someone comes out to. You may also be contributing to an atmosphere that is comfortable for people to be their authentic selves in.

Being out as a pro-active ally can be complicated and it’s more art than science, I think. There are plenty of references to be found if you want to know more about it. Out and Equal at Work has it’s own work steps for this as well. Check it out.

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