I recently read an article about homophobia in Northern Ireland, which revealed more than a quarter of GLBTI people complained of homophobia in their workplace, which in turn leads to them hiding their sexuality in the workplace.
I often talk abo
ut coming out in the workplace so this article caught my interest, as I have been experiencing a level of this in my own workplace.
Coming out in the workplace can be challenging and I’m fully aware of the potential consequences. In my employment life, I don’t ‘hide’ my sexuality and am quite open about talking about my partner in the first person.
It’s not so much that coming out at work is particularly difficult, but that I have to keep doing it almost daily.
Most jobs I’ve had involve meeting and forming relationships with people who you will know well enough to have small talk with about your personal life, so usually there will come a point where you have to come out, lie, or play the ‘pronoun game’ (avoid saying either he or she when talking about your partner).
Because we’re coming out in the workplace, we are truly beginning to change people’s perceptions about gay and lesbian people. People can see that we work, pay taxes and will insist on equal rights in all facets of our life, including one of the most important — the workplace.
It can be a difficult decision that can lead to some negative consequences, such as tense relationships with socially conservative co-workers or a ‘pink ceiling’ (the equivalent of the ‘glass ceiling’ women often face in their careers).
Coming out in the workplace also has the risk of making the employee a target of increased scrutiny of a manager who might not approve of gays and lesbians. It’s vitally important to consider the unique workplace culture to determine whether coming out is likely to create an uncomfortable working environment.
Even organisations that are inclusive of gays and lesbians on paper are composed of individuals with differing values and perspectives. Coming out in the workplace can be a tricky calculation because there are so many considerations that have little to do with the organisation’s policy on the issue.
Just to finish on a joke: The difference between being gay and being black is that you don’t have to tell your mother you’re black. (This old joke illustrates how some features of a person are invisible, while other features are not.)
This invisibility inevitably creates difficulties for people in their lives but remember you are not alone. There are people and organisations like GLOBE, ALSO and JOY 94.9 to help and support you.
By PETER STEPHENSON