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Tips For Coming Out: Becoming "The Gay Guy" At Work

Dec 16, 2007
The final frontier. You've come out to your friends. Your parents and family know. Now you are thinking of taking the final plunge of coming out at the workplace. This can be a tricky affair, since most states still do not have anti-discrimination laws and there are no protections at the federal level. As of this writing, in 42 states it is still legal to fire someone for being gay, lesbian or trans! Despite the risk, many people feel it is too damaging to the psyche to stay closeted.

Corporate Culture
The good news is, where the government has fallen short, many companies are picking up in protecting their workers. Before you come out, take a look at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies for their gay friendliness. From 2007 to 2008, there has been a 41% increase in companies earning a score of 100% from the HRC, so progress is being made. Even if your company is not on the HRC's list, check their anti-discrimination clause. If sexual orientation is listed, it will likely indicate that the human resources department is at least sympathetic to the GLBT population.

Comfort Level
Now take a good look within yourself. Examine your motives. Are you being pushed into coming out by a partner or by friends, or are you doing this for yourself. The key is, you should be at a real point of comfort with your sexual orientation before taking this step. At a high level of self acceptance you will exude a calm exterior that will be reassuring to your coworkers. If you are comfortable and accepting of yourself, others will be more at ease with you too.

Have a Back-up Plan
Make sure you are ready for whatever will come. Even if company policy is favorable, it doesn't mean every individual in the workplace will be accepting...including your supervisor. You may be able to keep your job, but if you are getting the cold shoulder from co-workers, will you want to? If things get really uncomfortable for you are there other jobs in the area? The alternative is sticking it out with a tough skin and using your charming personality to change people's perceptions over time. Most people will adjust to your news given time.

Pick an Ally
Choose someone you have a good rapport with--a close work friend, an HR rep or even your supervisor. Come out to that person first and win their support. When you start coming out to others, this person will act behind the scenes to talk things over in a positive way with anxious coworkers.

Quality Work
If there is any question at all that your supervisor will discriminate against you, make sure your work is up to snuff! If you have not been doing your job well and your supervisor is already annoyed with you, don't hand him an excuse to get rid of you. Yes, this may seem unfair, but really, you are getting paid for quality work, so just do it! Good workers are not always easy to find. If your skills are valuable to the company and to your supervisor, they will want to retain your services.

Normalize It
When I decided to come out at work, I took the passive approach. I told the office gossip and figured that everyone would know within the hour. As it turned out, she didn't tell a soul, which in retrospect was a good thing! Now being older and wiser, my coming out at work simply entails openness about my life. No speeches or announcements. If someone asks about my weekend plans, I matter-of-factly state I am spending time with my partner. In other words, I have normalized my approach. Over time people have gotten the idea I'm a lesbian in a gentle, non-threatening way and there have been no repercussions that I am aware of.

You now have some tools and ideas for coming out in the workplace. Remember the basics: check your company policy, make sure you are at a good comfort level, be prepared for anything, have an ally and normalize the process. As with any coming out experience, if you are able to successfully manage it, you will find yourself more at ease in your environment and more at peace with yourself. Good luck!
About the Author
Pat Cheney is a life coach working with gays and lesbians who are coming out in midlife and with spouses in gay-straight marriages. To find out more about her services, visit Pat's website at www.discoveringpride.com
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