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Home  > Article

Coming out of the Closet at Work

By Jenna Hansen
Associated Content

Coming out of the closet is almost always at least a little scary. It can be even more frightening when your job is involved.

  • Remember that you'll still have to work with your coworkers after you come out, so keep their reactions in mind.
  • Job security is a factor when considering coming out because it is hard to prove that you were fired due to your sexual orientation.
  • Come out for yourself. If you aren't ready, wait.
How will your coworkers react? Will your job still be safe? Are you coming out because you want to, or do you feel obligated to do so? Is it practical to come out on the job? These questions are just a few to consider when you are considering coming out of the closet at work.

How will your coworkers react?

Whether or not you like your coworkers, you'll still have to work with them after you come out of the closet. Coming out tactfully is going to largely influence their opinions, but other factors will influence your coworkers as well. If you have coworkers who are passionately homophobic, perhaps this isn't the right workplace for you to come out. Are your coworkers religious? While not all religious people are intolerant, that can be an influential factor. Try testing the waters a bit before you come out if you are unsure of your coworkers viewpoints on homosexuality. If something was in the news about a hate crime, gay marriage, a controversial commercial, or anything to do with homosexuality, see how they feel about the issue. Remember however that sometimes even those who are accepting or at least tolerant of those of other sexual orientations are going to have other factors involved as well when discussing such issues. For example, someone could be tolerant of homosexuals, yet be against gay marriage because they feel that in their religion marriage is between a man and a woman. Someone who feels that it is okay to poke fun at those who are different from you in the name of comedy may seem uncaring to you, yet they could still be an accepting person and just have a different sense of humor than you. Don't forget that such issues can be multi-faceted, so don't let one discussion dash your hopes of being able to come out in the workplace. It is important however, to ensure that you take your coworkers reactions into account so that you do not inadvertently end up being isolated.

Will your job still be safe?

By law, your job should still be safe. This aspect of coming out still needs to be considered though, as you probably don't want to spend time and money in court over this decision. Are there others in your workplace who are out of the closet? How are they treated? If the boss and others have treated them the same before and after they came out, you have good chances as well. However, if ever since they came out, the boss has been contemplating things that they could be fired for and hasn't given them a raise when others have gotten one, perhaps you should reconsider your decision (and where you work, for that matter). If you're relying on that job as your only source of income, it is important to ensure your job will still be safe. It all sounds well and good to say that your job is safe because your employer gives equal opportunities to all on paper. However, when it comes down to it, it could be difficult to prove that you were fired for your sexual orientation. Even if you had solid proof that you were fired for your sexual orientation, in the meantime you are stuck paying court costs to fight this all while you have no job and still have to pay your bills. If you have reason to believe your job won't be safe and you can't afford to be fired right now, consider staying in the closet while you look for some place better if you desire to be accepted for who you are.

Are you coming out because you want to, or do you feel obligated to do so?

Think about why you feel the need to come out. Are you tired of pretending to have a partner of the opposite sex to avoid being set up on dates? Do you want to bring your partner to office functions when others are allowed to? Are you considering coming out because you feel it is your duty to the gay rights movement? All of these reasons and more are possibilities. I personally hated having to pretend I had a boyfriend when I worked in a jewelry department. However, if I wasn't in a relationship everyone there was trying to set me up with one guy or another. In the end though, when I came out at my current workplace, I did it for me. I wanted to be able to be myself at work. I didn't want to have to pretend that I had a boyfriend or pretend that I intended on staying permanently single. I did consider the gay rights movement, but knew I had to come out for myself. The idea behind coming out for the gay rights movement is that if more people come out, people will realize that we are everywhere. People will realize that gays and lesbians are their friends, family, and coworkers. If people realize that they already know and love us, they won't find it so easy to discriminate. While I see that as a nice side benefit, I don't think it should be the sole reason for coming out. You as a person are more than something representing a cause. You have to keep yourself in mind as well. If your decision furthers a cause you believe in, all the better. If your decision isn't what the cause would have hoped for at this time, do not feel ashamed. Come out because you want to, when you want to. No one else will have to deal with the consequences (good or bad), except for you.

Is it practical to come out on the job?

Sometimes it just isn't practical to come out on the job. For example, I used to work in mobile photography. Every work day, I would be in a different location. I worked alone and had no assistants or coworkers. I did have a boss and was an employee of a company, but I rarely saw him. It wasn't practical to come to each shoot and inform everyone each time that I was a lesbian. There was no point in coming out on the job there because I never got close to anyone while working. There are other instances as well where it wouldn't be practical to come out. For a more comical example, consider someone who is gay and is working on an anti-gay marriage political campaign. There is probably going to be no way for them to comfortably come out at that workplace, and they should probably consider another job. You may be very comfortable with your sexuality, yet there isn't a feasible way to come out where you work. Don't be ashamed of not being out at work. Just because you aren't out in the workplace, that doesn't mean you're pretending to be heterosexual. If anyone had asked me when I worked in photography, I would have shared. Sometimes it just doesn't come up.

Remember that once you've come out of the closet at work, you can't go back in. Make sure that coming out is the right decision for you at this time and at your current workplace before you decide to come out. That being said, it is a wonderful thing to be able to be yourself at work. I would never go back to pretending to be straight. If I couldn't be out of the closet at work, I would find a new job. If it is the right decision for you, it can be a great thing to be out of the closet at work and finally be open about a part of who you are. Coming out of the closet can be scary, but you never know what's outside the closet door until you open it.

This article was reprinted with permission from Associated Content, The People's Media Company. Visit today to publish your own content and explore AC's growing multimedia library.

© 2008 Associated Content, Inc.

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