How to Come Out as LGBTQ+ at Work

Coming out at work takes courage, but it's vital for your career happiness and overall health. While it's not always advisable, the consequences can create lasting positive impacts, depending on where you work.

Key takeaways:
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    Coming out at work leads to higher job satisfaction and less psychological distress.
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    Being openly queer at work creates an affirming environment for co-workers and clients in the LGBTQ+ community.
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    The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that discrimination against gender identity and sexual orientation is prohibited.
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    Come out at work by being confident about your identity and pronouns to create a culture of belonging.

Why employees should come out

Coming out helps create a work culture of equality. While many people do not feel comfortable coming out at work, it's a significant way of representing LGBTQ+ people in society. It's true that groups of co-workers or other professionals still gossip terribly about LGBTQ+ and TGD (Trans and Gender Diverse) people in a professional working environment.

However, equality is rooted in belonging. Coming out at work promotes a culture of belonging and inclusivity. Being out at work is associated with higher levels of career happiness. Additionally, coming out makes you a role model for others. Therefore, everyone "at the office" benefits from having open LGBTQ+ co-workers.

Feeling safe at work

The issue of job security and physical safety when coming out at work is concerning. Fortunately, federal employment law protects against discrimination against LGBTQ+ employees. Federally, it is currently illegal to discriminate against someone's gender identity and sexual orientation in the United States.

Emotionally, coming out eventually leads to feelings of security at work. Forty-two percent (42%) of closeted employees felt isolated at work, per the Harvard Business Review. In comparison, only 24% of openly gay employees felt isolated.

Tips for feeling safe

Keep safety in mind to prevent getting fired for coming out. Though protected federally, half of the states in the US do not fully protect LGBTQ+ folks from discriminatory practices. Fortunately, Over 600 workplace policies uphold LGTBQ+ nondiscriminatory policies, according to the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index.

Out in the open

When you can be yourself, your work life gets better. In one study, an analysis revealed less psychological stress when gay and lesbian participants were open about their LGBTQ+ identity at work.

For trans folks, coming out at work can be lifesaving. The impact of gender affirmation at work plays a paramount role in transgender health.

Ways to come out at work

There are many ways to reveal your LGBTQ+ status at work.

Start small but be visible

You can start "small" by wearing a pride flag or pronoun pin on your work badge. Or, put gay and trans pride stickers on your work computer. Visibility is the first part of coming out.

Visibility is also essential in making other LGBTQ+ co-workers or clients feel more comfortable.

Come out right away

If you feel comfortable, come out right away. Sometimes, "ripping off the bandaid" is the best route. Try mentioning queer references about yourself. For example, female-identifying providers could casually reference having a girlfriend or that they date women in conversation with colleagues.

Come out in the interview

Coming out during an interview is a surefire way to enter a supportive and accepting work environment. Often, interviews ask about your personal life in some regard. Use this as an opportunity to gauge future employers' reactions to being LGBTQ+. You can mention your partner or your preferred pronouns in this part of the interview. Additionally, if you're passionate about LGBTQ+ advocacy work, for example, an interview is an excellent time to put your queerest foot forward.

Come out selectively

You may not feel comfortable coming out, depending on where you work. One in ten LGBTQ+ workers left a job because it wasn't accepting of LGBTQ+ people and workers. Coming out privately to a close group of colleagues is another way to be out at work. Selectively coming out can alleviate some of the pressure associated with being closeted. It also offers you partial protection — if you are "passing."

"Passing" means that some LGBTQ+ folks appear cisgender and aren't forced to come out. However, many trans and gender-diverse colleagues do not have this privilege. For better or worse, they have no choice but to come out. A culture of inclusivity at work is imperative for the safety and well-being of TGD employees.

One option is to reach out to human resources (HR) before coming out. Connect with someone higher up you feel has your back. Meeting with HR can act as "insurance" against the possible backlash of coming out.

Take your time and be confident

Take your time coming out. It's perfectly fine to consider the culture before outing yourself. However, once you do, don't give up. For example, people often struggle with they/them pronouns. Though tiring, standing up for your identity and pronoun preferences is necessary.

Give it a little time, and soon, acceptance will follow. However, if it doesn't, connect with HR, employee resource groups, or your company's Diversity Equity and Inclusion council (DEI). They can act as resources for support for coming out at work.

When coming out, be honest and confident about your identity and pronouns. Find the LGBTQ+ organization at your work for additional support. If there's no LGBTQ+ organization, consider talking to HR about starting one.

Let your authenticity shine. Your role as an "out" employee promotes LGBTQ+ affirmation for colleagues and clients alike. Silence doesn't lead to progress. A culture of equality at work leads to more job satisfaction, which ultimately creates a fulfilling career.


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