Deciding whether to be out in the workplace can be a difficult choice to make. There are pros and cons, as there are with everything in life, but the following question must be asked: Is there a need to come out in the workplace?
During my 30 years of life so far I have had many jobs; from working in hairdressers to mental health care, via retail and DJing. In some of those jobs I have been out as a gay man, but in other roles, I took the decision to not disclose my sexuality. In one job I was asked by my manager to keep my sexuality a secret.
Working in a hairdresser’s you’d think that I would feel able to come out as gay. However, I didn’t. I was fifteen years old at the time and my manager was a very camp gay man. I felt intimidated by his overt sexuality and I didn’t identify with the campness that went hand in hand with his sexuality. So I felt unable to come out.
My next job was in retail and my manager was a Drag Queen. At sixteen years old I was still learning about myself and what it is to be gay. Again I didn’t identify with my manager as he was incredibly camp and I was not. I began thinking that all gay men must be like that and considered changing my behaviour to match. I couldn’t bring myself to be like that, so carried on as I was.
The Drag Queen manager eventually moved on and as other managers came through the door my confidence was building. At eighteen I met my first long term boyfriend and it was at that point I felt able to be out in the workplace for the first time, despite it having no relevance to my job. I just wanted to feel able to be open about who I was, in the same way, that my heterosexual colleagues were when talking about their partners and lives. I didn’t make a big thing of coming out; one day I just casually mentioned that I had a boyfriend. It was accepted by everyone and I had no problems in my time working there.
My next job was in mental health care. One day my colleagues were talking about their partners. They were all heterosexual. I decided to join in the discussion and talk about my partner. I figured they would all be ok with it and felt comfortable discussing that aspect of my life. Again it wasn’t a coming out as such; it was casually dropped into conversation. Everyone was fine with it, but one day I was called into my manager’s office to discuss something.
My manager spoke to me about my sexuality and asked that I keep it a secret. The reason given was, that the people being supported may have heard what I was saying and that it was not acceptable for them to hear that a member of staff was gay.
I asked my manager if she was uncomfortable with my sexuality and also questioned why it’s ok for staff to talk about their heterosexual partners but not alright for a homosexual person to talk about their partner.
My manager spoke to me about my sexuality and asked that I keep it a secret. The reason given was, that the people being supported may have heard what I was saying and that it was not acceptable for them to hear that a member of staff was gay… Not long after that, I was made redundant.
My manager didn’t have an answer and stated that she had made her decision; that I was not to reveal my sexuality to anyone at any point. Not long after that, I was made redundant.
Since then I have been out in all my places of work. Today I am self-employed so there isn’t anyone to be out too. What I have learnt over the years is that it’s not necessary to be out as gay in the workplace, but it’s great if you’re able to. Not everyone will like it, but that’s life; there will always be someone who is not happy with something. We now have laws that protect us, so it should be ok (legally speaking) to come out in the workplace. However, if I was to offer any advice it would be to do it on your own terms. If you feel able to come out in the workplace and you want to, that’s ok. But it’s also ok if you don’t want to be out in the workplace.
There is no right or wrong answer to the question ‘is there a need to come out in the workplace?’
First published in Nov, 2014
Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you’d like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.
Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.