10 Pieces of Advice About Coming Out (at Work)

April 18th 2016

For many LGBTQ people, there is a strict divide between their personal life and their work life. Outside of the job, LGBTQ persons have carte blanche to express themselves as they wish. But at work, in an environment where you have to don uniforms and report to bosses, being LGBTQ can be a risk and many choose to stay in the closet. In fact, 53 percent of LGBT workers in the U.S. remain closeted on the job.

This is changing, though. LGBT workplace discrimination charges have risen 28 percent as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is seeing more of a willingness to talk about these issues at work. If you are considering coming out on the job, know that the quality of your work and engagement will rise since staying closeted can greatly affect how you work.

Thus, here are 10 things to consider when coming out of the closet at work.

1. Make sure your state has you covered.

You would think that every state has LGBTQ persons covered in the work place but—Surprise!—28 states do not have non-discrimination laws protecting against sexual or gender identity bias. “You can be fired legally for being LGBT,” Rachel Rubin, Deputy Director of Out & Equal explained to ATTN: by phone. “We encourage people to know what’s going on on their state.”

2. Make sure your work has you covered.

Yes, the majority of Fortune 500 companies prohibit discrimination based on sexual and gender identity—but some companies don't have you covered. "Check to see whether your company includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in its employee handbook," Brad Becker, Executive Director of the GLBT National Help Center, said by email. "If it does not, it can give you an indication of how welcoming (or not) your employer may be."

3. If you have any doubts, talk to your human resources specialist.

This is important to know if your company can actually help you. For example: many companies offer transgender health benefits, which only H.R. could clue you into. "Meet with your H.R. team," Rubin added. "That’s the right move because they will be best positioned to know what you're talking about and to support you."

4. Consider an LGBT work mentor.


If you are curious about what to do or how the news will be received, talk to someone who has done it before. "I would encourage folks who are just newly coming out at work to get a mentor," Rubin told us. "It can be really helpful to talk to someone else."

5. Check out an employee resource group or business network.

If you still need some help, find an employee resource group or establish one yourself. These groups foster LGBTQ relationships and can help you understand what it's like to be out at work. "It’s a good place to find community," Rubin said. "It’s a nice way to stay connected."

6. Don't worry: be happy!


As obvious as it sounds, being in the closet is stressful. Literally! Once people are out of the closet, they are proven to be happier and healthier. Student and theatre technician Hannah Gibbs could speak to this stress. "I concealed my sexual identity at my first job," she noted to ATTN: via email. "I was young and bisexual and I worked very hard to be heterosexual so as to hide my true sexual identity."

7. You don't have to throw a coming out party.

If you think you have to make a big deal of coming out, save yourself the time and energy. Just drop the news casually, bringing it up in conversation. Television producer Jen Simons spoke to this, sharing a story by email on how she brought up her identity via hating germs. "One day my boss, who is a man, playfully said, 'Boys can be so dirty, I don’t know how you, a massive germaphobe, can stand to date them.' That’s when I took the opportunity to say, 'Well… that’s why I don’t. I’m actually married to a woman.'"

8. Fit yourself in.

Similarly, know that you being out does not mean you are different from your co-workers. You're the same—people will just know more about you. "This is my biggest fear in the workplace," Izzy Black, who works in healthcare, said via email. "Because who wants to be separated from the herd and singled out?! I mean, we all want to be accepted and spoken softly to."

9. Think upwardly.


Coming out can actually be super advantageous to your career. From George Kalogridis at Disney to Tim Cook at Apple to myriad professionals, being out and proud at work can actually get you ahead—and many companies are actively recruiting LGBTQ persons. Dan Magro, creator at Buzzfeed Motion Pictures, concurred in email. "I'm so proud to be who I am, at work and other places, and use every opportunity to try and inspire others to do the same whenever they're personally ready."

10. Remember: ultimately you are the only one standing in your way.

If you want to come out, just do it. "Your opinion is the only thing that matters in terms of how you feel about yourself in the workplace," Hannah Lenkey, a student and music teacher, explained by email. "If you get a negative response, while simply being who you are, maybe that's not a good place to be."

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