As a gay life coach, I spend a lot of time talking with men
about coming out.
Often, the coming out process begins with close friends, and then expands to include family, and eventually co-workers.
Colleagues are often last on our list for disclosure, because of potential ramifications for our professional lives and our livelihood. Although it’s a wonderful ideal to aim to be out and authentic in all arenas, it’s wise to give thoughtful attention to our coming out process.
Here are some questions to help guide your decision-making about when (and whether) to come out at work:
How will your life
change? I encourage men to think ahead before they take big steps, including coming out. What do you hope to accomplish by coming out at work? Do you expect that it will improve your work relationships? Are there potential red flags, such as co-workers who have expressed homophobia?
Although you don’t necessarily want to be discouraged from coming out based on homophobic colleagues, you also don’t want to be nave to potential consequences of coming out at the wrong time, to the wrong people. Think through the possibilities of how you expect your life to change based on your disclosure. Be sure that you are comfortable with all possible outcomes before you proceed.
What if something goes wrong?
You might think you work with progressive colleagues. Maybe you’ve heard some talk about friends who are gay, or they’ve expressed liberal views toward gay marriage. Regardless, you can’t know for sure how individual colleagues will react to your news.
A co-worker may express a political view that seems progressive, yet actually be homophobic and become uncomfortable when it involves working directly with someone gay. The co-worker may not even be consciously aware of his or her own homophobia, but may change behavior with the news nonetheless. Again, although you don’t want to be stopped from your plans to come out based on another’s homophobia, you do want to be aware that things may not go as smoothly as planned, and that you may get different reactions than you were expecting.
Will you feel better, or worse?
Some men have a strong need to be out and proud in every situation in their life, regardless of reactions from others. These men will undoubtedly feel better by coming out at work, and would not be comfortable working in a place where they were unable to do so. But some men feel better being more discrete in some parts of their lives, and this may include work. For these men, coming out at work might not make them feel better, and in fact might cause them to feel more anxious and stressed.
Might you be putting your job (or mental health) in jeopardy?
It’s doubtful that you’d want to work long for any employer who would have difficulty with your sexual orientation. At the same time, there may be circumstances when you need to keep a job for a certain amount of time for financial reasons. In these cases, when you feel that coming out might directly or indirectly jeopardize your ability to stay in the job, you might want to hold off on coming out.
What are your company’s discrimination policies?
Do you know what your company’s policies are in relation to sexual orientation? Is sexual orientation on the list of protected classes in your company’s discrimination policy? Be sure to find out your employer’s stated position before you come out. That way, if you experience discrimination after you come out, you’ll be informed and know how to take action.