As almost all LGBTQ+ people know, coming out can be incredibly difficult and stressful. However, it is often only the initial coming out that people talk about. In reality, that first time, perhaps to friends or family, is the start of many.
But as you continuously meet people throughout your life, you may find yourself coming out repetitively; to new friends, extended family and of course, colleagues.
My experience of coming out in the workplace has been rather challenging. I began lifeguarding at a gym when I was sixteen, and over a year later just before I turned eighteen I got into a relationship with one of my colleagues.
This was my first LGBT relationship. My partner was an out lesbian, and I was a closeted bisexual. We kept our relationship private for a month or so, but sooner or later word got out and spread like wildfire among the staff. And so the questions began…
“I thought you were straight?”
Heteronormativity strikes again. Out of the ten or fifteen colleagues that asked me about our new relationship, only one or two people actually said something supportive. The constant questioning of my sexuality, identity, and experiences from the other people I worked with was not only belittling but hurtful.
I felt the need to prove myself and my love for my partner, which was very overwhelming as I was still closeted at home and very new to being in an LGBT relationship. Not to mention that some of the questions I received from my male colleagues, in particular, were very personal and intrusive.
While I understood that our relationship may have initially come as a shock, there was no need for this interrogation. Our relationship should not be their business.
11/09/2016 – My partner and I not long after we became girlfriends.
This constant questioning made me feel uncomfortable in my work environment, which obviously should never be the case. However, I was too worried to come forward and say anything about it – although I definitely would if it were to ever occur again – but the discomfort and questions for the most part only lasted a month or so.
A year later, I left my job to go to University and was out of part-time work for nine months. This July however, I began another Lifeguarding job at a lake. I’m glad to say that my experience of coming out in the workplace was totally different this time around. I was open to talking about my relationship when it came up in conversation and my colleagues were very understanding.
We had several conversations about LGBTQ+ rights, and one of my colleagues also spoke about being asexual. In no way did they ask intrusive or inappropriate questions. It was simply a casual conversation.
I think that part of the reason for this good experience was due to maturity. This time around I was much more secure in my sexuality and had matured to talk about it openly. Equally, my colleagues were also more mature and seemed to be on the same wavelength as me. I guess in a way I got lucky – I just so happened to be working with a great bunch of people.
Hopefully, my first experience will remain the only negative one and I will continue to have the support of my colleagues in the future. The bottom line is, you shouldn’t be treated differently at work for being part of the LGBTQ+ community.
What has your experience of being LGBTQ+ in the workplace been like? Good or bad, long or short, I would love to hear from you in the comments. Next month I will be featuring other members of the LGBT community and their experiences of being out in the workplace, so stay tuned!
Ellie Violet (Queer Voices)
Edited by Charlotte Summers
Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is very rewarding, but we all know how daunting it can be to first come out. Having a voice and raising awareness about the LGBTQ+ community is very important to me and being part of Unite UK will give me the opportunity to discuss topics and express my opinions on LGBTQ+ issues that we can all relate to. I’ll be blogging for Unite UK at least once a month and I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you!