To follow up on my last blog post about my experience of coming out in the workplace, I asked a few other openly LGBTQ+ people on social media a couple of questions about their experiences of being open about their identities at work. What they had to say was very inspiring and proved that we still have a long way to go to destroy stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people.
They also gave some wonderful and encouraging advice that may help others who are coming out in the workplace for the first time. Here are the wonderful participants and their thoughts and experiences.
being lgbtq+ in the workplace
Owner of Refuse to Conform
A secondary school teacher from Finland
US Veteran based in Texas
Natalie and Olivia
UK lesbian couple sharing their life on social media
How was your first experience of coming out / being LGBTQ+ in the workplace?
Charlie – I began working as a temp and decided to keep my personal life private. So it wasn’t until the following year when I was made permanent that I began to open up. It was actually the first time that I’d ever come out to anyone, in the way that I had had to say the words myself, instead of having people ask me.
The first person I told was my colleague and good friend, Kelly. Honestly, it did go wrong and I ended up crying my eyes whilst telling her that I was gay and had a girlfriend. But I’m very grateful to her as she didn’t bat an eyelid. She gave me the confidence and support to tell our other colleagues and even offered to tell some of them for me to help take away some of the pressure.
Emilia – I was newly single when I started my current job as a teacher and I stayed single for the following four years. Because of this, my colleagues got to know me as someone without a partner. So my sexuality was never really talked about. That was until my (future) wife began working at my School and we became a couple.
After four years of being miserable I was suddenly all smiles. Many of the LGBTQ+ students even noticed it and worked out that me and my wife had become a couple. Since our relationship was happening right there in the workplace, we quickly spilled the beans to everyone – except the headmaster. I was worried about how the students’ parents would react if they found out, but it was a positive experience.
Stefan – I remember initially coming out as bisexual, because I didn’t want to have cruel comments made about me. At the time I was labelled a ‘lesbian’. That was three years ago.
When I first came out as transgender my managers seemed to be very accepting at first, but it was still a struggle as I was pre-T. Now, after being on T for a year, I have been respected by my managers and most co-workers. It’s rough and I tend to struggle a bit, but it’s nothing like how I used to feel – as though I had a target on my back. I feel a sense of release and peace for being open about who I am.
Olivia – In my first experience of coming out in the workplace I didn’t really get control. I worked with my Mum for a number of years and it became known through her telling our colleagues. I wasn’t thankful for this at the time, as I hadn’t fully accepted myself. But looking back, it made the whole experience a lot easier for me.
Natalie – My first experience was very similar to Olivia’s. I also worked with my Mum, for seven years in fact, so people found out my sexuality through her. Colleagues who I had never discussed my relationship with would ask me about Olivia. It made it very easy for me – thanks Mum!
What positive / negative reactions from colleagues stood out to you?
Charlie – I was very lucky as I didn’t experience any negativity at all. So many positives stuck out for me, such as how people would say that they were genuinely happy for me and didn’t see me any differently.
It was also small things – like when my colleagues would discuss their partners. After I came out they would also include me in these conversations and ask me questions like my relationship was no different to theirs. It made me feel accepted.
Stefan – People at my work had a hard time accepting the transgender community. It was almost as if it were all new to them as it was for me. Many of my colleagues were cruel and insensitive. On the plus side however, I have gained so much knowledge and experiences from everything, including co-workers. It taught me to be patient on the path to acceptance, and my transition was made smother by them going through it with me.
Olivia – I have definitely had a mixture of positive and negative experiences. One amazing experience involved a colleague actually asking me if I had a ‘boyfriend or girlfriend’ which was so refreshing!
However, I have had a few negative experiences such as the ‘you’re too pretty to be gay’. Q phrase which makes me want to continue to try and break these ridiculous stereotypes that lesbians have to look a certain way. I’ve also had the ‘it’s just a phase, you’ll grow out of it’ – well it’s been six years, hun and I’m still gay!
Have you ever felt that you were treated differently at work because of your sexuality / gender identity?
Stefan – I have been harassed at work, such as being written up for something I didn’t do. I was given harsh direction quite a lot when I knew that I wasn’t the only person to blame. Now, I’m no saint but I believe the actions taken at my work place were a bit ridiculous at the time.
People also thought I didn’t have much strength as I did. I also got aid less than a co-worker who was in the same position and had the same experience as me. Even after my ‘pay raise’ I was still making 80 cents less than him. It made me feel as though I wasn’t ‘man-enough’ for the job. I also feel like they will not give me a chance to advance no matter how much I prove that my skill set exceeds company expectations. When it comes to awards and such, they will only ever thank me, and give awards to those who they favour.
How has your experience of being LGBTQ+ in the workplace changed over time?
Emilia – Once we told our headmaster that we were a couple, she was nothing but supportive. In the Autumn of 2017 I also spent four months living in Bloomington, IN (USA). It was for a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant, which completely revolutionised the way I behave with students and as an educator.
During my time there, I researched the inclusion of LGBTQ+ students in American schools. When I eventually returned to Finland filled with inspiration and concrete ideas for better inclusion of LGBTQ+ students and topics in the classroom. These days, I strive to be an adult role model for LGBTQ+ students as well as an educator to all students and teachers about diversity.
In other words, I went from being hesitant to be out to my students to being 100% open about it and making sure LGBTQ+ students felt safe at school. I educate students and teachers on LGBTQ+ terminology and themes, have safe space stickers up in the classroom. I always interfere when students misuse the word ‘gay’.
Natalie – I am comfortable with my sexuality, but what I’m not fully comfortable with is the outside world. Although people are far more accepting than they used to be, I will do anything to avoid getting a possible negative reaction to my sexuality. Having grown up in Northern Ireland, being gay wasn’t something you could be fully comfortable with.
The culture and religion were too much of a hurdle for me to overcome in the past. I fear that if I hadn’t worked with my mum or she hadn’t made it known that I was gay I would have been maintaining an imaginary boyfriend for seven years. I have certainly got significantly better since being with Olivia and feel far more relaxed now that we live in England. I will certainly make a point of stating that I am gay and marrying the love of my life in 2020 in any future jobs.
What advice would you give other members of the LGBTQ+ about being open about their identity in the workplace?
Charlie – I would say that when you feel it’s safe and right to do so, open up to people that you trust. It’s so much better being open and free with who you are at work. Especially seeing as most people spend the majority of their life at work!
Emilia – I can only speak for schools as a workplace. But if you are a teacher, being open about your LGBTQ+ identity is super important for your students! By being out, you can be a role model for LGBTQ+ students and educate mainstream kids and teachers on topics they might know nothing about. You can also guide teachers towards taking all kinds of students into account and treating everyone with respect.
Olivia – My advice to any fellow LGBTQ+ members would be to be yourself on your own terms and at your own pace. Don’t feel pushed to come out in your workplace or allow yourself to feel cornered by colleagues. You should let your own guard down – not allow it to be forced down.
I would just like to say a huge thank you to Charlie, Emilia, Stefan, Natalie and Olivia for getting involved with this blog post and being so open about their experiences.
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!