June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, a time to celebrate the diversity and richness LGBTQ+ people bring to communities world wide. It’s held in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots that took place in New York City on 28 June 1969 – considered a watershed moment for the community.
Despite the progress we have made since the riots, ‘coming out’ (the process of telling someone that you’re not straight and/or cisgender) is still something that LGBTQ+ people have to do, sometimes on a daily basis.
Coming out in the workplace can be a particularly challenging experience, primarily due to fear of potential negative reactions or discrimination. There’s also the consideration of navigating professional relationships, company policies and the potential impact on your career.
The decision to come out is deeply personal and there’s no right or wrong decision. It’s all about finding the right choice for you. In this article we’ll provide some practical tips to help you decide if coming out at work is right for you, and to help you navigate through the process.
Should I come out at work?
Everyone should be able to be their authentic selves at work, but unfortunately not all workplaces may be supportive environments for LGBTQ+ people.
There are many considerations to make when assessing if coming out at work is right for you, including:
- What are your reasons for coming out in the workplace? (It’s okay not to come out if you don’t want to!)
- What is the culture like at your workplace?
- Does your employer have any policies about equality, diversity and LGBTQ+ inclusion?
- Is there an LGBTQ+ network that could support you?
- Is your employer part of any schemes such as the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme?
- Are there any other ‘out’ LGBTQ+ people working there?
- Have you got a strong support network at work?
- What are your relationships like with your colleagues?
- Do you have a supportive manager?
- Are you aware of any ‘allies’ who can provide emotional support and guidance?
- Are you prepared for the possibility of any backlash or negative reactions?
If you’ve considered the above and coming out is still the right decision, then read on for some advice on approaching the topic.
Guidance for coming out at work
Step one: identify your support network
Before you do anything, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a good system of support. This could be your family and friends outside of the workplace, or a supportive colleague or manager.
If you don’t feel you have that support, you could find out if your organisation has an LGBTQ+ network, diversity champions or any other inclusivity schemes.
There are also a range of charities and organisations that provide support to LGBTQ+ people and these could provide you with emotional and practical support as well as signposting to other services throughout the process. They include:
Step two: know your legal rights
We hope that you won’t need to use this information, but it’s important to know your legal rights in case you face any discrimination or unfair treatment.
The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has information on what constitutes as discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has advice on what to do if you’re being discriminated against at work.
You can also find further information provided by Citizens Advice.
Step three: plan and execute your ‘coming out strategy’
You might find it helpful to have a clear plan for how exactly you’re going to approach the coming out process. This could include thinking about:
- what exactly you want to say
- who you’re going to come out to and in what order (can you start with a trusted colleague first?)
- how you’re going to come out (through an email, virtual meeting or in person?)
- when/where you’d like to have the conversations (in the office, out for a coffee, a group meeting or private one-to-one meeting?)
- preparing for any questions your colleagues might have
Remember that your colleagues may not be familiar with being around people who are openly LGBTQ+ and you may need to be prepared to be patient with them while they gain an understanding.
Step four: check in with yourself
After you’ve taken the plunge and have come out, make sure you check in with yourself to reflect on how the process has gone. Even if you’ve had positive reactions, coming out is a huge decision to make and it can be draining. If things haven’t gone how you hoped, make sure you are receiving all the support you need.
Step five: if necessary, seek further support
Please make sure you seek further support if you have encountered any problems on your coming out journey.
If you have experienced discrimination or feel you are being treated unfairly because you have come out, it is really important to make sure you get the right advice and support.
You may also find that it has taken a toll on you emotionally and mentally.
The links in steps one and two can help. And remember to make use of your support networks.