Out or in?
Caitlin Crawshaw, edmontonjournal.com
At the LGBTQ (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgendered-Queer) youth group he volunteers with, Blair Croft has noticed an interesting phenomenon: while teens are becoming increasingly confident about their identities, they’re still careful who they come out to — particularly at work.
“Even though kids are coming out at younger ages, and there’s a lot more resources than 20 years ago, I still think it’s a fine line when you come out to an employer,” says the president of Edmonton’s Pride Centre. “Some kids talk about it as being an issue, and not knowing when the opportune moment is.”
The Canadian workplace has improved for LGBTQ people since the early 1990s, when Edmonton teacher Delwin Vriend took King’s University College to task for firing him because he was gay. Yet, many gay people in Alberta remain in the closet at work, Croft thinks. Being fired may not be a significant concern, but being made to feel uncomfortable — or pressured to quit — is a very real possibility, he adds.
Croft may be one of the luckier ones. Ten years ago, when he accepted a job offer with a child-care company, he decided to be completely upfront about his identity, and came out before he started. “The person who interviewed me said, ‘Yeah, so? What’s your point?’ It was really a non-issue at that point in time.”
Most people shouldn’t be so bold, he warns. “Don’t come out on your first day of work,” he warns. Instead, “survey the grounds” to identify the politics of your co-workers and the company.
Respect your own comfort level, Croft advises. This might mean that it makes more sense to come out to one or two people at work — not the entire group.
When you disclose, do it nonchalantly, as people are less likely to make a big deal out of it if you don’t. Subtler methods can work well, like placing a photo of yourself and your partner in plain view of those who visit your office or cubicle.
Toronto career coach Alan Kearns (www.careerjoy.com) agrees that how you deliver the information can make a big difference to the reactions you receive. “I think the less controversial you can make it, the healthier you respond to it … the more likely people are going to react in a healthy way.”
Don’t assume that your colleagues will react negatively, says Kearns — they may just need some time to adjust. But do take precautions to take care of yourself, and identify people who will support you. Be realistic about the fact that some people may not feel comfortable about your identity — you may have to find a way to be comfortable with their discomfort, says Kearns.
While coming out is no picnic, remember that there are some important personal benefits to doing so that may ultimately boost your career.
“I think from the professional perspective, it frees you up emotionally. Whenever you’re hiding something in your life, you can’t be your whole self,” he says.
This openness may make it easier for your colleagues to relate to you, and allow you to “put all of you into that work situation.”