Queers Come Out at Work

Some participants gave very positive accounts of being out in the workplace:
‘My google calendar is accessible to my colleagues and I am out to all my work colleagues. I have this interview with you down on my work calender as a Queer programming interview and that is fine….I am going to an LGBT film festival and that is also on my calendar.’
– Sarah (Cryptographer and language designer)
‘When I was at [company], it was bisexuality visibility day about a month after I started and people would quite often bring in a cake or something at any flimsy excuse. So I brought in a cake and sent round an email saying ”happy bisexual visibility day. I brought cake’ ‘hint hint… ”sorry that the cake is only pink, they didn’t have all the colours of the bisexual flag in tesco”, so someone wandered past and said: ”well we will be expecting the blue and purple cakes tomorrow then”.’
– Tyler (Software tools developer)
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Coming Out Cake

 

Gemma had such an uplifting experience of coming out at work that she feels it was a major formative experience in her life:
‘The support and encouragement I got from the company…for my transition, was probably one of the most important events of my life. That set me up for a long time in the future, being confidently out as a trans woman. I probably wouldn’t have thrived so well if the company hadn’t been that supportive…I got a really useful sense of community from the women in the workplace because they would do stuff together, and it would be the girls thing and they invited me to that and I think that spending time being one of the girls taught me a lot of things about navigating the world as a woman and it changed my perspective on a lot of things I think.’
– Gemma (Games developer)
Sarah, Tyler and Gemma all felt that being able to be out at work made them feel more comfortable and able to be themselves. Day and Schoenrade (2000) tell us this is also the case for LGBT people in other lines of work. Not all the participants, however, wanted to be out at work. Lisa had a negative experience of being pressured to come out by her boss, when she did not want to:
‘My boss once asked outright if I was trans…I wasn’t out. I wanted one place where trans was not a thing. Out on the street anyone can just laugh at you. It was nice to have somewhere where, legally, I could have that not be a thing…I am not going to have a conversation with all these men about how I am a woman but not really in your eyes. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to just do my job and be allowed to be me. My boss was like ‘obviously there is something unusual about you, we all know it and it would be best if we got it out in the open’. If I had said I was trans they would have had a good reaction, but I didn’t want to be in that position…of being pitied…I said my medical issues are my medical issues, they are nothing to do with work. I would prefer they were not discussed at work…I think they thought I was distancing myself from them personally.’
– Lisa (Application developer)
Most participants had both positive and negative experiences of being out at work. Robyn explained how difficult it is to weigh up the benefits and risks involved:
”It is always a balancing act. If you are out then somebody is going to use it against you. On the other hand if you are not out… you are always wearing a mask…that will kill you after a while.”
– Robyn (Programmer in multiple fields)
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Mask

 

Queer people have to conduct this complex risk/benefit analysis in each new job they have and the penalties for getting this wrong can be serious:
‘There was one client…it was a bit traumatic at the time because I thought of him as a friend and so I thought it would be completely OK to come out as trans to him…He got really uptight about it and thought it was completely inappropriate for me to come out as trans to him…I did carry on [working with him] but the project failed completely…I was never sure how much difference that made.’
– Sarah (Cryptographer and language designer)
Queer people have to decide if they will be out or not every time they move to a new workplace. This is a very difficult decision, as both the benefits and the risks can be immense. Workplaces can support Queer people by making sure there is support if they do decide to come out but no pressure to come out if they decide not to.