Coming Out Day: how do you come out at work?


Today is Coming Out Day. Many people think you only come out once. And while that first time often comes with a major struggle, we forget that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals have to come out every time they meet someone in their lives. For example, at work, when they start a new job.

How can you best tackle this as an LGBTI+ person? Do you have to say it at all? And what can you do if colleagues react negatively?

LGBTI+ at work

Although more and more companies are happily dancing along during the annual Gay Pride, there is often still a lot to be gained in the workplace itself:

  • Lesbian and gay employees, for example, experience more conflict in the workplace, according to the 2018 LGBT monitor of the Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP);
  • They also experience less happiness at work;
  • Bisexual employees experience even more misunderstanding;
  • Lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees are also more likely to burn out than straight colleagues.

With these kinds of facts, it is not surprising that it is exciting to come out at work.

Tips for coming out at work

We call David Pollard, the executive director of Workplace Pride, a non-profit organization that aims to improve the lives of LGBTI+ employees worldwide. They work together with eighty large organizations and the government to keep the dialogue about inclusivity in the workplace active.

Coming out at work is exciting and that's why you may doubt whether you should do it at all. Why is it relevant to your colleagues who you like? Still, Pollard can be brief about this: “I absolutely recommend coming out. Looking at my own experience, it has been such a relief.”

The most important thing, according to him, is that you should be able to be yourself at work. And that's what you do when you come out. “It is better for your work if you are yourself, you are more confident and you are more productive,” he sums up. “Coming out is actually a win-win situation, for yourself and your employer.”

He himself did not come out in a formal conversation. "I didn't literally say, 'I'm gay,' but I shared stories about my husband and I," he continues. “I just talked about it like it was normal. Because it is also very normal.” But he also understands that not everyone has a relationship and can therefore approach it this way.

If you find it difficult to start the conversation, he gives the tip to first tell other LGBTI+ people at work, and then start the actual conversation. “It changes your life. You'll never look back and regret," Pollard says. "It's such a relief not to have to hold back in conversations."

Dealing with negative reactions

Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that not all colleagues react positively. Try not to dwell on that too much, Pollard advises. “You can remind them that there are probably many more LGBTI+ people in their area. But always try to be respectful. Everyone feels alone sometimes. You don't have to be black, gay, or female for that. Even a straight white man can have this feeling. Try to keep that in mind.”

If the situation is no longer tenable, it is wise to contact your manager. "You can't always do it alone and you don't have to," he says. “It is not your responsibility to create a good working environment, that is your employer's. You are legally supported in the Netherlands.”

Is your employer not doing enough to support you? Pollard can be brief about that: “Then you shouldn't work there. The most important thing is that you can be yourself.”

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