Allying / Coming Out In the (Private Sector) Workplace
Friday is National Coming Out Day and I wanted to soapbox a bit on behalf of allies everywhere as a result. I also picked up a nifty bracelet from the Ross Out For Business Club after signing the "Ally Pledge". Thanks peeps. ---
I had a work experience where I thought I couldn't be myself and it was the most stressful time of my life, to date. I even wrote a business school essay about it. It was TERRIBLE. I was always stressed, becoming less healthy, and I wasn't performing at my best. I felt incredibly lonely and was losing hope that my situation would ever get better. I thought about quitting or taking a transfer, often. My situation wasn't even that extreme.
The more I talk to friends, classmates, and colleagues now, I find that everyone feels this way at some point or another. The chorus of people I talk to agree that it is a terrible feeling that is dehumanizing. Yes, dehumanizing.
If I felt that way for superficial reasons (e.g., I wasn't doing the sort of work I liked, my sense of humor wasn't accepted, people thought I was a goofball), I can't imagine what it would be life to feel compelled to hide your sexual identity or something equally personal. I'm guessing it'd be about a thousand times worse. As a result, I don't think we should ever let someone feel compelled to hide their sexual identity. It's hurtful and it's not fair.
I don't think those who identify as L, G, B, T, Q, or even an Ally should feel unsupported, either, because coming out can be such a hard process anyway. On the contrary, because it's so hard (and might subject the person coming out to emotional, career, or even physical harm) I think any ally needs to be an extremely, visible, and active one. A quiet ally might as well not be an ally.
We owe it to our friends, family, and colleagues to be supportive allies precisely because being out is really hard. And after spending some time in private sector organizations, it's broken my heart to see friends (who I deliberately call friends, they just happened to be colleagues) have to hide parts of who they were. I know the relief of being able to talk about my wonderful girlfriend with my friends from work or school (which you can't do if you're not out). It makes you feel good when a caring supervisor asks you about why you're smiling when they know you went on a first date the evening before (which you can't do if you're not out). All my older colleagues (without exception) loved talking about their kids and to take that away from someone is hurtful and a damn shame (afterall, baby pictures are adorable!).
More than that, if we're not supportive allies, our LGBTQ friends may suffer in their careers - maybe because they aren't chosen for a project, because their life circumstances aren't understood, or any number of other reasons. As allies, we can't let anyone feel like they have a reason to think that a colleague who happens not to be straight is any less talented or employable than anyone else. On the contrary, diverse perspectives (whether from sexual orientation, race, SES, educational background, career history, interests, location, anything) make business better. Speaking from a place of "profit maximization", teams can't afford not to have different flavors of people on them and have those differences be open, visible, and usable.
So today, while eating my peanut butter sandwich in an empty classroom I say to my friends, whatever flavor of human they are: I support you. For those who happen to L,G, B, T, Q or any type of sexual identity, I'm your ally. I'll try my best to be a good one.
PS - Special thanks to my friend Gabriel for reminding our class about the Ally Pledge!