How to come out at work

It’s your office’s year-end party, and everyone is bringing their partners and families. You will also bring yours, except that just like the previous year, you’d still be introducing him as your flatmate, even though you and your partner have been in a relationship longer than most people in your office. What complicates the situation is that you end up being paired with eligible women most of the time, even during year-end parties, in the presence of your own invisible lover.

It has become an exasperating charade, and you feel your only option is to come out. But don’t jump the gun just yet. For lesbians, gays, bisexuals, or trans people who wish to come out in their workplaces, here are a few steps that you need to consider.

Step 1: Review your office policies. 

Check if your employer has diversity policies or any internal rules that protect you against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Note that most Asian countries have no laws protecting LGBTIs against discrimination in employment and other settings. If your country or locality has no such law, try to see if your employer has an internal policy on non-discrimination based on gender that could protect you. If you work for a multinational company that cares about its brand image, the company might have SOGIE-sensitive policies that guarantee protection for LGBTIs.  

Step 2: Check your employer’s track record in dealing with LGBTI employees or clients.

Do you have co-workers who are openly LGBTI, and how are they treated at work? Have there been cases of LGBTI clients complaining about unfair treatment? How does your company respond to these complaints? Are there any cases of labor rights violations related to SOGIE or intersex status, such as the profiling or unjust investigation of job applicants presumed to be LGBTI? These questions help you assess and address the risks you might encounter once you have come out at work.

Step 3: Assess how people at work feel about LGBTIs or LGBTI-related issues. 

Recognizing any stigmatizing or hostile attitudes at work is crucial. In a hostile setting, your coming out could lead to an informal witch hunt, so it’s important to be aware of this possibility. Be conscious of violent behaviors among co-workers, including threats of violence. Do not come out if you face the risk of physical violence or harm.

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Step 4: Build an informal support group at work.

Identify “friendly” co-workers to plan your coming out because they can be a source of support. You can also opt to come out to your friendly officemates first.

Step 5: Find support groups near your workplace. 

They can be your go-to support mechanism when you need help, and such sources of support can refer you to other services that you might need. They can also be an important resource for your workplace should it decide to develop or improve its workplace policy on SOGIE.

All things considered, if you think you are ready, coming out should be an enjoyable and stress-free process. You can do it with a bang, with cakes and balloons and all, or you can do a slow burn and come out to one (friendly) co-worker at a time. Or, in the next year-end party, just bring your partner again and introduce him for what he truly is in your life.