National Coming Out Day: Workplace Conversations
Members of the LGBTQ+ community face constant personal and professional challenges related to identity. Two of our team members talk about the difficulties of coming out, and being out, in the workplace for National Coming Out Day:
There was a time when I’d approach every interaction with a new colleague or client at arm’s length. I was guarded, to say the least, and I may have appeared cold and unapproachable to many. My concerns were not about my professional competence – I know my job and do it well – my apprehension stemmed from my personal life. Members of the LGBTQ+ community face constant personal and professional challenges related to our identity, many of which are shared and some unique to our personas and experiences.
It is estimated that more than 20 million adults in the United States may be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. In a study conducted by Gallup, 9% of respondents identified as LGBTQ+ workers, with at least 53% hiding their identity in the workplace. Exact figures are difficult to determine because of the stigma associated with being out and its perceived adverse impact on employment.
Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws and Rhetoric
While the global movement concerning the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people has progressed, at least 67 countries have laws criminalizing same-sex relations. Further, at least nine countries criminalize gender expression focused on transgender and gender nonconforming people. In the United States, a recent surge of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has been proposed nationwide. One measure, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that banned school lessons that included themes concerning gender identity and sexual orientation, garnered the lion’s share of attention.
“Going to the restroom isn’t a concern for most people,” said Callum, “but for me, it could be met by violence.” In 2022, over 200 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were filed in the U.S., with the majority targeting trans people. Anti-trans bathroom bills are just one example with a profound impact on trans workers. “Identifying gender-neutral restrooms during orientation is one seemingly simple gesture that has a huge impact on a trans person in the workplace.”
Considering the LGBTQ+ identity and challenges that workers may face helps foster a safe work environment where workers can be themselves. Employers should remember that anti-LGBTQ+ laws or the absence of laws or regulations preventing discrimination may cause workers to be reluctant to come out. Callum noted, “knowing that you can be safe somewhere, especially where you work, is worth its weight in gold.”
The Experience of Coming Out at Work
While Callum and I share some level of uneasiness in new professional relationships, he shared that he “leads most interactions with fear and caution.” Coming out at work is not the same for all LGBTQ+ people. While some gay men and lesbians may present as heterosexual cisgendered people, trans individuals may not be able to control the narrative of their identities. They may have no choice but to come out, and that causes Callum to be “very careful when [he] enters new spaces.”
“The root of transphobia is not understanding and being afraid,” said Callum. People often get Callum’s pronouns incorrect, requiring him to offer repeated corrections. If he picks up that someone is not used to being around a trans person, he becomes what he calls the ‘perfect trans person persona.’ Callum added, “at that moment, if it becomes apparent that there’s absolutely no way that I can correct a person about my identity or pronouns, then if I’m anything but agreeable and presentable, that will make me the bad trans person. I’ve heard from many people who have interacted with trans people who are mean about their pronouns – and I don’t want to be the bad trans person. I barely get called the right name, so I must be agreeable, open, and honest. At times, I’m faced with having to sensor myself with how uncomfortable I am in the situation so that person doesn’t carry that interaction with them.”
While I dread questions like: “Are you married?” or “Do you have kids?” that require that I explain my sexual orientation upon meeting a new person, Callum is often faced with an interrogation that he characterized as “very personal and isolating.” “Everyone’s immediate reaction is to ask about my goals for transition, but I could never ask a stranger if they planned on removing parts of their body,” said Callum. “It’s clear to me that I’m the first transmasc person that many people have met, so while the questions are a lot, at least it’s an opportunity for me to provide some education.”
“This is the first job that I’ve had that had training that addressed transphobia; I’m happy steps are being taken for inclusivity,” said Callum. Adapting workplace policies and practices that support pronoun use, eliminate deadnaming or referring to a person by a name they no longer use, incorporate gender-neutral language, and demonstrate training sensitive to the concerns of LGBTQ+ workers helps to foster a workplace where individuals are comfortable being out at work.
Being Out and Career Risks
A study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law found that 46% of LGBTQ+ workers reported receiving unfair treatment at some point in their careers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. An estimated 9% of LGBTQ+ respondents reported being denied a job or fired the previous year. Discrimination reported by LGBTQ+ workers includes being passed over for a job, harassed at work, denied a promotion or raise, excluded from company events, refused additional hours, or fired.
Throughout my career, I have been concerned if being out would jeopardize my opportunities for advancement. Since, for some, identification as a member of the LGBTQ+ community can remain hidden, you do not often see LGBTQ+ workers among the top ranks of the corporate structure. I’d wonder if a manager or client would lack an understanding of my lifestyle, which caused me to weigh the risks and rewards of being out. Callum’s experience is similar, noting, “I’ve had jobs where management was verbally transphobic, but I feel comfortable with being out at HireRight – professionally, it’s the happiest I’ve been.”
Callum encourages employers to “advertise your support of the [LGBTQ+] community.” He believes it’s essential to “not only tell people what you do, but who you are as a company” in thier web presence. Building an employment brand, corporate culture, and leadership that creates visibility for the LGBTQ+ community is key to ensuring individuals can be out as their true authentic selves at work.
Out and Proud
Being out at work is a constant process of coming out at work. It is a repetitive cycle that brings new and familiar challenges nearly daily. For employers and members of the LGBTQ+ community that hide their true selves representing the invisible workforce, we hope you find guidance and solace in our conversation in support of National Coming Out Day.
Release Date: October 11, 2022
Alonzo Martinez is Associate General Counsel at HireRight. Mr. Martinez is responsible for monitoring and advising on key legislative and regulatory developments globally affecting HireRight’s service delivery. His work is focused on ensuring HireRight’s performance as a consumer reporting agency and data processor complies with relevant legal, regulatory, and data furnisher requirements. Mr. Martinez obtained his Juris Doctorate from the University of Colorado, and is licensed by the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado. He is a member of the Colorado Bar Association Employment Law Division, the Association of Corporate Counsel, and the Professional Background Screening Association.