Coming Out At Work…Am I Doing This Right?

By Alexis Eades

If you clicked on this article with your eyebrows raised, you’re probably not alone. Today I’m asking “Am I Doing This Right?” in all the ways pertaining to ‘coming out of the closet’ at work. Are you LGBTQIA+ and wondering how you’d fit in at CED? Or has your coworker come out and you aren’t sure what to do? Grab a snack, and settle in for the latest “Am I Doing This Right?”

Let’s Understand Why We Need to Talk About This

Coming out can be a scary, life-changing event for many people. In many places it is not uncommon for children and teens who come out to be ostracized, kicked out of their homes and become homeless, banned from playing sports at their school, and suffer long reaching consequences by family members. LGBTQIA+ people are sometimes fired from their jobs, denied service at restaurants, harassed, and even murdered. Yes, even today. And yes, even in America.

While that’s true, it’s not always the case either. Coming out can be a beautiful, life-changing event. For some, it means finally feeling seen and loved for who they really are, which can strengthen their friendships and relationships. It can mean finding freedom to express themselves the way they truly want to.

If you’re thinking of coming out at Colliers Engineering & Design, we thought it may be helpful to hear from people who have done so themselves. Part of respecting these individuals is respecting their privacy, however, so for this public article we are keeping their names anonymous.

Some Words From LGBTQIA+ Employees

“When I came out at CED it was like I could breathe for the first time.  Prior I was always trying to be careful, never saying my spouses name, never saying she.  I always dreaded when people asked what I did on the weekend in fear that I would slip.  So, coming out was like breathing for the first time after holding my breath for so long.” -CED employee.

“Coming out is an ongoing process.  Just because you have come out to some individuals does not mean you feel safe with others.  Even here at CED, I feel comfortable with the people I have told.  The friendships I have made here help me feel safe.  But the individual should be able to share with whomever they feel comfortable/safe with without the whole world knowing.” -CED employee.

“Just because you come out to your team or a small group of people you trust doesn’t mean you’re required to come out to everyone. I’ve had my boundaries respected at CED and I feel good about that.” -CED employee.

“I know at some companies, coming out would get me fired. I feel very lucky to be in a place where that is not the case.” -CED employee.

My Coworker Came Out as LGBTQIA+… Am I Doing This Right?

What can you do to make CED a place where everyone feels like they belong? Obviously, homophobic and transphobic jokes are never acceptable. But rather than thinking about it like “I’m not actively saying anything hurtful”, let’s reframe your thoughts to “how can I actively promote a culture of inclusion?”

Personally, I have a rainbow flag up in my cube right now to support Pride Month. Anyone who walks by can see it. If someone is talking to me about their weekend and mentions their same-sex relationship, for example, they will know that it’s safe to talk to me about it. Not everyone may want to display a flag—and that’s okay too. When a coworker does mention their same-sex relationship, there are a few things you can do.

Things To Keep in Mind…

taking a deep breath before coming out at workFirst, it’s important to separate a person’s personal life from politics. Yes, I just said the dreaded “p” word. Just because someone is in a same-sex relationship or is a visible ally does not necessarily say anything about their politics. For LGBTQIA+ individuals, the idea of Pride is often much more of a personal concept than it is a political one, and the way they vote or how they think of politics may very well be independent of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It varies person to person, so don’t make assumptions that X MUST mean Y. Want to read more about handling politics in the workplace? Check out my blog all about that here 

Second, don’t make assumptions about how ‘out’ a person may be. Like the CED employee said above, sometimes a person may be ‘out’ to some people and not others. Never ‘out’ someone else; if they want a person to know, the LGBTQIA+ individual will say something themself.

Third is another thing not to assume… Labels. Not everyone likes labels, and not everyone uses the label you may first assume based on limited information.

“Many people do not like labels. I am a human just like everyone else, personally, other than that I do not like to be labeled.” -CED employee.

Let’s take a breath before we dive into another heavy topic…

Pronouns and Name Changes

If you’re ever unsure about another person’s pronouns, it’s better to ask the person in a respectful way what their pronouns are, rather than to guess and misgender them or make awkward jokesdiscussing pronouns with coworkers because you feel uncomfortable. A simple “hey, what are your pronouns? Mine are she/her” will do! And if someone in your office has changed their name since you first met them, do your best to use their new name. If you find yourself confused, it’s okay! You can also use tools like Catalyst to learn more. Want to specifically learn some terms related to the LGBTQIA+ community? Check out this.

Colliers Engineering & Design knows that everyone deserves to feel respected and safe to authentically be themselves in their workplace. If you’re thinking of coming out at CED, we support you. If you are someone whose coworker has come out and you have any questions, contact Chief People Officer Allison Colantuoni, PHR, SHRM-CP.

Hoping for a world where you just are who you are and there is no coming out, I’ll catch ya next time I ask, “Am I Doing This Right?”


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