For a long time I have avoided talking about my sexuality at work, because I decided that it wasn’t important. I don’t go round telling people I’m left-handed, why was this any different? I didn’t need anyone’s permission, or validation. A part of me still feels there is no need to explain and expose who I am, because it isn’t relevant to my job.
The problem is perceptions about what is normal shape conversation and expectations. Sometimes someone will say something small, wrongly assuming your sexuality and you don’t know whether to correct them or not. It is such a small mistake, like when someone mispronounces your name, that you’re not sure whether it is worth derailing the conversation to correct.
Being out at work can have negative consequences. One in five LGB employees have experienced bullying from colleagues or customers at work. Nearly half (42%) of trans people do not permanently live in their preferred gender for fear it will affect their employment status. And as a consequence of bullying, one in four trans people feel obligated to change jobs.
Coming out is difficult and uncomfortable (not to mention, sometimes dangerous). Do I need to correct every new person who makes an incorrect assumption about me? The repeated and daily disclosures are exhausting. Staying silent seems like the easier option.
Except that it isn’t. Trying to hide a part of who you are is exhausting. There’s the stress over worrying about controlling the information you give out about yourself, or slipping up. It’s a lot of work and it takes a toll in so many ways. Your tongue becomes sore with all the time you spend biting it.
People who identify as being LGBT+ are more likely to suffer from mental health issues. For example, Gay Men’s Health survey (2013) found that 3% of gay men have attempted to take their own life (increasing to 5% for black and minority ethnic gay men and 7% for gay men with a disability). This is compared to 0.4% of all men. 52% of young LGBT+ people have reported self-harm, compared to 25% of heterosexual non-trans people.
I completely understand why some people see that talking about your sexuality or gender identity is not appropriate at work. This becomes difficult however when work place chats start around weekend plans, or talking about significant others and children. In these cases, if you are not straight then you are left with the options to not participate in the conversation or to tell white lies about yourself.
Not all heterosexual people will understand the importance of coming out. If there has never been a reason to question your sexuality, or think about the consequences or ramifications of disclosing who you are, it’s hard to realise the importance it holds for someone else. You might not realise that part of coming out is self-acceptance, which is very important to personal happiness and mental health. For example, 42% of “closeted” employees have reported feeling isolated, compared to 25% of openly LGBT+ staff.
Perhaps there will come a time where coming out will no longer being important, and there will be no need. But whilst being LGBT+ is deemed as being “different” from the status quo, seeing role models within an organisation who are open about their sexuality or gender identity is refreshing and inspiring.
Public Health Matters: Mental Health challenges withing the LBGT community
Stonewall: LGBT Facts and figures