[credit provider=”Flickr/Laura Borges-Ribeiro.” url=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/miyokophotography/4561218091/”]
In a world where persecution is still regrettably prevalent, and where many are ostracized and bullied for being who they are—even in the “enlightened” professional world—it can be difficult to confidently share who you are.Being part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, & Queer (LGBTQ) community, the risk is very real. By coming out, those who identify as LGBTQ risk facing adversity in their homes, schools, social groups, or workplaces. Each person is different, and each situation is unique, and being out and open can spark unpredictable reactions.
Being a native New Yorker, I was fortunate to grow up in a very open-minded and liberal environment. The schools I attended fostered safety and equality for all, and encouraged diversity and individualism. This gave me the opportunity to discover who I am, and to explore who I wanted to be, at a very young age.
Even though I had to endure standard bullying remarks akin to teasing at that time, I felt more comfortable as I grew older sharing my personal life with those who surrounded me—at home, at school, and at work. When I finally came out to my family and friends, the most common reaction was not only acceptance, but confusion as to how it took me so long to figure it out (since they had known all along).
Like most people trying to survive in this staggering economy, my first job out of college was working in retail. Following that, I worked for my father’s construction company. As in every new situation, I tread lightly at first being out and open with my co-workers. Though I eventually felt comfortable enough to speak freely about who I was with those I trusted, I also balanced this with a general discretion about how much of my personal life I shared.
Then again, even if I were heterosexual, I wouldn’t have spoken about my relationships with those who I didn’t feel close to.
Acceptance is ideal, but unfortunately it’s not always the response that LGBTQ men and women receive in this day and age. *Megan faced considerable adversity when she went to teach in an inner-city school. She found it difficult to control the number of derogatory words her students used, suggesting that they weren’t as open minded as she had hoped, or perhaps were just more ignorant. While she did find a few colleagues, fellow teachers, who she could open up to, she has continued to face the challenges of an unaccepting environment—a reality of our world that won’t change overnight.
When *Isabella, a highly ambitious and talented young woman from the Midwest, moved to the East Coast to be closer to her girlfriend of a few years, she found her co-workers naturally curious about why she’d moved so far away from home. Feeling it necessary to be honest with the people she was going to work so closely with, she decided to take the risk and be open about her relationship.
Being open and out, she says, creates—and encourages—the notion that identifying as LGBTQ is perfectly OK and acceptable. At work, the way a person presents his or her sexuality directly relates to how people will conceive him or her: “if you act like it’s taboo, then people will think it’s taboo.”
For Isabella, what’s made things easier is the number of authoritative figures she’s encountered—including her direct supervisor, it turned out—who are also part of the queer community. Being in organisations with LGBTQ executives sets the tone for equality and acceptance, and makes it easier for others, like her, to be open.
In companies where fewer staff members identify as LGBTQ, sharing can be more daunting—but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be poorly received. *Sara, who works in a consulting firm in Manhattan, found herself blessed to be greeted with nothing but favourable responses each time she came out to a colleague or friend, or found herself introduced in a way that gave her no choice. Nonetheless, she’s been comforted to know that she can live freely and be herself without any fear that it may ruin her career.
It’s natural to want to tread lightly in circumstances that may seem unpredictable or uncomfortable, but it’s each of us embracing our individuality that makes our society so great. Ultimately what matters the most is that each of us is proud of who we are, that we celebrate our uniqueness, and that we create a world—or even just an office—where those around us can celebrate who they are as well.
*Real names have been changed to respect privacy and confidentiality