Gay & Lesbian Services of Western New York

Whether to Come Out at Work

A reader asks, I am a high school junior and I just started a job at a fast food place. Close friends and family know I’m gay but it’s not like the whole world knows. What do you think about coming out at my job?

As we get older, more and more people come into our life through friends and our jobs. In an effort to be proud, open, honest or even to signal a potential boy/girl friend about our reality, it may seem to you to be a good thing to be “out” at work. Frankly, my general answer to this question of being “out” at work is “NO!” Each individual and each work situation bring together unique variables. As a result, each situation is very different from the next. Let me explain and offer some things to consider.

Throughout your life, as a GLBT person, you will continually be faced with the question of should or shouldn’t you “come out” as you move into each new experience and the people that come with it. “Coming out” as a GLBT person is NEVER finished because each new environment/person presents us with the issue and the need for a decision about disclosure. So it becomes necessary to study the new situation/person for clues as to what the response may be. For instance, if I went into a church service at a Southern Born Again Christian Church in say, Mississippi, it might be foolhardy to stand up and proclaim my gayness. On the other hand, if I were attending a Diversity Group meeting at my high school I would anticipate that my “outing” myself would not bring negative repercussions.

In New York State and in the City of Buffalo there are laws on the books to protect us from discrimination in the workplace and when renting. But let’s face it, if an employer or landlord wants to discriminate they can find “other reasons” to not rent or not hire or even fire. So, in general, I do not believe that the work place is the place to “come out.” The work place is the place to go, do your work and collect your pay (the primary reason that you are there).

The food service industry in particular has a history of being a place where young GLBT people have sought and gotten jobs. But along side that history is the industry’s long time concern about AIDS and public fear of contamination and therefore fear about gay males in particular. Fortunately this has subsided considerably since the 1980s when it started, but remnants of it still exist in that industry.

Usually I recommend that a person consider “coming out” at work only:
• After being there and sizing up the situation and people for some time.
• If this work site has others who are “out”.
• If you know the history of this company regarding its comfort with and treatment of GLBT persons.
• When you are clear with your reasons for wanting to “come out” at your job and that these reasons are good and justifiable.
• After you have thought through the possible consequences of “coming out” and you are prepared to accept the consequences of doing so.

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