Posted in : Blog
Posted on : October 10, 2022
Coming out can be a hard and extremely slow process, especially in a professional setting. I remember at one of my first office jobs, it took me around two years to come out in the workplace. (Yes, it was and is a privilege that I could come out eventually, but it was a scary and emotionally taxing navigation nonetheless).
Coming out was difficult for me, not because of the staff – they were some of the loveliest individuals I had ever met. Rather, it was because there were many small moments that made it uncomfortable for me to come out, and a part of me wanted that comfort and ease of staying closeted in my professional image.
Brief comments made by colleagues, like ‘I don’t know what all the letters mean in that ridiculously long acronym’ or asking about my relationship status and “dating bio”, to see if I would be a good fit for their sons, nephews, cousins, etc. made it harder for me to come out at work. I also noticed that my colleagues would also not participate in queer-led initiatives at work and were unaware of organization-wide promotions of such events. All these small fumbles, assumptions, and disengagements with 2SLGBTQI+ initiatives built up, making me more hesitant to take that first step in coming out.
My story contains just a few examples of uncomfortable scenarios that can occur in the workplace. There are many other positive and negative coming-out experiences that have coloured my life, and the lives of other 2SLGBTQI+ members. These experiences combine to create our realities in the coming out process and greatly affect people’s decisions to come out at work.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, when striving to be supportive of your 2SLGBTQI+ colleagues.
This means that we should not make assumptions about an individual’s gender, sexuality, or assumed partners. When engaging in personal discussions with colleagues, it is also important to be mindful and respectful in our commentary, as some topics may be triggering or have a more significant impact on some people than on others. Being mindful of these ever-evolving dimensions is an important tool for office allies.
As humans, we are always evolving – and this may also be true for the way that we choose to identify. Do not be afraid to ask someone what their pronouns are – and ask everyone! But also keep in mind that these things can change. Pronouns can be updated. New partners may have different pronouns. And policies like dress codes may affect people differently, depending on where they are in their journey.
Take a class. Read a few articles. Attend an event featuring 2SLGBTQI+ members. There is no shortage of resources available to support your own knowledge and development. Knowledge is power, and a great step in allyship is removing the burden of teaching others the language and boundaries of appropriateness for the 2SLGBTQI+ community, especially for those that are still in the early stages of the coming out process and may not have all the answers.
Developing pathways of access for these groups, so they aren’t always having to ask for accommodations or pathways to navigate barriers, is huge. It could be as simple as having a Pride flag on your office door, to notify anyone coming into your office that you, and your organization, are committed to the inclusion and safety of 2SLGBTQI+ individuals.
What’s more – integrating inclusive practices and policies such as gender-accessible restrooms and dress codes, or tip sheets on how non-binary folks may navigate the benefits programs or parental leave at your company, or discussing whether your team should implement pronouns on your email signatures – these are all very practical and tangible ways to create an inclusive space.
The crutch of all of this is helping build an accessible and safe space to welcome your 2SLGBTQI+ colleagues to show up authentically at work. A safe environment is essential in supporting the coming out process of your colleagues and should always be your first step. Coming out is a scary, labour-intensive experience for many people. Reducing the emotional labour that they may have in the workplace by creating a knowledgeable and safe space is the basis of supporting your 2SLGBTQI+ colleagues on their journey.