src=”https://buffer.com/resources/content/images/2022/06/mercedes-mehling-SKLSceAHpR0-unsplash.jpg” alt=”A Pride Fireside Chat: Coming Out at Work and How to Support LGBTQ+ Colleagues”>
Pride Month is an annual celebration that takes place in June. It commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots and the efforts towards equality for the LGBTQ community. In 1969, Stonewall Inn patrons and supporters in New York City reacted against police harassment and persecution. This led to the historic uprising. These riots were the catalyst for the creation of LGBTQ movements worldwide and are why we celebrate Pride Month. We are happy to host a Fireside Chat this year with four LGBTQ Bufferoos. We’ll tell you more about each one and what their labels are.
Dave Chapman Senior Customer Advocate: “I would simply state gay, I’m gay man.” If you want to know more, my pronouns will be he/him/his and I’m a gay cisgender man.
Julia Cummings Senior Customer Advocate, “I would choose queer or bisexual.” Queer may be more inclusive for me.
Diego Sanchez Senior Product Manager, “I would go with just homosexual.”
Katie Gilmur DEI Manager: “I identify most with the label pansexual or ‘lesbian-leaning pansexual’ but I also use the labels lesbian and queer.”
The fireside chat gave us all an opportunity to celebrate Pride Month, to feel closer to our colleagues, and to learn more about the lived experiences, perspectives, and lives of some members of the LGBTQ community. This chat was about sharing vulnerable perspectives and embracing all emotions. We will all have our own LGBTQ experiences. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn and witness from each other.
This transcript is from a live chat.
How was it for you to come out? What’s it like to be out in all aspects of your life?
Dave Coming out in my personal life felt almost like giving bad news to my family. It was very difficult to endure. As I gained confidence in myself and society, I felt more comfortable sharing my sexuality at work. Despite my personal safety concerns, I still feel some anxiety. However, it is not because of fear of what others might think. I feel safe in the knowledge that my value does not depend on what other people think of me, my sexual orientation or my relationships.
It is important to keep in mind that the coming out process takes place constantly, depending on how you express yourself and your environment.
Julia : I have never had a big coming-out, but I am open to having discussions with people who do. Because I still feel like there is so much I need to learn about myself, I sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about my sexual orientation. Since the age of two, I have considered myself to be part of the LGBTQ community. However, my father’s 13-year journey has paved my way. People questioned my dad’s sexual orientation when he began a relationship. It didn’t matter to me – he was happy now with a man.
You come out every single day, it’s true. Although I don’t always come out directly to people, I do feel nervous about telling people that I’m seeing a couple. I’m willing to talk more about it if they ask. I also feel the effects of bi-erasure. It’s difficult to find bisexual friends and I don’t know many bisexual people. People probably see me as straight because I have dated and been in long-term relationships with men.
Diego:Coming to terms with myself was a difficult process. I made a decision, and said that I would come out when I was ready. It’s like there’s no turning back. I’m going to go for it. If I have to leave, I will. If it’s necessary, I will do it. I was very determined in going out and taking on whatever was ahead. I was unsure of what to expect.
The’militant gays,’ inspired me greatly. I was inspired by the brave people who led the revolution that brought us here today. I was fascinated by the AIDS crisis, Stonewall riots, and all the amazing people who fought for our rights. They seemed almost militant – this is how I felt at that time. I thought that if I came out, it would be a strong statement about myself. This would help others who come out after me. I wanted to show them that someone is tough, doesn’t change because of society and doesn’t hide anything. It was difficult because I told my family that I had come out to them. Other family members called me and asked me to reconsider. They told me to be more gentle. I said, “No, sorry, that’s not what I did.”
My family suggested that I not come out at work immediately after I came out to them. I was convinced it would benefit my career. I was determined to come out in every aspect of my life, regardless of the consequences. I was a call center employee in a large company with about 1200 people. However, there was no representation of gays. I wanted to set an example to others that gay people can be at work. I was able to come out at work, despite not being able to do so in high school.
My boss was supportive, and I was in a place where I wasn’t willing to accept homophobia at any cost. So people were very kind. People responded well to that energy, and I believe they perceived it. Everyone was respectful. They invited me and my partner to parties and other activities. I have never encountered homophobia in an environment that I would expect to be homophobic.
It was like a switch when I finally came out. I have never looked back. I made the decision that I was not going to change for anyone and that I would not allow my perception of myself to be affected by their opinions.
Katie – First, I want to acknowledge the privilege I had during my coming out journey. My life wasn’t at great risk, and that is something I want you to acknowledge.
I did not come out until I was with a serious partner. I did not come out telling people that I was gay, but rather introduced people to my partner. My coming out journey was gradual and not a single event. My mom asked me if I was just experimenting, which was very frustrating because I was in love. But she was able to quickly catch up and is now super supportive.
It was very different for me to come out at work. My personal life at work was very private. It’s funny to look back now, as I am completely authentic at work. Because it was not a safe environment, I didn’t go out at my first job after college. My best friend was my manager at that time and we were very close. My manager used to harass me by making jokes about me and my friend being together, or about gay people. I felt uncomfortable revealing who I was dating at the time to my manager, so I didn’t do that while I worked at that job.
All of those small comments and microaggressions are loud signals about the safety level within an organization, particularly when they come directly from leaders. My comfort at work can be directly correlated with the company’s acceptance. Buffer is hands-down the most LGBTQ inclusive company I have ever worked with and I can definitely see the positive effect that it has had on my life.
It is possible to come out every day, but I want to be open about that. Pansexuality tends to be most popular because I am attracted primarily to people who have energy and soul connection. However, most of my serious relationships were with women. For most of my adult years, I have been viewed as a lesbian because I was in a 10-year-old lesbian relationship. We can’t assume someone else’s sexual orientation just because they have been in a romantic relationship. This leads to bisexual erasure. Although I feel more grounded and confident in my identity, those little coming out moments are no longer a problem. However, it is important that LGBTQ people, especially those who identify as bisexual+, often have to justify their sexual orientation.
When I travel to areas that pose legal risks to the LGBTQ community or where there is a potential for physical safety concerns, I think about my sexual orientation. This might make me more cautious, more aware of my surroundings and more protective of my partner. It is important to realize that, no matter how proud someone may be, there are still real risks they must mitigate.
What would you like your coworkers to know about LGBTQ support at work? Or what would you have liked them to do to be supportive of your experiences as a person who is LGBTQ?
DaveThe fact we have created an environment at Buffer that is welcoming to people who identify as LGBTQ is a huge first step. It’s important to know you can be yourself and that your identity is accepted, even if not directly related to work. For many people, sexual orientation can feel very personal and inherent to who they are. It is an aspect of my life that I express. It is huge for me to know that it is okay on a basic level. It is so important to have inclusive conversations with people like me.
My husband’s name is Tod. People at work will often ask Tod how he is doing. Anybody who has ever met him or is familiar with him will bring him up during conversation. He is part of small talk that I treasure, even though it may seem insignificant. It has a huge impact on me.
It is also important to note that there are people who are still questioning their lives or at the beginning of their journey. You might not be able to tell this when you speak with them via Zoom calls or other means. Not only those who are out need support; everyone can benefit from a supportive and inclusive work environment.
Julia I believe that each of us is a part of the human experience. It has many facets. It’s not just LGBTQ. Your family and friends are also part of it. You may not even realize it, but there are things that are often so secret. How will that look for them? What is your place of residence? What is your religion? It doesn’t matter if you identify as LGBTQ or are questioning your faith, or just want to support friends and family, there are many aspects of our lives that all go into it.
What I wish people understood is that the openness and willingness to ask questions are a huge asset for those you are talking to. Do not assume that you are able to understand someone’s life or their journey. Pay attention to the little things. If someone says they’re going on a date, be aware of the context and don’t make assumptions. It’s important to be aware of small details like this so that you can make an impact on your community and coworkers. It’s amazing to hear about the many aspects of our lives. There’s so many more we don’t have the time to cover.
Diego I think Buffer is an amazing organization for being able bring our whole selves into work. Being able to express myself at work makes me feel extremely fortunate, privileged, and grateful. In the past, it was exhausting to pretend like I was in the closet. I had one persona but I was hiding my true self. It hurts and is hard.
Just wanted to mention that we must continue to strive to create an inclusive environment in which people are able to bring their best to work. To continue improving, I believe we must look up and not down in order to be leaders in our industry. This means that we must continue to learn, especially about unconscious biases. Ensure inclusive company benefits and be mindful of inclusive conversations
We can’t just stop there. It is important to think about ways we can make the world more fair and inclusive. We can achieve this by being educated and having an open mind to learning about the lives of others. Do not assume that your view of life will be the same as someone else’s.
Katie – I’ve never felt so comfortable being out, being open and honest at Buffer. It’s truly a beautiful thing.
Start by creating a safe environment for LGBTQ colleagues to come to work. You can then dig deeper into unconscious bias and the role it plays in the success of LGBTQ employees to make sure they don’t have to work harder for the same success.
It is also important to recognize the potential for compounding effects of intersectionality and multiple identities. Intersectionality demonstrates that social identities can work at multiple levels. This creates unique opportunities, barriers, and experiences for everyone. My identity is queer disabled woman. These identities can have a profound impact on me individually and collectively. It’s difficult to assume an individual’s identity just by looking at them over Zoom. Therefore, it is important to create a safe place for authenticity and be aware of where power is held and where it is lacking. This can help us deal with biases more effectively.
We are grateful for your willingness to hear more about our experiences within the LGBTQ community. Feel free to reach out via Twitter to anyone who is queer/questioning and needs support. – Dave and Julia, Diego, Katie
Did you miss our previous article…