Six cartoon figures stand in front of a rainbow backdrop. In the center there is a projector screen that says Coming Out in the Workplace.

Coming Out in the Workplace

By Sara Abbazia

The most important thing to consider when choosing a path post-grad is finding somewhere you feel safe, comfortable, and accepted. This is especially important for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, who may feel the need to stifle or hide parts of their identity in order to avoid harassment and discrimination at work.

Because every queer person’s experience is so varied, it can be hard to pinpoint one end-all-be-all answer to the question of coming out in the workplace. At the same time, learning from the experiences of older queer people can help shine some light on the subject.

We interviewed three Haverford College alumni and asked them to share their thoughts about being out post-grad. Each alum is happy to connect with students further via their Haverford Connect profiles to continue these conversations.

Paul Minnice ‘09

Thoughts on coming out in the workplace?

Regardless of how many people from your company march in the Pride parade, or if your business has an LGBTQ+ business resource group, or what your company’s HRC score is, coming out in a workplace is a deeply personal and heavily situational experience for many people. The question we hear at times is “are you out at work?”, but in many cases it is a question of “how out are you at work?” For many of us, our brains are constantly evaluating situations for level of risk. “Am I in danger if I reveal this information? Will I be passed over for a promotion? Will others start treating me differently?” Maybe we are out to our boss but not to our VP. Maybe we are out only to our closest colleagues who we can count on as friends. Or maybe we are only out to ourselves knowing that anything more than that is too risky. 

Scott Burau ‘02

Thoughts on coming out in the workplace?

I work for a company that fully supports me personally and professionally. They’ve been recognized for 15+ years with a 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, and our leaders and professionals have always encouraged me to be myself. Finding a company or organization that supports me completely is critically important to my happiness and success. 

What advice would you give your college-aged self?

Don’t compromise yourself or your authenticity. Full stop.

Ramien Pierre ’92

Thoughts on coming out in the workplace?

My first coming out at work experience was a literal event: an all-school assembly sponsored by the Gay-Straight Alliance. Subsequent “out”-ings came with less fanfare, often prompted by what a co-worker thought was a mundane question like, “What did you do this weekend?” or a well-intentioned compliment like, “You made orange scones from scratch? You’re going to make some woman a wonderful husband!”

A common element of each coming out experience was the post-outing relief of not having to expend energy monitoring my mannerisms, modifying my language, etc. Instead, I could devote my time and energy to more important things: like doing and enjoying my job… or extolling the virtues of deodorant to 13-year olds.

What advice would you give your college-aged self?

There’s a quote that’s apropos here: Every human act is either an expression of love or a cry for love. I would describe my college-aged self as a bright, distant, queer, Black, introvert with stranger danger and low emotional intelligence. In other words, my Haverford years were a desperate, subsonic, four-year-long cry for love.

So first I would hug college-aged me… for an hour. And then I would say:

1.    You are enough. I know you don’t feel that way. Those feelings are real, but they are not the full story.

2.    Being liked by everyone is not a sustainable strategy for surviving in the work world. People are predictably successful at work by having the “Four ‘A’s: Ability, Attitude, Assignments, and Alliances. That’s something you’ll learn in 20 years when you are working for NASA.

3.    Your imposter feelings that shadow you don’t mean you don’t belong. They just mean that you are learning how to do something at the same time you are actually doing the thing.

4.    You don’t have to fake it until you make it. You don’t even have to fake it until you become it. You just need to fake it until you learn it.

5.    You are enough. I know I said it before, but I know you didn’t believe me the first time I said it. You may not believe me now, but that’s okay. Because I believe in you. And I love you.

Additional Reading:

Job Searching While LGBTQ: How to Find a Truly Inclusive Place to Work

Transitioning in the Workplace

Lambda Legal – Know Your Rights