First Published: July 2003
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.

From December this year it'll become illegal in the UK to discriminate against gay people purely on the grounds of sexual orientation at work and when it comes to education and training. The legislation will bring the UK into line with the rest of Europe, but will it mean that everyone will feel happy to be out at work? Ryan Faas has been looking at the issues for OutUK.
I was nineteen the first time I came out to my co-workers. I was still at school and working in a supermarket. I'd struggled with the idea, wondering if it was even worth being out to a bunch of people who probably didn't care one way or the other at a part time job that paid just more than minimum wage.
I ended up coming out when one of my co-workers started joking about one of the friends that had stopped into visit me one night, asking if he was my boyfriend. I think he was genuinely shocked when I (without acknowledging how I was shaking inside) uttered the words "Him? No he's straight... I'm seeing this guy from Bristol".

Since that terrifying night, I've come out at every job I've worked. Sometimes on the first day, sometimes after several weeks of debating the reaction I'm likely to receive. As I get ready to start a new job (and just having taken down the rainbow flag I had pinned to the wall round my now-vacated workstation), I find myself facing almost the same questions I faced years ago when I worked at that supermarket: do I really want to be out at work? what are the risks if I am? who do I come out to first and how do I do it? how out do I want to be?

I know that I'm not alone in asking these questions. And, in this economy with job cuts being more common than I ever remember, the questions seem to take on a seriousness they never did before.
Many of us probably can't just go out and find a job as easily as in the past. And although record numbers of companies have anti-discrimination policies for gays and lesbians, legal protection to keep us from being fired on the basis of our sexual orientation alone still isn't law yet.

Taking all that into consideration, I know that I will be out at this job too. Even in the face of the risks, I can't not be out at work. Why not?

I spend more than a third of my time there during the week. It's hard to turn parts of myself on and off and if I'm not being my real self a third of the time, I'm not sure I'd still be all of me even when I wasn't at work.

I'm both an honest and social person and if I'm not out it's hard to be social at work and talk about my life outside of my job without lying or deliberately omitting certain facts. So I have to choose being dishonest or anti-social, neither of which fits into who I am.

I'm not ashamed of my sexuality and I don't want to spend a third of my time hiding it as though it is something that deserves shame.

As we all know, there's a lot of myths and disinformation about gay people. Being out at work gives me the opportunity to set people straight (pardon the pun) about their misconceptions in ways that might never happen otherwise.

I could very well be the way someone else comes out. I've known more than one person who was questioning their sexuality and turned to an out friend at workr for advice or answers to their questions. I've also known people with gay children who have turned to out co-workers when trying to understand after their kids have come out to them. Often being out at work can have repercussions beyond just yourself and how you feel. It can make a world of difference to someone else who is just beginning to come to terms with his or her sexuality.

I might meet someone else who's gay that works at the same place and become friends or something more with him. Granted the something more is fraught with the risks of any workplace romance, but that's a separate issue entirely.

If the company I work for doesn't yet include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination policies, my being out at work and doing my job well gives them another reason to rethink those policies. I will also be one more voice, perhaps the first active voice, to demand those policies. Change in a corporate policy on discrimination, harassment, domestic partner benefits, or any of the other issues that affect us as individuals and a community doesn't come from hiding until its safe. They come from us expressing ourselves as a voice. The more of us there are out there, the stronger that voice becomes.

We can all take these reasons and expand on them, but they cover the basic reasons that being out at work is so important. It's an act of pride and being free from shame about who we are. Equally, it's an act of social responsibility, to ourselves and our community. Yes, it's scary, but so is the idea of spending forty plus hours each week hiding. And if I choose to spend those forty hours hiding, nothing will ever change or get easier. If I choose to be out from the get-go, it will get easier and I have the ability to influence change.

So, it may not be the first thing I do when I walk into that new job Monday morning; it may not even be in an overt and dramatic way; it may only be to one or two people over the first couple of weeks; but I will be out at this job. Just like the last one and the one before that... all the way back to my first job when I was nineteen years old.


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