What’s it like to come out as LGBTQIA+ at work?
Today is the 31st Anniversary of National Coming Out Day. I wanted to highlight the importance of this day, share coming out resources, and publish some stories of what it’s like to come out in the workplace.
About National Coming Out Day
Thirty-one years ago, on the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, we first observed National Coming Out Day as a reminder that one of our most basic tools is the power of coming out. One out of every two Americans has someone close to them who is gay or lesbian. For transgender people, that number is only one in 10.
Coming out – whether it is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer – STILL MATTERS. When people know someone who is LGBTQ, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other.
Each year on October 11th, National Coming Out Day continues to promote a safe world for LGBTQ individuals to live truthfully and openly. Every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds, and creates new advocates for equality.
For more on coming out, visit HRC’s Coming Out Center.
Coming out stories from Proudflare
Last National Coming Out Day, I shared some stories from Proudflare members in this blog post. This year, I wanted to shift our focus to the experience and challenges of coming out in the workplace. I wanted to share what it was like for some of us to come out at Cloudflare, at our first companies, and point out some of the stresses, challenges, and risks involved.
Check out these five examples below and share your own in the comments section and/or to the people around you if you’d like!
“Coming out twice” from Lily – Cloudflare Austin
While my first experience of coming out professionally was at my previous company, I thought I’d share some of the differences between my experiences at Cloudflare and this other company.
Reflecting retrospectively, coming out was so immensely liberating. I’ve never been happier, but at the time I was a mess. LGBTQIA+ people still have little to no legal protection, and having been initially largely rejected by my parents and several of my friends after coming out to them, I felt like I was at sea, floating without a raft. This feeling of unease was compounded by my particular coming out being a two part series: I wasn’t only coming out as transgender, but now also as a lesbian.
Eventually, after the physical changes became too noticeable to ignore (around 7 months ago), I worked up the courage to come out at work. The company I was working for was awful in many ways; bad culture, horrible project manager, and rampant nepotism. Despite this, I was pleasantly surprised that what I told them was almost immediately accepted. Surely this was finally a win for me? However, that initial optimism didn’t last. As time went on, it became clear that saying you accept it and actually internalizing it are completely different. I started being questioned about needed medical appointments, and I wasn’t really being treated any different than before. I still have no idea if it played into the reason they fired me for “performance” despite never bringing it up before.
As I started applying for new jobs, one thing was always on my mind: will this job be different? Thankfully the answer was yes; my experience at Cloudflare has been completely different. Through the entire hiring process, I never once had to out myself. Finally when I had to come out to use my legal name on the offer letter, Cloudflare handled it with such grace. One such example was that they went so far as to put my preferred name in quotes next to my legal one on the document. These little nuggets of kindness are visible all over the company – you can tell people are accepting and genuinely care. However, the biggest difference was that Cloudflare supports and celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community but doesn’t emphasize it. If you don’t want it to be part of your identity it doesn’t have to be. Looking to the future I hope I can just be a woman that loves women, not a trans-woman that loves women, and I think Cloudflare will be supportive of that.
A story from Mark – Cloudflare London
My coming out story? It involves an awful lot of tears in a hotel room in Peru, about three and a half thousand miles away from anyone I knew.
That probably sounds more dramatic than the reality. I’d been visiting some friends in Minnesota and I was due to head to Peru to hike the Machu Picchu trail, but a missed flight connection saw me stranded in Atlanta overnight.
A couple of months earlier, I’d kind of came out to myself. This was less a case of admitting my sexuality, but more finally learning exactly what it is. I’d only just turned 40 and, months later, I was still trying to come to terms with what it all meant; reappraising your sexuality in your 40s is not a journey for the faint of heart! I hadn’t shared it with anyone yet, but while sitting in a thuddingly dull hotel room in Atlanta, it just felt like time. So I penned my coming out letter.
The next day I boarded a plane, posted my letter to Facebook, turned off my phone, and then experienced what was, without question, The. Longest. Flight. Of. My. Life. This was followed, perhaps unsurprisingly, by the longest taxi ride of my life.
Eventually, after an eternity or two had passed, I reached my hotel room, connected to the hotel wifi and read through the messages that had accumulated over the past 8 hours or so. Messages from my friends, and family, and even my Mum. The love and support I got from all of them just about broke me. I practically dissolved in a puddle of tears as I read through everything. Decades of pent up confusion and pain washed away in those tears.
I’ll never forget the sense of acceptance I felt after all that.
As for coming out at work, well, let’s see how it goes: Hi, I’m Mark, and I’m asexual.
A story from Jacob – Cloudflare San Francisco
I started my career working in consulting in a conservative environment where I was afraid that coming out would cause me to be taken less seriously by my male coworkers. I remember casually mentioning my partner at the time to a couple of close coworkers to gauge their response. They surprised me and turned out to be very accepting and insisted that I bring him to our Holiday Party later that year. That event was the first time I came out to my entire office and I remember feeling very nervous before stepping into the room.
My anxiety was soon quelled with a warm welcome from my office leadership and from then on I didn’t feel like I was dancing around the elephant in the room. After this experience being out at work is not something I think greatly about, I have been very fortunate to work in accepting environments including at Cloudflare!
A story from Malavika – Cloudflare London
Nearly a decade has passed since I first came out in a professional setting, when I first started working at a global investment bank in Manhattan. The financial services industry was, and continues to be, known for its machismo, and at the time, gay marriage was still illegal in the United States. Despite being out in my personal life, the thought of being out at work terrified me. I already felt so profoundly different from my coworkers as a woman and a person of colour, and thus I feared that my LGBTQIA+ identity would further reduce my chances of career advancement. I had no professional role models to signal that is was okay to be LGBTQIA+ in my career.
Soon after starting this job, a close friend and university classmate invited me to a dinner for LGBTQIA+ young professionals in financial services and management consulting. I had never attended an event targeted at LGBTQIA+ professionals, let alone met an out LGBTQIA+ individual working outside of the arts, academia or nonprofit sectors. Looking around the dining room, I felt as though I had spotted a unicorn: a handful of out senior leaders at top investment banks and consulting firms sat among nearly 40 ambitious young professionals, sharing their coming out stories and providing invaluable career advice. Before this event, I would have never believed that there were so many people “like me” within the industry, and most certainly not in executive positions. For the first time, I felt a strong sense of belonging, as I finally had LGBTQIA+ role models to look up to professionally, and I no longer felt afraid of being open about my sexuality professionally.
After this event, I felt inspired and energised. Over the subsequent weeks, my authentic self began to show. My confidence and enthusiasm at work dramatically increased. I was able to build trust with my colleagues more easily, and my managers lauded me for my ability to incorporate constructive feedback quickly.
As I reflect on my career trajectory, I have not succeeded in spite of my sexuality, but rather, because of being out as a bisexual woman. Over the course of my career, I have developed strong professional relationships with senior LGBTQIA+ mentors, held leadership positions in a variety of diversity networks and organisations, and attended a number of inspiring conferences and events. Without the anxiety of having to hide an important part of my identity, I am able to be the confident, intelligent woman I truly am. And that is precisely why I am actively involved in Proudflare, Cloudflare’s employee resource group for LGBTQIA+ individuals. I strongly believe that by creating an inclusive workplace – for anyone who feels different or out of place – all employees will have the support and confidence to shine in their professional and personal lives.
A story from Chase – Cloudflare San Francisco
I really discovered my sexuality in college. Growing up, there weren’t many queer people in my life. I always had a loving family that would presumably accept me for who I was, but the lack of any queer role models in my life made me think that I was straight for quite some time. I just didn’t know what being gay was.
I always had a best friend – someone that I would end up spending all my time with. This friend wouldn’t always be the same person, but inevitably I would latch on one person and focus most of my emotional energy on our friendship. In college this friend was Daniel. We met while pledging a business fraternity our freshman year and quickly became close friends. Daniel made me feel different. I thought about him when I wasn’t with him, I wanted to be with him all the time, and most of all I would get jealous when he would date women. He saw right through me and eventually got me to open up about being gay. Our long emotional text conversation ended with me asking if he had anything he wanted to share with me (fingers crossed). His answer – “I don’t know why everyone assumes I’m gay, I’m not.” Heart = Broken.
Fast forward 6 months and we decide to live together our Junior year. I slowly started becoming more comfortable with my sexuality and began coming out. I started with my close friends, then my brother, then slightly less close friends, but kept getting hung up on my parents. Luckily, Daniel made that easier. That text from Daniel about not being gay ended up being not as set in stone as I thought. We started secretly dating for almost a year and I was the happiest I have ever been. The thrills of a secret relationship can only last so long and eventually we knew we needed to tell the world. We came out to our parents together, as a couple. We were there for each other for the good conversations, the tough conversations, the “Facebook Official” post, and coming out at our first corporate jobs (A never ending cycle). We were so fortunate to both work at warm, welcoming companies when we came out and continue to work at such companies today.
Coming out wasn’t easy but knowing I didn’t have to do it alone made it a whole heck of a lot easier. Happy four-year anniversary, Dan.
Resources for living openly
To find resources about living openly, visit the Human Rights Campaign’s Coming Out Center. I hope you’ll be true to yourselves and always be loud and proud.
To read more about Proudflare and why Cloudflare cares about inclusion in the workplace, read Proudflare’s first pride blog post.