National Coming Out Day: everyone covers

Today is National Coming Out Day and for the past four years I’ve written about being out at my job. This year is slightly different. What if I told you that everyone, not just LGBT people, find themselves periodically in the closet?

Christie Smith and Kenji Yoshino have co-authored a paper titled Uncovering Talent: A new model of inclusion. In it they show research that indicates that it isn’t just LGBT people who are in the closet (or, as they like to call it, covering) at the office. Many other people hide key pieces about who they are in order to fit in.

I’ve had the privilege to hear Christie talk several times. One of the eye-opening examples she gives in her presentations is a white cis-male upper-level executive who hides the fact that his end-of-day meetings aren’t actually with clients but to go see his son’s baseball game — he’s worried that people will think he’s not committed to the business. Another is an African-American woman who spends hours in the morning getting her hair to lay down so that she blends in better with her mostly-white coworkers. It isn’t hard when you broaden the definition to see that all people cover sometimes.

In my own life I have LGBT friends who are still in the closet. I have friends who are suffering from depression but put on their “happy face” for the rest of the world. I have other friends who are polyamorous and unable to publicly be themselves due to societal pressures. This isn’t just theoretical, this is reality.

Covering is just as emotionally and mentally taxing as being in the closet. There’s the self-censoring and remembering “What does this person know? How honest can I be in my answer to their question about my weekend?”1

National Coming Out Day is a time to be open minded and supportive when people, be they friends, acquaintances, or coworkers, start living their authentic lives. We owe them a welcoming embrace ’cause we all know the cost of covering first-hand. For those of you covering, I hope you find a welcoming, friendly place where you can be free to be yourself and bit-by-bit you’re able to broaden that place to encompass your whole world.

1 Again, I can’t write about being out at work without referring you to this wonderful poster created by my good friend John Martin when this topic comes up. A copy is printed out and hanging in my office cube.

This National Coming Out Day, thank a straight ally

For the past three years I’ve blogged about being out at my employer on National Coming Out Day and this year is no different. What is different this year is that I want to focus on on the powerful impact that straight allies have when they, too, come out of the closet as allies.

For LGBT folks there is a high cost to not being out at the office1 and straight allies make coming out, and being out, that much easier. Allies create a safe place where you can talk about your life without filtering and make being your authentic self at work effortless.

But they, too, have to come out of the closet at work. In companies and areas of the country where LGBT folks aren’t openly accepted, our allies face risks when they show their support. Depending on the employer, it’s possible that being an openly straight-ally could be a career limiting move.

My current employer, EMC Isilon is very gay friendly and creates an inclusive workplace. Many of my coworkers go above and beyond that and are open supporters of LGBT equality both inside and out of the company. I never have a question of being accepted and valued, and that’s due in no small part to all of the straight allies.

Straight allies: thank you for being “out” at work. You help create a safe place for everyone to be themselves.

1 I always think of this wonderful poster created by my good friend John Martin when this topic comes up. I intend to print it out and post it in my cube. I’ve no doubts that John would love to see you do the same.

Out of the closet and into the workplace

Today is National Coming Out Day and, like last year, I think it’s the perfect time for a coming out story. This time it’s about how I came out to my current employer – EMC Isilon.

During the interview with the hiring manager, Ryan Farris, it came up naturally in the conversation that, at the time, I was married to a man. Some question was posed to which the natural response was “My husband and I…”, and being the natural response, I said it. I had decided years before that I didn’t want to work for a manager or an employer who had an issue with me being gay. Ryan didn’t bat an eye at my response. Nor has anyone at the company ever batted an eye in my almost 2 years there.

In short: I didn’t ‘come out’ to my manager or fellow employees – I simply lived my life as out. I am very fortunate to work in a industry where this is possible. Others aren’t so fortunate and those of us who can owe it to others to be out in our personal lives and at work.

And it’s entirely appropriate to point out that EMC Isilon recently publicly announced their support for marriage equality.

Closets are for clothes, even at the office

Today is National Coming Out Day. Last year I blogged about the humorous story of coming out to some of my IBM coworkers shortly after I came out to myself. This year I wanted to talk about being out in the workplace.

I’m very fortunate to work in the tech industry which is one of the most accepting industries of LGBT individuals. Virtually all of the major tech employers have LGBT anti-discrimination policies and domestic partner benefits. Most of them have LGBT diversity groups as well. Many of them also support LGBT organizations like HRC and PFLAG.

IBM is a global leader in this field — they score 100 on the HRC Corporate Equality Index. EMC, as an entity, isn’t that far behind — they score 95. Granted, when I accepted the job at Isilon, they weren’t yet EMC.

Being out at the office is very important to me so I was up-front with HR and my hiring manager when talking about the offer to come work at Isilon. Because I was married, domestic partner benefits were very important to me and was an easy way to “break the ice” about the topic. I was also sure to poll my friends who already worked there (Zach, Matt, and Adam) to see if they felt it was an inclusive work environment, and they thought it was. As I hoped, no one has batted an eye with it comes up in conversation. Before B and I separated, I brought him to the office to give him a tour and introduced him to my coworkers as my husband. Together he and I attended the company holiday party and felt like we fit right in (or at least we fit right in as someone who had only worked there for 4 weeks could fit right in). Had I gotten an inkling that Isilon would not have been an accepting place to work, I wouldn’t have taken the job. Period.

Why is it important to be out at the office? Because it’s exhausting to filter everything you say. Simple questions like “what did you do this weekend” can turn into a mental minefield as you evaluate what the person knows about you and what you want to reveal. John Martin’s Will and Ned’s Excellent Adventure poster sums it up nicely.

I don’t wear my pink boa to the office (and truthfully I don’t own one) but I’d have no problems doing so at Isilon should I be so inclined.

“No, you’re not [gay]. Trust me, I would know if you were.”

Today is National Coming Out Day and I thought I’d share one of my funnier coming out stories.

About 8 9 or so years ago I was in an internal tools team within Tivoli. My friend and teammate Jenny was most insistent about setting me up with her best friend Jan. She thought we would be a perfect match and kept after me to ask Jan out on a date. I always declined saying that while Jan was a wonderful woman, I just wasn’t interested in dating right now.

One day after work Jenny, Heath (another teammate), and myself were having drinks at Trudy’s North (well, they were having drinks and I was having a Roy Rogers). We were sitting there at the table when Jenny once again goes into her spiel about how I should ask Jan out for a date. Fed up with things, the following conversation ensues:

Me: Jenny, I’m not interested in dating Jan. I’m gay.
Jenny: <laughter> No you’re not. Trust me, I would know if you were.
Me: No, really – I’m gay.
Jenny: <looks at Heath, grinning> Can you believe this guy?
Heath: <serious face>
Jenny: <looks back at me> Really?
Me: <serious face>
Jenny: <suddenly gets it> Oh my god. Oh my god! You’re serious!
Me: <nod>
Jenny: <short pause> So, any cute guys at the office you have your eye on? Anyone I should set up you up with?

She went from trying to set me up with Jan, to disbelief, acceptance, and then trying to set me up with a guy in about 60 seconds flat. And true to form, neither Jenny or Heath ever did blink at me being gay — it was entirely a non-issue for them.

Obviously I never did date Jan, but she and I did become fast friends after all.