How to Come Out at Work (Guide 2021)

Coming Out At The Workplace

Coming out at work is (unfortunately) still a big issue. In contrast to coming out to friends and family, coming out at work can have an impact on your professional future.

But that doesn't mean that coming out at work has negative consequences per se. With this guide, we would like to help you make the right decision for yourself and give you various ideas on how you can approach coming out. 

Don't take this text as a fixed set of rules, but rather as inspiration - in the end it is your decision if, when and how you come out at work.

Content

  1. The Legal Situation of Queer Employees
  2. Is Coming Out The Right Decision?
  3. Ideas For Coming Out at Work

 

1. The Legal Situation of Queer Employees

When thinking about coming out at work you should start by researching about the legal situation in your country. Are there any laws existing that are relevant for queer employees? This differs strongly, dependent on which country you're living and working in. We'd like to show you how such can look like by the example of Germany:

A term that every queer employee in Germany should know is the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG), which came into force on August 18, 2006. "Sexual identity" as defined by the AGG means that one may not be treated worse than comparable heterosexual persons because of one's homosexuality. Likewise, gender identity counts under the concept of sexual identity. We have summarized the most important points of this law for you here.

  • An employer may in some cases exclude certain groups (e.g. an opera house may only allow female persons for a role). This then falls under the concept of "permissible different treatment".
     
  • Such different treatment is only permissible if a personal characteristic meets all 3 of those requirements:
    ... because of the nature of the activity to be performed or the conditions of its performance it
    ... constitutes a genuine and determining occupational requirement, provided that
    ... the purpose is legitimate and
    ... the requirement is reasonable (§ 8 para. 1 AGG).

  • In practice, however, it is hardly conceivable that heterosexual orientation constitutes such a "substantial and decisive occupational requirement" for the job.

If you are discriminated against on the basis of your "sexual identity" after coming out, you should therefore take legal action against it in any case.

If you are treated worse after coming out, you should definitely take legal action against it.

 

2. Is Coming Out The Right Decision?

Even if it would be so desirable, we do not live in a completely open, tolerant and queer-friendly world. Coming out to your colleagues can have far-reaching consequences for your professional future, depending on the situation, and you should definitely be aware of this. We can't give you a universal formula because there are so many factors involved (e.g. where you live, the industry you work in, how exactly you identify, your colleagues). However, we can help you get closer to making the right decision for you.

  • Browse company indexes
    If you work for a larger company, chances are you can find out how LGBTQ+ friendly your employers are by using Google or Ecosia. For international companies, you can check the HRC Corporate Equality Index, the Stonewall Top 100 or the DiversityInc Top 50 and search for your company. 
  • Observe your colleagues
    Super simple - and one of the best ways to find out how your company and the people in it deal with queer issues. Pay close attention to your work environment and how people treat each other there. Here are some questions that can help you do that:
    Are there other queer employees
    Are pronouns of e.g. trans* people respected?
    How openly do queer colleagues deal with the topic? 
    Does the company culture have a strong gender bias? (e.g. men keep to themselves, strong gender-specific dress code, gender-neutral toilets).
  • Consequences of Not Coming Out
    Of course, coming out will always have an impact on your professional and personal life. But you should also consider how not coming out will affect you in the long run. A study by the Human Rights Campaign (2018) found that 17% of LGBTQ+ workers feel exhausted from the time & energy they put into hiding their sexual orientation. 

 

3. Ideas For Coming Out on The Job

If you have decided to come out of the closet, there are many ways to do so. There is no patent remedy because coming out at work is always super individual. But we would like to give you some ideas on how to approach your coming out.

  • Go Straight to The Point
    Short and painless is the motto here. You don't have to blurt it out in a meeting, of course, but you can always drop a few little hints into conversations, e.g. "Me and my wife ...", "When I used to date this guy ...".

  • Let things take their course
    If you are not in a hurry, you can simply wait until a suitable moment arises. Especially for introverts and shy people, this approach is often the best - but it also takes time.

  • Start small
    If you don't want to come out to all of your colleagues at once, then gradually choose people you trust and want to tell. If you don't want it to go around, you should also say that you don't want them to share your news with others.

  • Ask someone to do it for you
    If you don't dare to come out in front of everyone or if it's just too much effort for you, you can ask someone else to do it for you. You don't even have to explicitly "ask" someone to do it for you, you can also do as described in Start Small and tell them that they are welcome to share it with their colleagues as well.

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