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Thursday 09 April 2009

How to come out at work (in a subtle way)

Posted in: Family Matters
By - 1st November 2007

Jacquie Grant affectionately known as the "tranny granny", Jacquie's had a colourful life which has seen her go from being harassed by police and arrested on the streets of King's Cross in Sydney in the late 1950s, to a happier life in New Zealand, where she has fostered more than 60 children, and now has numerous grandchildren. Jacquie lives in Hokitika.

Bill Logan is a counsellor, celebrant, gay activist and revolutionist in his fifties, Bill's been on the Gay Helpline in Wellington since 1982, was a co-founder of the NZ AIDS Foundation, and played a significant role in the struggle for homosexual law reform.

Tom Hamilton is Rainbow Youth's Executive Director, and also has several years experience working within LGBT communities in Australia and the USA. Tom also has extensive knowledge about community law, support work and counselling.

Previous advisors include secondary school teacher Carol Bartlett, gay activist Jim Peron,"Out & Proud" ambassador AJ Marsh, ex Youth Coordinator for Rainbow Youth Rob Marshall and editor Jay Bennie.

If you have a question you'd like to put to our panel, please complete our

A.K.S. writes:

I have recently moved to a new city, where (to all my friends) I have come out of the closet - part of the process of starting a new life and becoming more real.

I also made the decision that I would be 'out' at work. However I've been there five weeks now and my sexuality has never come up in discussion. I don't want to make an awkward announcement "hey, I'm gay!", especially as I'm not sure how my all-male colleagues will react - but I fear that the longer it takes before they know, the more awkward it will be.

So far I have never lied - when asked if I'd ever slept with younger/older woman, for example, I was able to truthfully say "yes". I just omitted to say that I've also slept with younger and older men.

Can you please suggest ways in which I could possibly raise the gay thing with my workmates? And/or ways to handle the issue when it comes out?

So far I don't *think* any of them are homophobic, but they are very typical kiwi blokes (for better and worse), so a negative reaction wouldn't surprise me.

Bill Logan replies:

Of course there's no predicting how your workmates will react, but you are right that it is best your gayness become open sooner rather than later. Of course their reaction is less your issue than theirs, so long as you have the strength to be yourself however they behave. They're going to have to handle it.

Remember, it is the employers' duty under the human rights legislation to provide a workplace free of sexual discrimination. In these days, providing you can conduct yourself with a reasonable appearance of confidence, most worksites are not places for open and active forms of homophobia. Most guys, even if they are quite prejudiced, know that their career depends on their capacity to be reasonably professional in their jobs. If necessary you or an ally might have to discreetly remind them of that.

Perhaps you might want to pick one guy and talk to them about your life a bit over lunch. Perhaps not a serious talk, but just a mention of your friends or holiday activities, which make it pretty clear you are gay. And if the conversation goes that way, say something like “Oh yes, of course I'm gay.”

Or perhaps you don't even have to make this much of an announcement, and your gayness is not at this stage a matter for discussion. Perhaps you have simply got to be yourself in obvious ways - like having on your desk one or two items that say something about who you are, such as a rainbow flag, or a copy of a gay book or newspaper that you are reading, or a picture of yourself with a group of guys at the beach.

AJ Marsh replies:

When I have started new jobs, I likewise don't go around stating "I'm gay" and I wouldn't expect anyone else to either. I drop it in there when talking about partners/relationships that mine is a man, and other things I do that give my sexuality away. If you're single, you could talk about past partners. If there is a conversation and someone assumes your partner is the opposite sex, you could just correct them and say that you're actually gay. People might make a big deal out of it, question why you never raised it, etc, and if so, you can just respond by telling them that they've never told you that they're straight, or question why you should have to reveal your sexuality.

Why not start subtly and wear a rainbow flag pin or attach something Queer to your desk or computer, or if you hear someone make a disparaging comment about LGBT people, speak up and shout them down. One can be out and proud and I always encourage that, but not ensuring that everyone immediately knows your sexuality, or has to know it, doesn't mean that one's failed oneself or our community.

Jacquie Grant replies:

It is possible that your workmates have figured it out all ready and are just to scared to broach the subject in these days of Political Correctness. Just yesterday I had occasion to ring Telecom to ask if the men working outside my gate on a Telecom box were finally up grading the line for broadband - the operator told me she could not say as it would be a breach of the Privacy Act! I will leave my reply to your imagination, however it was a good example of how nervous people have got, especially in the work place. Sometimes I just long for a bit of good old fashioned honesty: "Hi folks, I'm a poof, that's me, take it or leave it, I don't care". In my experience most guys will take it.

I'm not sure why you think it is their business to know, but if you do just slip it in casually and normalise it for them. - 1st November 2007