At the beginning of my career in Life Sciences, I did my best to either blend in, or hide. I was a lesbian locked inside a safe, in the depths of my closet, having no clue where the door “out” was. I also didn’t know if “out” was even an option if I wanted professional growth and a long term career in pharmaceuticals, biotech, or medical device companies.
As I moved forward with an engagement and my eventual marriage, I questioned whether the shackles I felt were real or imagined. I was proud of the relationship I was in and wanted to finally be honest about it and be honest about my life.
For closeted members of the LGBTQ+, the following questions from co-workers can be crippling:
1. What are you doing this weekend?
My Answer: Hanging out with “friends.”
2. Oh, you’re going on vacation. Where are you going and with whom?
My Answer: Hawaii, and with “friends.”
3. What are your plans for the holidays?
My answer: Spending time with “family.”
4. Are you dating anyone?
My Answer: I have been dating “someone” for a couple of months, but it is not serious. Note-pronouns are always changed.
How many times can someone use friends and family as a beard without creating distance with co-workers?
After so many years, 12 to be exact, I was tired of isolating myself with lies. I approached two senior leaders of my organization at the time and was highly encourage by both not to make my “personal life” known. I was even told that I would risk losing my job if I came out.
After about six months, I made the decision to come out, anyway. There were definitely consequences. A colleague and close team member of mine completely stopped talking to me. He would arrange meetings behind my back with my direct reports. Without the information to adequately do my job, I felt stuck.
There were other consequences. Feeling silenced, like I wasn’t “good enough” to use my full voice, I shrank back in my work. I stopped contributing ideas, ashamed of feeling proud of myself when others were making me feel so unvalued and disrespected.
I decided to move on.
My next company shocked the hell out of me. Not only were there members of the LGBTQ+ community who were out and proud, but they were comfortable asking me about my wife.
That was almost too much for me. When the questions came up, my voice would quiver when I answered, due to nerves. Finally, I realized I was the only one who was nervous. This company bred a culture of diversity, acceptance, and understanding. It felt amazing!
Going through the transition of accepting myself, I grew so much. Instead of quieting my voice, I found it. Instead of hiding from colleagues, I shared and gained connection. Instead of denying myself equality, I craved and fought for it.
I was suffocating when I kept myself closeted in the past. However, being my true self at work did not come without its challenges as well. I still got questions that made me uncomfortable, but they were more personal and sometimes offensive. Some examples include:
1. May I ask you a personal question…usually referring to whether you have had sex with the opposite gender.
My Answer: Sure, you can ask me a personal question…AS LONG AS…I can ask you the exact same question after I answer. This usually shuts them down.
2. How did you know you were gay?
My Answer: How did you know you were straight?
3. Who is your son’s Dad?
My Answer: My son does not have a Dad. He has a donor who was a wonderful man who helped us create the greatest gift in our son. It’s important to note that all families look different. Some have two moms or two dads, some have a mom and a dad who are married, and others have only one mom or one dad. This diversity, combined with a great deal of love, is a beautiful thing.
As of 2018, nearly half of LGBTQ+ employees in the U.S. are closeted at work, down slightly from a decade ago, according to a report released by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
The survey results found that the top four reasons for LGBTQ+ employees’ choosing not to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity were: the possibility of being stereotyped (38 percent); the possibility of making people feel uncomfortable (36 percent); the possibility of losing connections or relationships with coworkers (31 percent); and the fear colleagues may think they are attracted to them just because they are LGBTQ+ (27 percent).
I have experienced all of these concerns myself.
The LGBTQ+ community has recorded fantastic changes in law over the past five years, including the Marriage Equality Act. But we still have a long way to go- both politically and personally. Bias is difficult to overcome.
My son is nearly 5 years old and sees everyone as equal. He does not care about the color of anyone’s skin, whether they are big or small, if they wear glasses or not, or are a boy, girl, or any combination in between.
To him, the world is a beautiful rainbow with room for everyone to play in it. I love that for him. However, he is soon approaching the age where other kids will hear what is “right” or “wrong” from outside influences. These kids will use these influences to help formulate their opinion about the world. I commit to teach my son to never hate anyone. What would the world be like if we all made that commitment?
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