I have had two jobs where I came out of the closet; one was a big mistake and the other was the right thing to do.
For many gay people, deciding to come out at our jobs can be a frightening experience. For some, it could mean losing their jobs and for others, it could mean a wider acceptance of who they are. Since I have experienced both, I can tell you that much depends on one’s decision. In the United States of America, in many states, coming out at your job could mean job termination.
The first time I came out at work was at a Christian owned company and many of my coworkers all went to the same church as the owner. Though it was not required to be a Christian to work for the company, being non-Christian could mean you might not be promoted as someone who professed being born again and went to the same church as the owner. What I also discovered was that being gay could mean being fired, if your coworkers and/or management found out.
I had worked for the same company for about 4 years when, out of some kind of suspicion I suppose, someone in management came out and asked me if I was gay. My mistake was admitting the truth. Two weeks had not passed before a coworker began sending me messages through a computer program that were homophobic in nature. I responded negatively and because of those responses, I was fired, accused of using the company computers inappropriately. The coworker kept his job, even though he was the one who started the inappropriate messages on a company computer. He of course, called himself a Christian and went to the owner’s church.
I was devastated. I spent the next month in a serious depression and my self-esteem took a serious hit. Fortunately, it was not long after, that I found another job and moved on with my life. However, I thought twice about ever coming out at a job again.
Several years had passed and I had been through a few different jobs, until finally, I found a job that I stayed with for over nine years and planned on retiring at, but nobody at work knew that I was gay. Then, President Barack Obama got up on national television and said that he now supported marriage equality. That moment was such an emotional time for me. Here was our first nation’s president saying that he believed that gay people should be able to marry the same as heterosexuals. What courage, I thought. This man would gain nothing when it came to political support by coming out in favor of same-sex marriage but he did anyway.
Something clicked in me. My mind flew back those many years when I admitted to that manager at that previous job that I was gay and how it felt to be fired, knowing it was about something I could not change. I remembered the depression and the heartache I felt over it all, and knew that if it had not been for many of my gay brothers and sisters taking the courage to stand up for what they believed in, that I would never see the day were gay people like me could marry the one they love. I know we still have a long ways to go, as still in many states, someone can be fired for being gay, but I can see the day on the arisen where that will no longer be.
It was my time, but this time it was my choice. I picked up the phone and I called the general manager at my job and with great fear and a heavy tremor in my voice, knowing what the cost could be, I told her that I was gay. She let me know she did not care, that it was all right. I explained to her about hearing the president proclaim that he no longer was against same-sex marriage. I also told her about my previous firing because I was gay and how it took a lot of courage for me to tell her. She assured me that I had nothing to fear, that my job was secure.
It has been a several years now and I still have the same job. Most of my coworkers, at least the ones I work closely with, know that I am gay and none of them have expressed one negative or derogatory comment about it.
I realize that coming out for some gays could mean a loss of their livelihoods, because I have been there. I also realize that for the LGBT community that if we are to finally overcome the prejudice and bigotry that now prevails in so many states across the nation, if we are to finally ever gain our total and complete rights as American citizens, we all have to come out at some point. We have to come out at our jobs, at our social clubs and to our friends and to our families.
There have been many gay people over the years who have given up not only their jobs and families but also their lives by admitting to the world that he or she was gay. One of those people was San Francisco city council member Harvey Milk, the first out-of-closet elected gay office holder in the nation.
Harvey once said, “Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better”
The AIDS crisis, which so many of my gay brothers have paid the ultimate price with their lives, has also shown to us all, that silence is death. If we do not let the world know that we exist, and in numbers, there will always be those who will deny us the right to stand, the right to marriage and the right to live. It is up to you: stay silent and be ignored, condemned, and denied, or speak up and live with pride and with equality, and come out of that closet and close that closet door firmly behind you.