I take it for granted that I’m out at work. Or rather, I would always tell someone if they asked. It admittedly usually takes some time for someone to decide they know you well enough to actually ask about your private life, but I couldn’t imagine not being out at work. I’ve been lucky to have worked in places that are so open minded, primarily due to them being in Brighton. I am well aware that not everyone is so lucky.
Stonewall has just launched another campaign, as of 13th January 2014, which focuses on homophobia/biphobia in the workplace. The posters cover a range of work environments, from the police to the church, and speaks to gay, lesbian and bisexual visibility at work. It is great to see Stonewall tackling another key field of life that is easy to overlook. To a certain extent I think we all accept that a work environment is what it is because the higher powers deem it so, but really they are, or should be, what the staff make it.
Being made to feel uncomfortable about your sexuality anywhere is not okay. Their slogans, such as “one is gay. If that bothers people, our work continues”, has a serious resonance that sexuality is utterly irrelevant to performance at the workplace. So, why wouldn’t someone feel able to “come out” at work? Whilst there is legislation in place to protect workers from discrimination, here are three common reasons why people still may not feel comfortable being open about their sexuality at work:
1. None of their business
I can imagine this being used by people who are working hard and want to protect themselves. They are probably in environments where they know, or feel, that being open about their sexuality would mean they didn’t get promoted, or would single themselves out from the crowd.Within certain work environments this discrimination and latent homophobia is common, and it can often feel a lot easier to hide that part of you and state it’s none of their business, rather than confront the often ignorance “upper management” can sometimes show to sexual diversity.
Whether it’s how long you last after they find out, or how you fear being treated once you’re out, you can sometimes feel like being open about your sexuality will inevitably change the working demographic and place a limit in some people’s minds on what you can do. Often bound up in regressive stereotypical binaries, some may wrongly see your sexuality as a factor in your ability to perform more stereotypically masculine/feminine jobs. Women are still fighting for visibility in some areas of the work place, though progress has certainly been made, and steps should be taken to rid the playing field of preconceived ideas when it comes to sexuality at work.
3. Didn’t come up
Sometimes it’s easier to say nothing at all. I find that when people say “it didn’t come up” it is basically code for, I found a way to not say it. It is of course your right not to come out at work if you so choose, but often this is a sign that the workplace is not progressive or amenable enough to allow you to feel relaxed in yourself. Some of us want to be open, and stand and be counted because it’s our way of functioning and raising awareness, but it’s not for everyone. Everyone has their own pace, but when there’s “never a good time” perhaps that’s an indicator of a negative working environment that needs addressing.
It’s easier to be out and proud when you work for a business, company or charity who very publicly choose to support equality, equal right and their LGBTQ employees. These are the places where you can function safe in the knowledge that your sexuality has no bearing on how good you are at your job. You should never have to put up with co-workers acting out against you because you are gay, bi, or trans, and increasingly employers are enshrining this in their work ethic, as testified to by the annual Stonewall Top 100 Employers List.
It’s important to teach children in schools that fairness and opportunity are central to society and will mean that their future lives will not be tainted by sexual discrimination in the same way as previous generations have suffered. Advancement in the workplace should be a reward for determination, skill, a strong work ethic and kindness, rather than because you’re of the white male heterosexual mould. There are undoubtedly steps to be taken on all fronts, as inequality still exists as long as obstacles remain and individuals feel they cannot be their true selves within their working hours. Stonewall acknowledge this and their new campaign is a testament to this need for change.
Exposure is the best weapon for equality, so spread the word and post the posters.