"You Hear Everything When They Assume You're Straight": People Are Opening Up About Coming Out At Work, And We Still Have A Long Way To Go

·15 min read

June is Pride Month, so tons of companies from small businesses to giant corporations are switching to rainbow logos and posting messages in support of the LGBTQ+ community. But in practice, people have very different (and sometimes much less accepting) experiences when they come out at work.

business people waving pride flags in an office
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So we asked the LGBTQ+ members of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us about their experiences with being out at work — if they've done it, what made them feel safe to share, and how it went. Here's what they had to say:

1."There's a great tweet that says, 'I’m never coming out to anyone ever again. If you can’t tell I’m a little gay, then that’s on you' and that's basically how I do. I have never been 'in' per se at work, but as a bisexual woman married to a man I am straight-presenting."

female auto mechanic working on a car

"I work in the automotive industry which is generally a rather macho heteronormative environment, but I've never had a real issue stemming from either my gender or my sexuality.

My current workplace has been a change from where I've worked in the past in that it only recently tilted to majority straight. I've been working there for almost two years, and for a year and a half of them us queeirdos were more than 50% of the staff.

There are a few shops out there that purposely target hiring LGBT+ employees but we are not among them; it just worked out that way. (But we do sometimes tease the boss — who is straight! — about his uncanny ability to almost exclusively hire queer people.)"

melissan40168c557

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2."I identify as a heteroromantic ace, but I have kept completely quiet about relationships and attractions, almost like an air of mystery. I don’t even ask about other people’s relationships. People know I’m not attached, so they probably assume I’m straight but just happily single."

"I don’t think it would BE an issue to come out, as my VP is openly gay and talks about his partner of 10+ years freely. But I can’t imagine a situation when that would come up in the workplace for me."

baobaopanda

3."I work in an office and my bosses are 60-year-old religious nuts. My partner has a gender neutral name so I always say me and (not her real name) ~Jordan~ are going out after work. And if they believe Jordan is a guy that's on them. Not my job to correct them. And no, I cannot bring Jordan to the Christmas party because eff that noise."

baebumblebees

4."I started my career in the lumber manufacturing industry. When I married my husband and legally changed my last name, it was taken quite well and everyone was incredibly supportive. I was the only openly gay man in the mill, and surprisingly enough, it was really a non-issue."

gay couple holding hands on their wedding day

"I have recently moved into the mining industry and same story. Nobody cares and I am treated no differently from anyone else, which I think is an awesome testament to the society we live in nowadays. Cheers to equal opportunity employers that actually follow through. My biggest wish would be that everyone gets to experience this regardless of their story."

kerrylanegraff

Alexanderford / Getty Images/iStockphoto

5."My previous job was at a Christian college. I was already stigmatized for not being Christian, so it didn’t feel safe to come out as I thought it would negatively impact my working relationships. There was another queer/nonbinary person at the school who said it was safe to come out."

"But I watched them get targeted for the way they dressed, as it didn’t fit 'professional standards' for someone perceived as female. They also constantly misgendered this person on purpose even after being told the correct pronouns to use.

I decided this job wasn’t for me and I left. In my current job, there are no problems at all. I could tell the difference straight away and knew it was safe to come out."

girlriot

6."I work in a small law office. One of the paralegals is very openly gay, so I've never necessarily felt unsafe in my actual workplace. I've hinted that I'm queer, but I haven't 'announced' that I'm pansexual since I've started working here; I'm a cis-gendered female married to a cis-gendered male, so I get to 'pass for straight' and those conversations are easier to have after people have known you for a while."

"However, I don't feel safe enough to show up to the office in blatant Pride/pansexual/queer gear because the building we work in is next to a Chik-Fil-A. That's literally the only thing that makes me feel unsafe; homophobic chicken and carbs being within spitting distance."

svenskaspark

7."I'm pretty open about my personal life. So when I started a job at a local manufacturing plant, I maintained that rule. I never outwardly said 'husband,' but I did say 'partner.' Well, after about a week it got back around to me that some people didn't like me talking about my personal life."

man working in a manufacturing plant

"And some rumors had started swirling, some of which were: I was actually single, they heard my partner's name was Rose so why wouldn't I just say 'my wife,' I'm just saying that for the attention, etc.

Well, one day I got pulled aside by my line lead and talked to because I was making some of the people uncomfortable talking about my personal life and they found my lifestyle offensive so I needed to tone it back.

I agreed I would but on one condition. 'If I'm not allowed to talk about my personal life, nobody else is allowed to either, because I find it offensive that they feel they're allowed to dictate that I can't mention my partner but they can talk about their husbands all they want.'

He sat and thought about that for a second and he said, 'You know what, you make a good point. I'm going to tell them they need to just get over it.' I've had some issues since but I got my point across."

—Alex, Federal Way

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8."I was outed in my first week by a coworker who I’d worked with prior. They didn’t realize that they’d outed me to my boss who had just that morning told me a homophobic story about, 'you know, one of those lesbians.' Barf. I wanted to quit but my wife pointed out that clearly I wouldn’t have been hired if I 'looked like a lesbian' so I stayed."

"Meanwhile, I’ve heard top leadership use the word 'dike' more than once to describe anyone female who doesn’t fit their feminine aesthetic. It sucks to work in beauty as a lesbian. You hear everything when they assume you're straight. Good news is, I know who I can and cannot trust before they know about me, most of the time."

—Anonymous, Culver City

9."I work in an office. While I feel safe about being out as an asexual female, I am tired of being the butt of everyone’s jokes. I’ve just started a new relationship with an amazing woman who is herself in an open relationship. And I spent all 10 hours today dealing with inappropriate questions and jokes about my new relationship."

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10."I’m bisexual and I work in a customer service job. I do feel comfortable and safe being out at work because of how progressive thinking our upper leadership is. They openly celebrate Pride and have an employee group specifically for the LGBT community. I also know two of my supervisors and at least one other member of my team are queer."

hundreds of people in Manhattan at the queer liberation march in June 2021
Erik Mcgregor / LightRocket via Getty Images

11."I'm retired now, but I worked for an NGO in Africa in education. I mainly worked with Africans. It was not possible to come out, first, because it's illegal in the countries where I worked, and secondly because most of the local people wouldn't accept it and some may have refused to work with me."

"A few might have been okay with it but I couldn't risk telling anyone. I had to make up a story about my wife and grown child back in the USA. Some of the European staff knew because I was open about it in my job interview but they know not to out me to anyone."

—James, Ann Arbor

12."At my last job, I got close with a few coworkers and I knew everyone leaned left. So one night after we'd had a few too many drinks at my place, I told them I was bi and they shrugged. Perfect response."

—Anonymous

13."I’m an actress and the TV and film industry is a lot less progressive than it seems to some people. If I were to be openly bisexual, I’d risk being shoehorned into only bisexual or gay roles. The people I work with on set are usually pretty nosey and ask about my dating life, and I typically just pretend I only like men."

woman auditioning for a part in front of a panel

"I feel so guilty about it but the difference in how some people treat me once they know just isn’t worth it. It’s hard enough to get work as an actor.

I can definitely see myself coming out in the future though if I become 'famous' or whatever because representation and helping people feel seen is really important to me. It would be worth it in that case."

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Sdi Productions / Getty Images

14."I am proudly out at work about my gender identity and sexuality. I have found that I have been respected more about my sexuality than my gender identity. People have a harder time embracing how I express my gender. It has allowed me to be a better ally to my coworkers."

—Joel, Santa Ana

15."I'm not out — not at work, not at school, not in public. Being a trans person is scary, even in generally liberal areas. The only place I really feel safe anymore is at home."

ronix091707

16."I am a trans-person, male to female. I was outed in a national tabloid: Weekly World News, October 8, 1985. Since it was readily for sale on any newsstand, people at work walked up to me in male persona at the factory and held up the page-long feature story with my fem photo, laughing, 'You've got great legs!'"

woman holding a trans flag at a Pride event

"I was initially mortified! My blood family learned of my mid-transition this way as well.

It ended up being blessing, the national visibility enabled me to be an OUT and in-your-face gender activist for the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), and one of the half-dozen people who appeared in the media and coined the term transgender in the media and national lexicon in 1985–86."

—Cheryl, Cleveland

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17."I was told by a coworker at a previous job that I needed to keep my bisexuality a secret because it would 'make you enemies in this place.' I proceeded to be open about it casually mention it when talking about my weekend and what dates I went on. I didn't hide who I was for a moment."

"No one ever said anything and it wouldn't have mattered if they did — I don't want to be afraid to talk about my life in order to keep the peace at work.

I'm now at a new job and I have added small rainbow touches to my cubicle and connected with other LGBTQ+ individuals to start and employee resource group to support employees who might feel alienated."

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18."I worked at a company that was LDS-owned, but the CEO had adopted this surfer/ 'laidback' vibe (spoiler: it was all an act to appear relatable). He said he accepted everyone despite his church’s teachings (spoiler: he didn’t). The guy was all Ted-Talk-speak with no actual actions to back up his words."

"I got the feeling that it wasn’t okay to be out at work when he and a few others were making remarks about a very flamboyant male employee, referring to him as a 'he/she' and 'girl boy'; and no, that employee was not trans or nonbinary, just gay.

In other unsurprising news, the CEO was also a racist and always found reasons not to promote Black people into top management positions. He always backtracked on this by saying his family owned a charity for African children in the same way closet racists always say they have black friends.

Working there was super weird."

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19."I'm not out at work and don't think I'll be for a while. While some coworkers know I'm gay and have met my boyfriend, the majority don't know. My company talks A LOT about DEI, and at the corporate level it is diverse and has 'out' members. However, regional offices like mine are still run by older, white men who have their heads stuck in the 1980s."

man working in an office

"In my office, we have two gay men and three gay women who are out, have photos of their SOs on their desk, and don't hide it. I can't help but notice that all five (along with the POC!) are consistently passed over for promotions, aren't given any roles with supervisory duties, and are from to time 'accidentally' left off email invites for off-site events.

I've only heard one off comment from an office director, and while no slurs or foul language were used, it's stuck with me. Maybe in a few more years once the boomer generation is retired, I'll reconsider."

—Cody, Nashville

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20."When I first came out, I was pretty quiet about it. I was a late bloomer so to speak. I was married to a guy for 10 years and had two kids, then at 30, I couldn't hide who I was anymore and came out. Needless to say, people knew I was going through a divorce but they only knew half the truth."

"I never officially came out at work; a 'friend' actually outed me to our boss. My boss came to me a few days later and asked if I was happy. I answered that with a resounding 'Yes!' She said, 'That's all that matters.'

Fast forward several years later, at my new job at a high school, I made a comment about my wife to the Fashion teacher and I get, 'Oh my god!!! You're family!'

I am very open about being part of the alphabet mafia nowadays. It also helps that the school that I am at has several queer people on staff and many of my kids are queer as well. It's a pretty safe place to be yourself!"

harleyq0319

21."I work in libraries, which for some reason attract a lot of queer people. In my first week, my boss got married to his now-husband, so it was quite clear from the beginning that it wouldn't be an issue. I casually dropped that I have a girlfriend and that was it. I'm really happy about how progressive my employer is, e.g. even if it's not in the national law yet, same-sex couples that adopt get the same maternity/paternity leave as straight couples."

nadine5678

22.And finally, "I always wait at least three months before coming out at a new job unless I’m working with LGBTQIA+ groups (I’m a freelance producer). I get misgendered through those entire three months, but I need to feel out the team and the organization before I feel safe enough. In the last job I came out at, everyone was nice enough about it."

nonbinary person talking on a video call

"I sent out some articles about nonbinary identities and said if they wanted to chat over a coffee about it I could do 15 minutes at a time. They thanked me for the articles, but no one wanted to chat I guess. They’re not very good at using my pronouns (they/them), but it’s hard to correct people in a working environment. I just wanna get my job done and done well so I don’t often correct people and that’s on me.In my job before that, I had some great allies who would correct (with permission) on my behalf and that was so great. That was a younger team, mostly millennials and Gen Z. My team now are all in their 40s and 50s and I understand it’s harder when you’re older, but there’s still no excuse. Language changes all the time and people mostly adhere to that until it comes to pronouns.If you’re reading this and you’re trans like me, I see you! The struggle is real! If you’re reading this and you are cisgender — please stick up for your trans colleagues. Always introduce yourself with pronouns and ask what other people's pronouns are. Ask any out trans colleagues how you can support them in the workplace and listen to them.You might be put on pronoun patrol, asked to help create a safe space, or help with communications, or you might be asked to do nothing. If someone comes out to you, never assume others know. Ask the person coming out who they’re comfortable sharing that information with.It makes such a difference to have allies on your team and every good ally is a blessing."

—Emery, Bristol

Note: Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.

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Can you relate to these stories? Share your experiences with being out at work in the comments.