Proud at Work: How Living as Your Authentic Self Doesn't End When You Enter the Workforce

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Cover image for  article: Proud at Work: How Living as Your Authentic Self Doesn't End When You Enter the Workforce

Closets are great at storing our wardrobes. Closets aren't great for storing who we are. As a queer human, though, sometimes the closet feels like the safest place to be.

For some, finding your way out of the closet can come naturally. This has become especially true as time has passed and laws guaranteeing the protections of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have become more commonplace as high as the federal level. However, these protections weren't always around, nor do they currently exist in all states. In the past, and presently in several states, the closet can serve as a suit of armor. It's protection against the LGBT+ workplace issues that sometimes lead to hate and discrimination that is far too often experienced by members of our community. As a queer transgender woman, that's something I know far too well, even living in a state with laws that offer me protection.

The most discouraging experience after coming out of the closet is when you find yourself being pushed back in. Nothing has broken my heart more than hearing students who are preparing to graduate from college say they believe their ability to be out and proud must end after graduation. The perception of successful LGBT+ people to these students is that there aren't any in their desired field of business. They don't see enough examples of thriving families and successful career-driven individuals. Today, I'm here to offer what I hope will be a life changing truth: Being who you are doesn't have to stop at graduation.

That doesn't mean that life as an out and proud individual is easy. We still face road blocks. We still face discrimination. Sometimes we even face glass ceilings. As the co-lead of one of the largest business resource groups (BRGs) dedicated to LGBT+ employees in North America, I can assure you that there are many of us who are thriving as we live our truth. We are thriving as we fight for the rights of future generations. We are thriving as we plan programming for our colleagues to help educate them on everything from queerness to same sex couples in work environments, to the usage of pronouns and gender neutral bathrooms. What has been our experiences, we hope will soon be yours.

Knowing all of this, there's still a lot of work that must be done. As recently as 2018, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation released a survey suggesting that nearly half of all members of the LGBT+ community are closeted at work. You aren't the only ones with fears. Our friends, colleagues and even our bosses share your fears, as well. Only by living as our authentic selves can we knock down road blocks, legislate against discrimination and shatter the glass ceilings that may sometimes hold us back. Only by being out and proud can we force change.

As a transgender woman who didn't come out until she was 34, I'll never shame someone who chooses the closet over their happiness. I can definitively say, however, that you'll never be happy or feel fulfilled working at a company where you can't be yourself. We shouldn't have to put on an act to come into our workplaces. We shouldn't have to focus on code switching to maintain our jobs and ensure we don't face abuse and harassment. We shouldn't have to focus more on hiding who we are than the job we were hired to do.

If you're unsure how to find these companies, look at the HRCs annual Corporate Equality Index. While it isn't perfect -- only 767 of the more than 10 million companies in the U.S. had perfect scores in 2021 -- it can offer a compass to help you find a place where you'll likely find support and acceptance. I'm very privileged to say that I currently work for one of those 767 companies, and even more proud to say it was the work of our BRG that fought for our LGBT+ rights in the workplace. That could be the work that you do at your first company. That could be the kind of work that you do to help support the generations of queer folx still to come.

Today, I'm lucky to live outwardly as myself. Tomorrow, I'm hoping you'll realize that you can do the same. If you don't think that could ever be you, find me on LinkedIn. While I can't promise to help someone get hired, I can work to get your resume in front of the right people. You deserve to be out as LGBT+ in the workplace. The only reason to be in your closet is to select the outfit you'll wear for your first day living as your authentic self at work.

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