Pride Month and Visibility in the Workplace

by Adam Saunders

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​Pride Month honours the history of the Stonewall riots of June 1969, which is often viewed as sparking the modern day LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement. It was a time when being gay was considered an illness, and members of the community were often threatened, beaten by police, and even killed.

Following those events, people within the LGBTQIA+ community and allies alike, come together across the globe in the month of June each year to celebrate and to commemorate the events that have brought us to where we are today.

Fun fact, same-sex marriage was made legal in the United States by the landmark decision of Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015, Pride Month itself.

Being Out in the Workplace

While Pride Month is about celebrating who we are as an individual and being our authentic selves around those we love, I feel it is equally as important that we can do that at the workplace and not feel we are facing prejudice or judgment for simply being ourselves.

While it’s not the most comforting statistic, people on average spend around 10 full years (90,000 hours) at our place of employment, which is a lot of our lives! Let that sink in for a minute.

I think the onus is on the employer to ensure that the workplace facilitates an accepting and safe space for people to be who they truly are, but also to not make a person feel the pressure of ‘coming out’ or to be a certain heteronormative way. A company’s people are valuable, and are becoming less and less tolerant of intolerance, better yet of ignorance.

I do not believe in the notion to ‘come out’, nor should we feel pressured to do so. However, my personal experience of coming out, and on my terms, to my close family and friends brought me a sense of relief and the ability to be my authentic self in a way that I did not view as possible. The day that immediately followed my coming out was the clearest my mind had ever been. It needs to be how the individual wants, when they want to do it and where they want.

You cannot be what you cannot see – visibility is key

My Journey in the Workplace

While I never had to utter the words ‘I am a gay man’ to co-workers in the workplace, it generally started with the mentioning of a partner or boyfriend, the events you are going to, or the way I dress, that people would soon realise who I am. This was how I wanted it to be done at the beginning.

I am incredibly fortunate to have never been victim (at least to my face) of discrimination or homophobia in the workplace. As time moved forward in my life, I cared less and less about what people thought of my sexuality (who I am).

Throughout my journey as a young professional, I eventually made a conscious decision to vet my potential employers during interviews on their policies and whether the organisation is an environment where I can be my authentic self. During my answer to the ‘tell me about yourself’ question, I would identify myself as a gay man, discuss my boyfriend amongst other things. This is my time to determine if this company is right for me.

I can recall the day same-sex marriage legislation passed in the Australian Parliament on 7 December 2017. I was sitting in my office as a young lawyer, watching the live stream on my phone, witnessing history being made. I recall the chamber breaking into song with the audience in the gallery, singing ‘I am you are, we are Australian’by the Seekers. I was very teary watching this clip.

I recall this moment because it was triumphant. I was teary eyed not because I could legally marry a partner, but because it was a step forward for a community that I call my own, it was a moment of recognition we have for so long been denied, for simply being ourselves.

Now that I work in the recruitment industry, reflecting on this moment is so important. I was watching a historic event at my place of work, which more than likely had a strong impact on improving the way I viewed myself in the workplace generally. On reflection, any positive step forward for the LGBTQIA+ community like same-sex marriage can only help make things easier.

Conclusion

I want to finish the article by saying that being your authentic self doesn’t stop at the door of your workplace, it must go within. Your job is a part of your life journey, and not outside of it. You spend a lot of time with the people you work with, building connections, friendships and potentially even a lifelong partner. You should feel welcomed and respected by being yourself.

I recommend to candidates who are unsure how to approach being out in the workplace, if you are comfortable with your sexuality, challenge your prospective employer at the interview. Make it known who you truly are and ask them what the organisation does to make it an accepting and respectful environment.

You will spend the better part of your life working, so if you can, show them who you are. I know that my being out in the workplace has inspired others to do the same. Visibility is critical.