“In a sport where you have four minutes to show who you are and what you’re made of — if you can’t really show every part of who you are, are you really giving 100 percent?” — Adam Rippon, NPR


What does it feel like to be the “first” in your industry? You could ask Angela Morley, the first openly transgender person nominated for an Academy Award or Tim Cook, the first openly gay CEO to make the Fortune 500. You could ask Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL. Or you could even ask Adam Rippon, who just two years ago in 2018 became the first openly gay U.S. athlete to qualify for the Winter Olympics and win a medal. Two years ago, and we’re still having firsts. And these firsts span just over the course of 44 years. These people were “the first” in their field, “the first” in their industry, “the first” to be recognized. Now many of us look to them with pride and gratitude for breaking barriers in their industries.

So what about when you’re the first in your office to come out? What if your workplace culture isn’t accepting of all of who you are? You’re not alone.

Here’s the reality. According to research by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one in five people of the LGBTQ+ community have reported experiencing discrimination at work based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Let that sink in. One in five people reported discrimination based on who they love or how they identify. With those odds, it’s no wonder 35% of LGBTQ+ employees prefer to lie about their personal lives at work. However, studies show that employees who are out at work “tend to experience higher job satisfaction and better relationships with their managers.” How can you perform at your peak, when you’re afraid to be your authentic self?

As Emmy Award winner Lena Waithe once said, “There’s no easy part of coming out.” With 20% of the LGBTQ community experiencing at-work discrimination, it’s not like jumping ship to another job is necessarily going to be a solve-all fix. So start with the basics from Time Magazine’s The Best Way to Come Out to Coworkers and Bosses:

Know your rights. Check the non-discrimination laws in your state. Check your company’s non-discrimination policy. Think about your office culture. Does it scream “we’ll celebrate Pride with you” or “we’ll talk about you behind your back in our next meeting”? We can’t tell you which is the better choice, but there are resources out there that will support you as you look to love your best work life.

Tell your closest work friend. We’ve all got that office pal we discuss every last detail of our life with, but maybe you’ve been holding back on the full details of who you’ve been out with, what your partner’s real name is, or that virtual LGBTQ+ event you went to last week to celebrate Pride. Perhaps telling this person is a way to get the conversation started.

Let the rest of the office know as you go. Once you’re in the office, you can display pictures of your partner at your desk or bring them to the office holiday party (here’s hoping we have one of those sans Covid-19 and face masks). Discuss that socially distanced date you went on without changing their name. Let your closest work friend do the talking for you, and let the news travel slowly. There’s no need to have a huge party, with a banner and cake. Although if you want those things, by all means, do it and invite us – once we’re all in the clear and mask free. It is 2020 after all.

There’s a possibility that others at your office are just waiting for someone to be “the first”. Olympian Adam Rippon told NPR, “It was a responsibility, and it felt like something that I was ready to take on. I think that’s why I felt like I was ready to come out publicly when I was in my mid-20s — I felt like I was ready for that responsibility. I made sure that I was skating well so that I was a good representation of my community.” He wanted to inspire others to be their authentic selves as he was his. He went on to say, “I know other athletes that are out have made it easier for me to be out.”

Model Teddy Quinlivan interviewed with CNN about when she knew it was time for her to come out as transgender last year during New York Fashion Week. “I just felt a great sense of urgency. I’m very fortunate to be in (a) position (that) I never really thought I would be. It’s really important to take advantage of a time like this.” Quinlivan, someone who is at the peak of her career came out, despite whatever backlash she might receive, simply because she wanted visibility for the Transgender community in the current political climate.

Being the first to come out is not about inspiring others, though your story can. It’s about doing what is best for your work, and personal, self. If you feel that being open about your sexual orientation at work will help you connect more with your coworkers, enhance your work life, or improve how you feel about yourself, go for it.


5 Things Your LGBTQ Co-Workers Wishes You Knew – The muse

The Best Way to Come Out to Coworkers and Bosses – Time

The key to making LGBT diversity work for your company – Elsevier

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Workplace Issues | Catalyst

What to Do When Your Colleague Comes Out as Transgender | Harvard Business Review

Working it out. Driving Business Excellence by Understanding | EY