There’s a woman who worked in my organization at my last job, that I recruited to the company I joined three years ago. I’ll call her Jane. We’ve known each other for the past five years. Jane never worked directly for me, but always worked for someone who reported to me. Yesterday we came out to each other. Since this is work, we didn’t come out to each other directly, but another woman at the company emailed me that Jane, and two other people, a man and another woman, were interested in getting involved with the new LGBT resource group, of which I’m the executive sponsor. I was very excited to see Jane’s name in the email along with the other two employees. Jane is someone who is a strong leader and I was hoping to find a way to get her involved in the LGBT resource group. But because we weren’t out to each other, there was no way for us to have a conversation on the topic.
In these early days of building the LGBT resource group, I’ve called each person that has expressed interest in participating to introduce myself, come out to them, and talked to them about the group. I thought this personal contact would break down the barriers of the different levels we might be in the company and make for a more open dialog. Of the three people I received the email about, I called Jane first to discuss the LGBT resource group and we had a great conversation. I shared a bit of my history around coming out and she shared some of hers. She was the first person at work to ask me if I had known I was gay growing up, and I told her a little about my teenage years. I’m very happy that Jane and I are over the coming out wall and can now have a more open and honest conversation about our lives.
Roll back the clock to last year, I got two tickets to hear Dan Savage speak in Washington, DC and invited my friend Tom. When I arrived the line was around the block, so I started to look to see if I knew anyone. I immediately saw a woman from behind with a wild head of red hair and knew it had to be Jane. For a moment I got a wave of fear and hesitated. I asked myself if I wanted Jane to see me here, but then, as has been my modus operandi, I pushed past my fear and went over to say hello. Jane was surprised to see me and introduced me to the woman she was with. The four of us, me, Tom, Jane and her friend, ended up talking in line and sitting together during the Dan Savage’s talk. Jane reminded me of that evening yesterday. On her way home from the lecture Jane’s friend said that she hadn’t realized that Jane’s boss was gay. And Jane responded that he’s not, he has a wife and child. But then she realized that was not a reason to assume I was straight. So for the last year Jane has assumed I was gay, but because of the politically correct way of talking about these things in a work environment, we had no way to discuss the topic, until some else made the connection.
Jane said what so many other have said, that it was courageous of me to come out at this point in my life. I told her my mantra when I decided to come out, that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it all the way. It felt really good to connect to Jane on this level.
I also talked to the two other people who wanted to join the group. The woman works part time with the company and married to her partner after gay marriage was legalized in Maryland. She listened but said very little. The third person, an African American man, works in my organization three levels down, which made me a little uncomfortable about talking to him. It felt very strange to come out to someone deep in my organization who I don’t really know, when his boss, who I work with all the time, doesn’t know I’m gay. I decided to let the person who reports to me, and I’m out to, know that I was going to have this conversation, without naming names, with someone in his organization a few levels below him. Then I called the guy and we had a very nice conversation. When I came out to him he said congratulations, which was very nice.
With each person the coming out gets easier and easier. I’m building up to going public in September at a meeting of my organizations leaders from supervisor on up, which is about 125 people. I feel good about who I am. I feel I have integrity in how I’ve chosen to come out at work. It has felt respectful to meet individually with my boss, my peers and the people who report to me and come out to each of them. Now with the LGBT resource group I’m also coming out one person at a time. Soon there will be a more mass coming out at my leadership meeting, followed by an article I will write for our intranet about the LGBT resource group in which I’ll come out to the company. It’s all very exciting. This is the life I came out for. I feel proud and strong in how I am coming out and the LGBT leadership role I’m taking in my company.
Elaine Stritch in her show, Elaine Stritch At Liberty said when she got engaged, ‘my joy was overpowering’. That’s how I feel at times, that my joy is overpowering. How did I get so lucky? How did I, (after so many years), get this coming out at work thing so right? Part of the answer was that I gave coming out at work a lot of thought, particularly about the order of people I would come out to, what I would say to them, and why I was coming out to them. And I continue to think about the process and what steps I should take next.
As I go forward I see myself stepping into larger LGBT leadership roles in my company and the community and it’s very exciting and empowering. Life is good!