What to do when someone comes out to you at work

This is a bit late considering pride month was last month but I thought this post was still worth writing as I have come out at work again recently (yes, again – more on this in a future post…) and often find people aren’t quite sure how to react. Here’s some tips from a trusty LGBTQ+ community member!

Keep your reaction in check

First up, try not to act shocked. This can be difficult if you didn’t see it coming but saying things like “Oh I had no idea!” or “I couldn’t tell!” suggests there are certain ‘tells’ to being LGBTQ+ , which isn’t the case. Similarly, suggesting you already knew isn’t helpful either – it’s possible the person coming out to you has been working through their own feelings for some time, and may only recently have come to understand their own identity. There may be stereotypical traits people associate with being LGBTQ+, but they’re only stereotypes. People don’t necessarily express themselves in the same way that they identify internally.

Offer your support

Second, thank them for sharing with you and offer your support! It takes bravery to come out to someone as there is always a risk the person being told will have a negative response. The person coming out to you is doing so because they trust you and because they want you to know more about their authentic selves. Immediately following up with your support means they can leave the conversation without worrying they’ve made a mistake!

Keep it to yourself

Finally, and possibly most importantly, clarify whether the person who has come out to you is openly LGBTQ+. They may want you to keep it to yourself. If they do, it’s incredibly important that you follow through with this. It’s possible they’re still navigating their own feelings and just want to share with a few close friends. It might be that you’re in a country where there are legal ramifications for being openly LGBTQ+. Bare this in mind particularly when you’re working in a global company where the laws and cultural norms may be different in different countries.

Don’t stop personal chat

A common behaviour I’ve experienced is for people to become nervous about asking about things like partners and family after coming out to them. If the person coming out is openly LGBTQ+ or you’re in a safe space, you should absolutely continue having the conversations you would have with any ‘straight’ colleagues – it really helps with the feeling of inclusion when you are asked, for example, how your partner is. Of course, you shouldn’t dive into intrusive questions without being invited (think coming out stories, old names, who does or doesn’t know), but anything you would ask a ‘straight’ colleague is still on the table!

In short, be kind. Until we live in a world where coming out doesn’t need to happen, LGBTQ+ people like myself just want to be our full selves at work without having to worry about hiding a part of our identity from others. Being an ally and supporting us in doing so will take us one step closer to living in a more inclusive world!

* Image from Ted Eytan on Flickr

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