I’ve led a pretty varied life where my career is concerned. For most of my adult life – ages 17 to 39 – I was in the military in some form or fashion. During all but the last year or so of my military career, I lived the life of a straight woman because that is what I thought I was. I’ve addressed some of my military experience as it relates to gay and lesbian colleagues here before. It’s not where I want to focus today.
Aside from owning my own business for a time, I’ve had primarily white collar jobs since leaving the Army. At one job, where I was a recruiter, I was highly closeted until near the bitter end when it all came out due to an ugly dispute with a co-worker who was also my former long-term partner. Though I was out in my personal life, she was not and she made it clear that she wished to remain closeted at work thus, I was closeted there too to all but one other co-worker. Again, that’s not a story I want to focus on today. The end had nothing to do with my sexuality and everything to do with the conflict with her. In actuality, the company was highly supportive of its LGBT employees and had a sexual orientation clause in its non-discrimination policy.
After leaving that first recruiting position, I took a similar staff position with a professional firm that was very, very small. Over time, I came out to a trusted co-worker who talked openly about her gay sister and eventually to 2 others, one of whom was an out gay man in a temporary position. Before leaving that assignment to take a management position with a retail company, I came out to my immediate supervisor who, unsurprisingly, had already figured it all out. Recruiters are a pretty astute bunch when it comes to reading people!
My new employers knew that I was a lesbian almost from go. We were opening a new store in a different part of town and they requested every creative, cheap method of advertising and drawing in clients and customers that I could think of. I appealed to them to let me have free reign in communicating with the gay community and they were all for it. To quote the owner, “I’m all for targeting anyone with money!”. It didn’t hurt that his right hand man had an out and proud lesbian sister that he was highly supportive of. My sexuality was never an issue there. My wife (then my partner) met both the owner and his Sr. business partner and visited 2 of our locations often. She was always greeted as a friend by either and treated with respect. Though I left that company after only a short while, they remain very supportive of their gay clients and customers in many ways.
I went back to the small recruiting company, this time out from the moment I started. There was no point to lying or trying to work around the truth when the same trusted co-worker and supervisor were still there and I would be working with them directly. It was a genuine relief not having to hide my personal life as I had felt necessary to do the first time around. All my co-workers were supportive. Though one was disapproving of my lifestyle due to her personal and religious beliefs, she nevertheless was always friendly and nice and, in fact, did sign the card that was presented to me when I got married.
I’m now working primarily for myself again though I do have a part-time position for now to supplement my income as my business gets off the ground. I’ve not hidden anything from management at corporate. I’ve named my wife on all paperwork and mentioned her to my most senior manager. At the level where I work, I have a lot of customer interaction but little with management unless I’m having a problem and I have only slightly more with my co-workers. It’s the busy season, so there’s not a lot of time to talk. I won’t hold anything back when things do slow down and I don’t imagine there will be any issues at all. Though it’s a very male dominated business, it’s also a very professional company. I feel very comfortable there and I believe it to be a welcoming environment.
Have I just been fortunate to have been in supportive white collar environments? Personally, I don’t think so. I think some of it has been my own positive attitude that I would be accepted no matter my orientation and some if it has been the evolving social climate. Do you agree or are you skeptical?
Annette Firskopp and Sharon Silverstein co-authored the book, Straight Jobs Gay Lives in 1996. The book examines the effects of being closeted and being out on white-collar gays and lesbians. It’s a work they first began in the 1980s. Over time, they saw a definite shift in the number of people who came out in the workplace and the overall support for them not only in terms of benefits but among management and their colleagues. If they saw a tide turning as early as 1996, it has to be much better today! Their book is packed full of fascinating case studies and practical advice that’s no less relevant now than it was 15 years ago.