Coming Out at Work

Coming out as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) can be one of the scariest things some of us will ever do.  Telling parents, families and friends can be filled with worries of rejection and awkwardness.  Coming out is also a process that goes on our entire life.  Our circles are always growing; therefore there are always new people, new communities, new neighborhoods and more to come out to.

The Law

Something we often neglect to consider is the struggle that can occur when deciding to come out in the workplace.  It’s surprising to learn that 89% of Americans believe that workplace protections exist for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) employees.  When in fact, it is perfectly legal to fire someone for being LGB in 29 states and 33 states lack workplace protections for Transgender individuals.  There is currently no federal workplace protection for LGBT people.  The Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is the proposed legislation that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Unfortunately, ENDA has been introduced to nearly every congress since 1994, but has yet to garner the votes to pass.
*It is important to note that ENDA, if passed, would have exemptions based on religious employers or businesses with less than 15 people.

Coming out at work in a state that lacks these basic workplace protections can be somewhat more risky. It is important to do your homework. Here’s a great map that provides a quick and easy summary of each state’s equality laws. I certainly am not suggesting that no LGBT person should work in these states, as there are plenty of wonderful career opportunities in all 50 states.  I am, however, suggesting that you have some idea of how “friendly” a potential employer will be to your identity and that includes being informed about the political climate of the state/s you are job searching in.

Gauge the Climate of your Potential Workplace

If it is your intention to be out at work, there are some basic questions to look into that indicate a future employer is LGBT friendly and is striving to be a positive and inclusive community for all.

Does your future employer:

  • Include sexual orientation and gender identity in their discrimination and anti-harassment policies?
  • Recognize same-sex couples and their families with equal access to company benefits?
  • Ensure their health coverage includes health benefits for transgender employees?
  • Support an LGBT employee resource group?
  • Offer mentoring to LGBT employees?
  • Provide diversity training that is inclusive of LGBT issues to all employees?
  • Offer climate surveys to gauge the climate of the workplace?
  • Sponsor LGBT specific community programs and events?
  • Include LGBT images in marketing strategies?
    Support public policy efforts that protect LGBT employees?
  • Have a listing on the Corporate Equality Index?

There are many organizations that are dedicated to LGBT workplace environment issues.

With some internet research and by asking questions at your interview, hopefully you will find some demonstration of a commitment to an inclusive and accepting diverse workplace that ensures a safe place to be out and proud at work.

If you want to discuss further about your experience of workplace discrimination or how to come out in your job search, contact the LGBT Center at or stop by CSU194.

Jessica Flatequal
Director – Gender and Sexuality Programs 
MSU, Women’s Center
MSU, LGBT Center

Material adapted from these sources:

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