For LGBTQ+ people, "coming out" isn't a one-time thing. Instead, it is a continual process.

Put simply, coming out is the term used when an LGBTQ+ person tells others about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Many LGBTQ+ people find themselves continually coming out throughout their lives. It could be to family, friends and even strangers, for example, when accessing healthcare or other public services.

Coming out is a very personal decision. It's one that is entirely up to each LGBTQ+ person to make, depending on whether they feel safe, supported, and comfortable to do so.

Coming out in the workplace is the same; it's completely up to LGBTQ+ colleagues whether to share their identity with their peers. For LGBTQ+ people who do want to share this part of themselves, it can be hard to know where to start.

This Pride Month, we offer advice on coming out at work, and tips for how employers can help create an environment where LGBTQ+ colleagues feel comfortable sharing who they are.

Should I come out at work?

Before coming out at work, it's important to evaluate your current work environment and decide whether this is the right step for you.

Here are some things to consider about coming out in your workplace:

  • Does your employer have a non-discrimination policy which includes LGBTQ+ colleagues?
  • Does your organisation have an LGBTQ+ network or Inclusion & Diversity forum?
  • What is the culture like at your workplace? Do you know of any openly LGBTQ+ colleagues that may have been through a similar experience to you?
  • What is your work environment like when it comes to sharing personal information? Is it a friendly and open or guarded environment?

How to come out in the workplace

If you have decided to come out at work, it's a good idea to plan your next steps. Firstly, there are a range of LGBTQ+ charities which offer advice on coming out, such as the LGBT Foundation.

You could also speak to a volunteer at Switchboard, a national LGBTQ+ support line, which is open every day. If you have any friends or family who are supportive of your LGBTQ+ identity, try talking to them.

It can feel difficult and awkward to bring up your sexuality or gender identity at work. A good place to start could be by confiding in any LGBTQ+ or trusted colleagues at work, or by signing up to your organisation's LGBTQ+ network or Inclusion & Diversity forum.

When it comes to coming out, you could try talking about your favourite LGBTQ+ film, book, or TV show as a way of starting the conversation. That way, you'll also be able to gauge your colleagues' reactions to LGBTQ+ issues and decide whether you feel safe to come out.

Alternatively, you could drop into conversation what you did at the weekend, such as going to an LGBTQ+ club night, or talk about your plans for the evening - for example, you could be going to a movie with your LGBTQ+ friends or partner.

The benefits of coming out

Remember, when, where and who you choose to come out to is completely your own decision.

For LGBTQ+ colleagues who do feel safe to come out at work, it means they can bring their whole self to their organisation. Some LGBTQ+ people describe coming out at work as a weight off their shoulders, because they no longer have to hide those parts of themselves.1

In fact, research has shown most LGBTQ+ colleagues who are out at work believe that this has had a positive impact on their career opportunities and advancement.2

Did you know?

Research has shown that almost one in five lesbian, gay and bisexual people - and one in four transgender people - are not out at work in the UK.3

Know your rights

Coming out should be a positive experience. However, if you do experience any discrimination, it's important to remember that there is legislation in place to protect you.

In the UK, the 2010 Equality Act protects all employees against discrimination based on nine protected characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender reassignment. You can find more information on the Equality and Human Rights Commission's website as to what is defined as discrimination against sexual orientation and/or gender reassignment under the Equality Act.

If you think you have been discriminated against, you can contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) for advice.

Advice for employers on creating an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace

The onus on coming out should not be placed on LGBTQ+ employees. Instead, employers should make changes to ensure LGBTQ+ staff feel supported and able to bring their whole selves to work.

Here are four tips for making the workplace more LGBTQ+ inclusive:

  1. Ensure your policies are LGBTQ+ inclusive. Make sure LGBTQ+ colleagues are not discriminated against in your work policies, including those covering healthcare, pensions, family policies, benefits, and relocation allowances. Lastly, make it clear in your policies that discrimination of any kind is not acceptable, including against LGBTQ+ people.
  2. Set up an LGBTQ+ network or Inclusion & Diversity forum. Having a group dedicated to promoting inclusion and the benefits of a diversity in the workplace, means that LGBTQ+ colleagues can feel supported and could meet others in a similar position to them. It's also a way for LGBTQ+ colleagues to voice their needs and concerns.
  3. Give all staff diversity training. Provide staff with diversity training, including on discrimination, unconscious bias and LGBTQ+ inclusive language. This will increase understanding and help non-LGBTQ+ employees to be better allies.
  4. Support LGBTQ+ events. Throw your support behind LGBTQ+ events, such as Pride Month in June and LGBTQ+ History Month in February. Doing so will help show LGBTQ+ colleagues that the organisation is fully behind them.

What to do if a colleague comes out to you

If a fellow colleague comes out to you, it's likely that they've gone on a journey to get to where they are. For many LGBTQ+ people, one of their biggest fears around coming out is experiencing a negative reaction or rejection.

Take your colleague seriously when they open up to you - and reassure them that you are here for them. Respond positively and listen to them, then ask your colleague if there is any way that they want you to support them.

Keep your colleague's disclosure between you and them unless they have explicitly told you otherwise.

Try to avoid stereotyping or making assumptions about your colleague. For example, if a colleague has come out to you as transgender, don't assume how they might dress. If a colleague is revealing their gender identity, listen to which pronouns they use to refer to themselves and ask them if you aren't sure.

Lastly, thank your colleague for coming out to you. This may be a big step for them, and they've chosen to come out to you, which also says a lot about your own character.4

The takeaway

Coming out in the workplace is a hugely personal decision. For LGBTQ+ colleagues who do come out in the workplace, research has shown that this has a positive impact on their wellbeing and careers.

Employers can help create an environment where LGBTQ+ employees feel more comfortable coming out by enshrining inclusivity in their policies and taking a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination.


About the author

Ella Braidwood is a freelance journalist specialising in the LGBTQ+ community who writes for publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post and more.