Out On The Job

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The coming out process for the LGBT community is probably the most traumatizing stage in our lives. Because of the violent ramifications for many people world wide, disclosing their LGBT identity is out of the question. Among others it might not necessarily be a matter of immediate life threat but instead it is the fear of being socially outcasted by their families and culture that they forgo the entire process and live a lifelong lie.

Breaking out of closet is a pivotal point that allows us to be true with our selves and affirm our own identity. For many the entire process develops in stages; we might come out to our close friends first, then our siblings, cousins, acquaintances, and then finally our parents. We might also work industriously to conjure up an elaborate way of announcing it to our family and friends.

Regardless of how the coming out process manifests itself in the life of each individual, it is not an easy task. Fear of disapproval, rejection, hatred, and disappointment torments our minds. Those who valiantly decide to come out are true heroes in their own regard. Being out at work is a liberating accomplishment, and for many, a story of triumph. I spoke with six different gay and lesbian Latinos on being out to their co-workers . Their inspiring coming out stories are testament not only to the courage of the LGBT community but the love and respect our ally co-workers readily express.

Carlos Vale
25, Puerto Rican
Chicago, Illinois
Director of Graduate Relations

The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome by being out at work has been internal.  I think people, including myself, have a tendency to expect things to change for the worse when they come out at work. Too often, I didn’t give people enough credit with being able to accept and appreciate knowing my sexual identity. The most important part of the process for me has been to learn my audience and to know when it is the “right time” to come out.  Once I have established a connection or a bond with my co-workers, then I wait for an opportunity where I can have one-on-one time with the individual, so as to give them an opportunity to digest the information and ask questions. I’m very thankful that I have been fortunate enough to work in places where people are mature and understanding enough to realize that my sexual orientation has no correlation to my work performance.

Suyapa Portillo
35, Hondurena
Los Angeles, CA
Visiting Professor

I started being out in academia when I started grad school. I feel that in the academic world, I inhabit a very interesting space. For example, when all the women faculty have their kids or colleagues get together and talk about their wedding pictures, I feel like an odd-ball because I lead such a different life. There is nothing for us to talk about sometimes. Furthermore, academia is white-male dominated. As a lesbian Latina, you have to work harder. Because of societal stereotypes, I can remember spending an entire night on a presentation where I felt the need to out perform an all-white classroom the next day.

The first thing I did when I got to Pomona College is post a sign outside my office that read: “This is a Queer Safe Space.” When you are not out, you have a secret, so people have something against you because you have a secret. Being out is actually a powerful tool. If people discriminate against you because of who you are, they are showing their ignorance in front of others.

David Perez
26, Mexican-American
Washington, DC
National Development Coordinator

I came out to my co-workers while at a conference. My boss wanted us to drive back with the equipment instead of taking the plane and I said “I don’t think that will work because my boyfriend won’t be able to do that.” After coming out, I don’t think I was treated any differently but one of my co-workers, who is very religious, was confused because I am very involved in the church community. I am active in the church board and I go to church every week. Overall, my co-workers have been very supportive. In fact, recently, five of my straight co-workers joined me at gay pride. I think it is important to be out at work because your co-workers might be more likely to be supportive of legislation protecting our community’s rights.

Mari Lopez 
45, Salvadoran
Los Angeles, California
Health Policy Specialist 

Acceptance, particularly within the world of Latino politicians and their lobbyists and corporate supporters, has been obstacle I have had to overcome by being out at work. We [butch Lesbians]have an official identity tattooed on our forehead, which is the first things people see. It’s important to demonstrate that LGBTQ people are not one dimensional and that our sexual identity is not always where we begin or end.  Many LGBTQ people are NOT working to expand rights for our own community. If you want to be out at work yet are concerned about criticism or retaliation, reach out to the many LGBT centers to familiarize yourself with your rights.  You can also contact Pride at Work at www.prideatwork.org 

Carlos Gonzalez
28, Cuban-American
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Executive Assistant

Since I came out in 2004, it’s been a whirlwind for me. Having grown up with machismo around, I would hear my uncle say: “Mi hijo no va ser ningun maricon!” But I never experienced that as far as my parents. When I slowly came out to my co-workers, some of my family friends were thrilled. I would get asked if I was like Will or Jack from from “Will & Grace.” I decided to educate them: “Not every gay man is like these characters!” Not every gay man loves Madonna or Cher, granted I do love Gloria Estefan, but that’s besides the point.

My co-workers soon came to appreciate me as someone not defined by a television character. The same people that I feared are the same people that are there for me now. Whenever I show up with my partner, they give my partner the same love and respect they show me. In the work place, they always ask about him, both male and female heterosexual co-workers.

Veronica Irene Macias
27, Mexican-American
Los Angeles, CA
Program Associate

For the first two years no one really knew much about me at work. Once I got engaged everyone found out. There were maybe 30 people sitting around the lunch area and a supervisor noticed I was wearing a ring and asked: “Are you engaged Veronica? Who is this guy? What does he do?” I had to tell a group of 20 people at once: “actually it is a women.”

I work at a pretty progressive office, so no one had a problem. During the campaign against Proposition 8, I would say 99 percent of my co-workers were against it. Though there were a couple of people that were outspoken against marriage for same-sex couples. When hosting phone banks at work against Prop 8, I had to walk a fine line. I was volunteering five out of seven days a week, so you can image how upset I was when Prop 8 passed. My co-workers came up to me and said “I am sorry” and said they will do more next time to help.

by Jorge Amaro

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