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Gay Employees Weigh Coming-Out Issues

Gay Employees Weigh Coming-Out Issues

By Robert DiGiacomo, for Yahoo! HotJobs

Every gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT) person must figure out the right time -- and most appropriate way -- to come out to family and friends. Transfer the coming-out situation to the workplace, and it becomes even more complex.

Even as most Fortune 500 corporations tout GLBT-friendly policies as recruitment tools and the workforce becomes more diverse, many factors -- including office culture, your boss' attitude and your state of mind -- must be considered before telling your colleagues that you're gay.

Does the Company Talk the Talk?

If you work for an employer like IBM, which includes sexual orientation as well as gender expression and identity in its nondiscrimination policies, offers domestic partner benefits and sponsors nearly 50 GLBT employee groups, you're probably in good stead.

But only 17 US states prohibit private employers from firing workers because of their sexual orientation, so knowing your company's policies is critical, says Jere Keys, communications manager for Out and Equal, a nonprofit workplace advocacy for GLBT people.

The Impact on the Team

Consider whether your coming out will prove a distraction on your -- and your coworkers' ability -- to achieve the best bottom line.

"When we advise people on coming out at work we want to make sure that they are aware of their workplace surroundings, that they take the temperature of teammates to get a feel for whether or not they will be accepting," said Eric Bloem, associate director of the Human Rights Campaign's Workplace Project. "The last thing we want is for people to come out into a situation where they feel even more stressed, concerned and fearful than when they were in the closet."

Beyond the Rainbow Welcome Mat

Inclusive policies are one thing, people's practices are another. Your boss may not be as open to your being gay as those setting the tone.

"If you have people in powerful positions with personal biases, it doesn't matter what the company's policy is," says Julie Jansen, a career coach and motivational speaker.

Avoid TMI

When you do come out -- whether it's by putting a photo of your partner on your desk or discussing your weekend activities --  don't share so much that you make others uncomfortable.

"It can't hurt you to be overly professional," Jansen says. "Then you can learn to loosen up as time goes on."

Let Your Resume Do the Work

If you prefer to have your orientation out there before you even get the job, one way is to list on your resume memberships in GLBT professional or community groups.

Including such affiliations, according to Brad Salavich, manager of IBM's GLBT diversity programs, sends a signal that "here's someone who wants to be out. We can now talk about it."

The Interview Strategy

By inquiring about nondiscrimination policies or domestic partner benefits during an interview, you can come out without having to say, "Yep, I'm gay."

"I encourage my gay and lesbian clients to ask about diversity," Jansen says. "It's going to be obvious in many cases why you're asking."

Be Honest with Yourself

Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is whether you can work in a place where it's not OK to be out.

"If you don't feel like you can disclose your sexual orientation in an interview, are you ever going to feel like you can disclose it on the job -- and is that the environment you want to be working in?" Keys says.