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Coming Out at Work

Should You Come Out to Your Boss and Co-Workers

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Can coming out as a gay man or a lesbian affect your career? Will your employer not promote you? Will your boss and co-workers treat you differently? Could it even cause you to lose your job? Would any of that even matter to you if you couldn't be your true self at work?

Whether or not to make your sexual orientation known at work is your decision alone. Alan Gilmour, a retired Ford Motor Company executive who did not officially come out while he was an executive at Ford, lost out on two promotions ("My Life as a Gay Executive", Fortune Magazine, September 8, 1997). Though his being gay was a subject of office gossip, Gilmour cannot say whether it affected his shot at promotion. Retired, he is now a board member at several large companies.

In 1994, a group of gay and lesbian Ford employees formed an organization, GLOBE, to represent their concerns. Not all companies are as receptive to the needs of their gay and lesbian employees, and fear repercussions from anti-gay groups. Certain groups have boycotted corporations that support gay rights. In the Fortune article, though, Mr. Gilmour says this may not be as pressing an issue as one might think: "few people are going to spend the time and energy trying to figure out what they should not be buying."

At the present time there is no federal law that prohibits employers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and only some states have enacted such a law. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would, as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act, prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, was passed by the House of Representatives in 2007. It has not yet been passed by the US Senate. The fact that there is not much legal protection from discrimination might weigh heavily in your decision to come out. However, you must determine if you want to be employed by a company that discriminates.

Here are some resources that could help you as you decide whether to come out at work:

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