Dear Dr. Gay Nerd-
I’m really sorry if this isn’t the right type of question because I know that you’ve been doing relationship questions, but I wanted to see if you would answer this anyways. I visit the forums, but I’m more of just a lurker. I really like reading everything posted and I figured I could ask your opinion about this. I’m a lesbian, but not out to that many people. Pretty much all of my friends accept me and my immediate family knows and they are slowly coming around.
But my issue is related to my job. I’m not out to anyone at work and it’s kind of awkward sometimes. The people I work with are all very friendly and we like to get together once or twice a month to do stuff together. I’m definitely a part of the group and that’s really nice. Just none of them know that I’m a lesbian. And I’m not sure that I want to tell them. I think most of the people I work with would take it okay, but I don’t know if the people we deal with would be cool with it.
I just feel kind of conflicted about this. I’m proud of who I am and I don’t want to have to hide. I don’t mind brushing off my coworkers’ attempts to set me up with guys and all, but during those times that I do get to date someone nice, I don’t want to have to hide her. I also feel like I’m being a bad lesbian. With the fight for marriage around, I feel like I should be taking more of a stance for gay rights. The biggest problem is that my state still allows for job discrimination based on sexuality, and there is the possibility that I could lose my job.
I’m not prepared to quit my job, however. Even though some of the circumstances suck, I’m still doing really good work and I like what I do. I’m pretty much torn. I guess my question boils down to what my personal responsibility is as a lesbian? I believe in equal rights, I’m proud of who I am, and in my personal life, I’m pretty much out. My professional life, though, I’m still closeted. Do I have an obligation to come out in my workplace too?
-Not Quite Norma Rae
I’m really glad that you wrote in. This column isn’t meant only for relationship issues. Dr. Gay Nerd is for anything gay, nerdy, lovelorn, or personal that you may want advice on. I promise to always do my best, giving you advice straight from the heart.
Your situation is one that many LGBT people find themselves in and it’s a situation that often ties us all together, nerds or not. We don’t all get to live in gay utopias and even those of us who do find ourselves living in places that are rather accepting of gays and lesbians will still come across prejudice and opposition. While LGBT people are slowly growing on the public at large, we’ve unfortunately still got a long way to go.
You sound as though your job may be in jeopardy if you come out, however, which certainly puts you into a delicate position. You’re doing good by doing work that you love. While taking a stand may be a positive thing to do, getting fired for being a lesbian may only stop you from continuing to do good on a regular basis. Therefore, you need to think carefully about how much of an impact you are going to have by coming out of the closet.
Personally, I believe in Harvey Milk’s philosophy that once you put a human face on LGBT issues, it’s much harder for people to be as hateful towards gays and lesbians as they were before. If you can make a positive impression for the LGBT community by coming out, proving that we are everywhere, just as loving and devoted as everyone else, and just as capable at our jobs, coming out will be a wise choice. I personally think that you will be able to do this. If you are as integrated into your workplace as you say you are, you can make a positive influence by coming out. This doesn’t mean you should run into work tomorrow and hastily fling open your closet door.
Coming out, no matter when or where you do it, should always be conducted on your own terms. You should always make sure you know who you are going to say it to and what you are going to say. Start by coming out to the people who you feel will accept you the most. By growing in comfort around them, you can grow in your confidence and eventually make the decision to come out professionally.
I can’t promise you that if you come out, everything is going to be okay. Things might be very not okay, actually. Many states still do not protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination, meaning that you can be legally fired simply for being gay. This may be something that you want to investigate more relating to your particular location. Having been through this myself, however, I can tell you that a weight will be lifted from your shoulders. You already know this to a large degree, as you already have come out in your personal life. Coming out professionally will remove the last of that strain. But this is something that only you can decide if you are ready for. Coming out is always a very personal and trying experience and, as such, you should only do it on your terms.
I really hope this helps.
-Dr. Gay Nerd
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Tags: advice, ask dr. gay nerd, civil rights, coming out, gay discrimination, gay marriage, gay pride, gay-nerds, job, job discrimination, lesbian nerds, lesbian pride, obligation, responsibility, social responsibility, workplace