Coming Out In The Workplace: How Cis- and Straight People Should Respond

I’ll disclaimer this by saying I’m just a gay person, not a gay expert or expert on coming out in the workplace. This is how I would like people to respond, take it or leave it.

The proper, considerate and professional response when a coworker comes out at work and tells you they are either by outing themselves (i.e. “I have a wife”), using a pronoun after playing the pronoun game (finally saying he or she, instead of they) or any other way that clearly tells you that they have a same sex partner, is with the exact question you would ask if they brought up that they had a partner of the opposite sex:

Oh, and what do they do?

Stop and think about that. Think about the last time you were at a barbeque and you met a new neighbor or friend. Think about the conversations and introductions. That’s how straight people introduce themselves and it turns out it’s completely normal to do that with gay people too.

What Are They Thinking?: Coming Out In The Workplace Isn’t Easy

The question is not “wait, you’re gay?”

Now, to turn the tables, I get why you asked the question. It’s great awareness and it’s appreciated. You realize the other half of this equation might have some hesitation. Here’s what a gay person (that’d be me) is typically thinking when outing themselves to you:

  1. I’m 100% aware that I’m outing myself to you.
  2. This is a moment that I’ve probably anticipated and I’m about to share something with you that I maybe received a negative reaction to before.
  3. I’m sharing this with you because I trust you – whether inherently because I feel safe in that space or it’s something we’ve built over time.
  4. I get it if you’re not instantly sure of what to say for some reason or another.

And #4 is why I’m blogging about it and would suggest the “what do they do” question – because it’s normal.

HRC has more practical guides to coming out at work if you’re interested in the logistics and legal protections you might need, but broadly my advice for straight people is this: act cool.

LGBT and Diversity

Katrina Kibben View All →

Katrina Kibben is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Three Ears Media. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions for engaging and hiring better people. Today, she uses her technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver content that fuels smart recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply.

Katrina has written for Monster.com, HR.com, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.

2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Thank you for your candor, Katrina! It was a lightbulb for me as I’ve never been presented with the situation so really hadn’t thought much about it. That said, and while it feels like a totally common sense response, I’m glad I’m better prepared to respond now than blurting out something nonsensical, which can totally happen when caught on the fly! I’m just kind of sad that we live in a world where coworkers we love and trust have to stress even one second about how their straight colleagues will respond.

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