This story is outside the FT’s paywall (you do not need a subscription to access it) so it can be shared freely.
This year’s celebration of Pride for LGBT+ people will be like no other. After half a century of annual Pride marches, most mass gatherings around the world have been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. But in a sense, after 50 years, Pride has returned to its roots.
The first Pride was a protest against excessive policing of the LGBT+ community around the Stonewall Inn in Lower Manhattan. People of colour, notably trans women, played a key role in this original episode of resistance. This year, LGBT+ people from New York and London to Manila have marked Pride with protests, rather than parties, often joining the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. This Pride month also saw a landmark victory at the US Supreme Court, which ruled in June that transgender, lesbian and gay people are protected by the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s ban on discrimination on the basis of “sex”.
For many LGBT+ employees, the workplace can be a minefield and trying to guess who is supportive, indifferent or prejudiced preoccupies many LGBT+ people. Research suggests having to conceal their identity at work dents productivity and career advancement for LGBT+ workers. A 2017 UK government survey of more than 100,000 LGBT+ people found the workplace was one of the environments where people most frequently felt pressure to conceal their sexual orientation.
For the second time, FT employees have marked Pride month by sharing stories about coming out at work. As we said last year, these experiences are not always easy, but it does get better.
We would like to hear your own stories, if you are willing to share them, in the comments below. Please also note that this thread is being actively moderated. You can review our commenting guidelines here.
For me, coming out at work was not easy, first because you never want the fact you are gay to be what defines you in the workplace and secondly because the outcomes of exposing your sexuality are uncertain.
Being Brazilian and having lived for 17 years in Rio de Janeiro, one of the gayest capitals in the world, didn’t help much in my coming out. Just as you cautiously enter the icy water in the sea, I came out slowly, mostly because I was 25 and, alongside two other partners, was running a business that most people would consider masculine: car retail and car armouring — where vehicles are made bulletproof.
It took two years before I found the courage to sit down and open up to my business partners. The conversation was easy and the sensation of relief after was incredible. I had worked hard to deserve a place at that table and didn't want to lose everything because of a single sentence: “I am gay”
The next stage would be coming out to my direct team, six wonderful women. I spent most of my working days with them but it took another two years for me to feel comfortable enough to tell them. They were always sharing things about their personal lives. They had always been honest with me and I wanted to be honest too.
Once I had told them I was gay, I could practically feel the tension dissolving itself in the office and the air become lighter. All of them came to give me a hug and words of support, but not before telling me that it wasn’t a complete surprise. Our working relationships really improved afterwards and I realised that being yourself, and allowing people to know you better, is the key to happiness. Plus, you can redirect your energy away from policing yourself to make sure you look “straight” and into being productive and effective at work.
These experiences helped me build up my confidence and feel proud of myself, which is priceless.
Caio Bez is senior sales support co-ordinator, Europe, Middle East and Africa, for business to business sales at the Financial Times in London
More FT staff shared their stories in 2019
Dawn Budge, a senior developer: “When someone talks about being gay as a ‘lifestyle choice’, it makes me wonder what goes on in their head. What choices do they think I am making? What choices do they think they are making? You don’t get a choice about who you fall in love with. You do get a choice about whether or not you accept yourself. You get a choice of being open or hiding.” Read more
Maria Joyce Dreu
I was very lucky to have made a solid group of friends in college who are LGBT+. Coming from a quiet town in the Philippines and growing up in a Catholic household, living away from home at university was like a breath of fresh air and I got accustomed to being accepted for who I am.
When I moved to the big city at 21, I was shocked that my first company had a rule that employees were not allowed to dress as the opposite sex. My team leader at the time was a transwoman, and she had to have another set of “masculine” clothes and shoes to bring with her every day. The other team leaders also used the pronoun “it” when referring to her, passing it off as a friendly jibe — even though my team leader was clearly uncomfortable. Needless to say, I didn’t last long in that job. It was too stifling.
At the FT, I’ve had the chance to help organise FT Manila’s first Pride-themed office celebration and first-ever Pride march. I’ve also given a talk about Sogie (sexual orientation and gender identity expression). I found it ironic that even though my advocacy has always been education and visibility, I was still terrified of being known and being reduced to just “the queer person” at work. Because I am so much more than that. When you come out at work, people tend to put a label on you and expect you to act a certain way. I remember a friend telling me that his office mates were complaining that he doesn't act “gay enough”, as if being gay only means dressing up in drag and acting flamboyantly.
Coming out at the workplace is such a complex part of an LGBT+ person’s life. On the one hand, it doesn’t seem necessary to let your colleagues know about your sexuality. But on the other, it is important to be visible and be comfortable around people with whom you spend 40 hours a week. People really do perform better when they put their guards down and just focus on functioning best at work.
Coming out is a life-long, continuous process and it can be draining. I remember a colleague who invited me to their church group because they “had a lot of sinners who were cured by God’s words”. It was so out of the blue that I just said thank you.
As I write this, I realise this is me coming out again. And that is a privilege. It is daunting, but it is a meaningful step. And if this helps someone in some way, then I’m content.
Maria Joyce Dreu is a customer care executive for FT Customer Care in Manila
I moved from Los Angeles to New York City in 2016 just after New Year and had come out to my family only a week earlier. I can’t say that my timing wasn’t somewhat intentional as it meant less time spent answering questions about the “types” of guys I was into, or if grandchildren were “still on the table”. However, it also meant that for me, coming out was a drawn-out process.
In my first job in the city, it took me a year to come out to some colleagues. We were at a bar and I had just gone to an LGBT+ event, so when asked about my weekend, it just sort of happened. In my next job things got easier, I had a gay manager and LGBT+ teammates, so I felt more confident to let them know earlier. By the time I started working for the FT in 2018, my sexuality was just a natural part of my identity. For me, the initial fear of coming out at work was because at the time I didn’t know anyone else who had.
Growing up as an African American I’m familiar with the discomfort you can feel from being the only one like you in a room. Unlike my sexuality though, it wasn’t something I could hide, which forced me to own my identity and others to acknowledge it. So in the same way, bringing my entire self to the office means I’m visible to my colleagues. This has provided me unique opportunities professionally and throughout the business to impact company culture. More than anything though, I hope that it encourages others to be entirely and unashamedly themselves as well.
Andre Toure is customer success manager for new business at the FT in New York
More FT staff shared their stories in 2019
John Kundert, chief product officer: “My back-story was growing up in the Midlands, in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher. I attribute my academic failure largely to the internal turmoil I faced as a 15- to 16-year old: not knowing where to go or who to turn to in a pre-internet age, and in what felt to me like a hostile environment.” Read more
Marco Angelo Felizardo
Of all the things I heard about my sexuality, one experience left an indelible impression. A teacher at my school gave an hour-long talk that insinuated that gay people, because they are apparently “incapable of bearing offspring”, are as good as dross in society.
As someone who had been struggling to come to terms with who I am, in a largely conservative culture, hearing what my teacher was saying truly stung. I kept quiet, nonetheless. I reckoned that if I tried to refute her claim, I’d give her and the people around us a reason to believe that I was personally affected. Suffice to say, the fear that had gripped and prodded me to insecurity in those years was at its most palpable.
In A Litany for Survival, the poet Audre Lorde depicts the experience of being acquainted with such trepidation. In the poem, a medley of voices lament the pangs of being pariahs: “We were never meant to survive.” Despite this, they proclaim: “So it is better to speak.” Doing so may not arrest their inevitable meeting with damnation, but at least they won’t stay shackled by fear. Lorde’s piece highlights the kind of embittering experiences gay people endure. Such hardships can maim. Yet speaking up toughens us and builds one’s character.
Looking back, I no longer find myself bothered by my teacher’s statement. In fact, I now regard that moment and all the other instances in which I felt demeaned and demoralised with a bit of gratitude. Thanks to them, I’ve learnt to stand on my own feet and be dogged in everything I undertake, not least my career.
In my first few days in this job, the fear that I'd felt while in the closet came back to haunt me. However, coming out to a handful of work friends, as I did to my family and some friends a few years ago, dispelled and transformed that fear into candour, empathy, and fortitude — virtues that guide me in the workplace and beyond. In the spirit of those virtues, to my colleagues and loved ones who don’t know yet: yep, I’m gay.
Marco Angelo Felizardo is lead generation researcher, FT Board Director Programme, Manila
Get alerts on Workplace diversity & equality when a new story is published