by Dr. Claire Thompson, RPS Deputy Chief Scientist
I’ve written lots of blogs on science or leadership but never about being gay, so this is my first professional outing.
I’m fortunate in that I have never experienced overt homophobia in the workplace. This is in stark contrast to my personal life, where experiences have ranged from:
– Being abandoned by groups of friends at school;
– Family members not coming to my wedding because they didn’t “agree with it”; and
– Strangers in the street shouting “You deserve to die” for simply holding hands with my girlfriend. (No, this wasn’t the 1950s, it was 2003)
Even though they haven’t been painful professional experiences, it doesn’t mean there haven’t been uncomfortable ones. Like every time someone asks “What does your husband do?”. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve responded “They….” or “My partner….” Because I didn’t want people to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. But the longer you leave it, the more uncomfortable the discussion gets.
When is the right time?
So, when is the right time to say “She” or “My girlfriend” or “My wife”? Over the last few years, I’ve made a conscious decision to get “She” in early. The birth of my daughter really helped with this. As a proud parent, I would show people photographs and they would say “You look great for having a young baby” to which I could respond “Oh my wife gave birth to her, and she looks better than I do!” (See the photo below as proof). I find that openness, humour and a baby photo go a long way to diffusing any discomfort. Of course, there have been occasions where I have just taken the compliment (please don’t tell my wife)!
Coming out to colleagues still doesn’t come naturally, it always takes an element of bravery and I do admit that there are some people that I still don’t tell because I know they will judge me unfairly. Ultimately, we need to be comfortable with what we share about ourselves.
But if you do want people in the workplace to know that you are gay, take a deep breath and go for it.
Be brave. Be you.