Now that you have come out to yourself and have had some success telling other people close to you in your life, you are probably thinking about how to come out at work. Remember that once you begin to tell people in your personal life that you are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender, you cannot reasonably expect that secret to be maintained. It’s not fair for you to be able to come out, but then not allow anyone else in your life to “come out” as an ally or simply as your supportive friend. If there were rumors at work about your before, you can expect those rumors to increase or re-surface at work. Why is your life so interesting? Well, law enforcement folks, by their nature, are curious. In fact, I would say we are fascinated by each others lives. Whether motivated by interest or caused by boredom, we like to talk about each other all the time. It’s part of the culture everywhere I’ve ever been. It is the nature “of the beast.” What I’ve found most curious though is that we aren’t nearly as interested in facts or truth as we are about speculation and rumor. Once you do come out at work, you will find that the rumors stop because talking about what everyone knows isn’t very interesting.
There are a few things to think about before coming out at work. First of all, as of today, only 21 states provide for employment protection based on sexual orientation and or gender identity. This means that in the majority of states, you can still legally be fired simply for being a member of the LGBT community. I haven’t heard of it happening often, but I have talked with officers within the last couple of years who suffered from this kind of “legalized” discrimination. You should know where you stand legally before making the decision to talk about who you are at work. You should also review your agency policies and procedures as well as any municipal or county personnel rules and regulations related to discrimination. Knowing exactly where you stand will give you confidence as you make the decision to come out at work.
As much as law enforcement work and culture is the same, no matter where you are in the country, every agency does have aspects of its culture unique to the people working there. If you work for a small department where everyone from the chief or sheriff down to the part time volunteer knows everyone else, think about talking to your chief or sheriff first. Whether its out of respect for the position or relationship, having support from the top helps. Now of course, this assumes you do in fact know your agency executive well enough to know he or she will be supportive. I’ve talked to a lot of officers who told me that telling their chief was important and knowing of their support made the rest of the process easier. In larger agencies, as a line officer, you may not have any connection with the chief or sheriff at all, so coming out to them probably isn’t an issue. Consider your assignment, the relationships you have with supervisors and peers, and your own comfort level. You also need to think about any “beards” or “cover stories” you’ve used to conceal your sexuality as these facts and stories need to be undone. If you work with a partner on the job, respect that relationship and consider telling your work partner first. I don’t recommend doing it on duty or even around the work place. You don’t want to risk having someone overhear your conversation or, worse yet, have a hot call go down right in the middle of telling your story. Like in the last article, find a place to have lunch or dinner, set aside a good amount of time for conversation, and then go for it. Be ready for questions and don’t set yourself up for any one particular reaction. If it doesn’t go well, be prepared to let it go for the moment and give your work partner time to think about what you’ve said.
One of the common reactions I encountered as I came out to people at work and to friends in my life is, “why didn’t you feel comfortable telling me before?” It’s not that you didn’t tell THEM, it’s that you didn’t tell anyone. Make it about you, not them. Coming out is a very personal decision that, in this profession, takes courage above and beyond. Explain yourself without making excuses or placing blame. That was then and this is now.
It took a good year for rumors and gossip to stop after I came out. No one ever said a negative thing to my face. While I’m sure there was a lot talked about behind my back, I never heard about it. People at your work place will talk and there is nothing you can do about. Encourage open dialogue and remember, your co-workers will be as comfortable with you as you are with yourself.