Is coming out bad for your career?

This is a discussion that started on Steve and Zk’s Blank Page No.5 at the weekend. ZK suggested the discussion begin with the comments of X-Men 2 actor Alan Cumming. He’s said the media’s attitude towards homosexuality is scaring off gay actors from coming out. It turned in to a far broader discussion about whether gay people fear that coming out will damage their prospects at work. Do you think that’s the case? And they have reason to be concerned?

If you’re gay, do your colleagues know? If they do, what was their reaction? If they don’t, why have you not told them?

And what about the broader issue of knowing a colleague’s sexuality? Should being gay have an impact on someone’s career? And would you rather your gay colleagues didn’t make their homosexuality public?

19 Responses to “Is coming out bad for your career?”

  1. 1 Brett
    May 6, 2008 at 14:28

    And what about the broader issue of knowing a colleague’s sexuality?
    I’m fine knowing someone I work with’s sexuality, I’m also just as fine not knowing… It’s a job, not a social gathering where I’m trying to pick someone up or date someone.

    Should being gay have an impact on someone’s career?
    Absolutely not.

    And would you rather your gay colleagues didn’t make their homosexuality public?
    Why? It doesn’t matter to me. Often times, its not too difficult to tell anyways. And again, someones sexuality is of no concern to me in the workplace.

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  2. 2 Ana Milena, Colombia
    May 6, 2008 at 15:32

    Hi! 🙂
    I must admit that, in spite of living in a suposedly ‘open-minded’ world, there’s still too much homophobia. These weeks we’ve talked in some occasions about ptototypes and this is not the exception.

    I’m not a lesbian, but I’ve had co-workers with different sexual tendencies. I think that, as long as it doesn’t affect your professional performance, it shouldn’t affect a person’s career. I’ve met straight people who spoil their careers somehow… Is their sexual choice linked? Nop. On the other hand, some straight as well as gay people are passionate about their job, they do their best. That’s what really matters.

    I find it annoying when some actors/actresses concentrate too much on spreading the news of their sexual tendency. Of course, they can express it, but they shouldn’t turn it into a show.
    After all, it’s a serious issue.

    Cheers! 😉

  3. 3 steve
    May 6, 2008 at 15:34

    I don’t think anyone’s sexuality should be revealed or discussed at work. It’s unprofessional to discuss your personal life at work. I once had a lesbian coworker, who wore it on her sleeve, and people thought it was innappropriate. It’s not like we go around talking about our girlfriends or wives. She really went over the line, many times, but realized she couldn’t get in trouble because she could then claim discrimination. I think people should leave their personal lives at home, you’re at your job to make money for your boss, nothing else.

  4. 4 Joan Peters
    May 6, 2008 at 15:37

    In regards specifically to Alan Cumming’s career of acting, I can understand where he may be coming from. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, two heterosexual men, received great accolades for their portrayal of men in a gay relationship. I responded in myself that it was great acting, and believable portrayals. Actor T.R. Knight from Grey’s Anatomy is a fine actor, yet I find it much more difficult to believe and remove my awareness of his real life sexuality from the role of a heterosexual man he is playing on the show. I wonder if this is my own bias and belief system or is there something to the fact that when a man or woman is gay I believe them to be gay and gay only…When someone is heterosexual, I am more able to believe in the possibility of their being bi-sexual. I recognize that this is unfairly biased, yet it is something I have noticed myself feeling. Besides, Alan Cumming is an incredible actor.

  5. 5 Peter Gizzi UK
    May 6, 2008 at 15:42

    Being homosexual I obviously don’t see why it should make a difference. I’m one of the “obvious” ones Brett refers to. It has never affected me in job applications. There was usually someone else too. The old saying it takes one to know one. The one time I had to change an application form was when I put “none” in the religion section. This was the early 80s. The boss asked me to put something!

    If someone wishes to remain in the closet though that is their choice and should be no-one else’s business.

    See blank page 5 for lots more about me. Hope your are not too shocked. It did get some very touching responses

  6. 6 Ana Milena, Colombia
    May 6, 2008 at 15:49

    I think sexual tendencies can be revealed at work, but not in detail. If we’ve got to share 8 hours of our day with a variety of people and we’ve got the opportunity to know something about their families, goals, likes, dislikes, etc., this topic shouldn’t be avoided, as long as it doesn’t become a show or a scandal. It’s part of who we are, anyway.
    If the person feels free to say it, then he can. If he prefers to keep it to himself, it’s welcomed.

    Hugs! 🙂

  7. 7 Will Rhodes
    May 6, 2008 at 15:57

    And what about the broader issue of knowing a colleague’s sexuality?

    I have known the preference and sexuality of many work-mates, made no difference to me at all, but 90% of them were fearful of coming out.

    Should being gay have an impact on someone’s career?

    Certainly not!

    And would you rather your gay colleagues didn’t make their homosexuality public?

    I am not really sure what you mean by that but, if I am correct in assuming, you mean to be openly ‘camp’ or a radical gay rights activist – then no, I would prefer them to do it on their own time.

  8. May 6, 2008 at 17:07

    It depends on the person, the situation, and the job really. Some people may actually not be offended by homosexuality, but they lack the social strength to show disapproval in a group of people making fun of, or harassing somebody who is gay. Some people may find they are in a situation where trying to work with somebody who has been singled out makes life more difficult for them. Makes it harder for them to get their work done or to get a promotion.

    Many jobs, especially high profile occupations like Masculine sports stars, or actors/ actresses, or politicians have a more difficult time coming out. This is the result of the fact that the general masses are ignorant and intolerant to anybody who is “different”. Of course if we could solve that human race wide problem, we would have world peace.

  9. 9 viola anderson
    May 6, 2008 at 17:15

    If a gay person’s past experience in revealing his sexual preference has been negative in getting work, it’s probably better not to reveal it. It’s no one’s business, anyway, if it isn’t illegal to be gay.

  10. 10 Brett
    May 6, 2008 at 17:27

    I’m one of the “obvious” ones Brett refers to.
    Peter, I hope no offence was taken at that statement and I appologize if any was, none was intended at all.

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  11. 11 Peter Gizzi UK
    May 6, 2008 at 17:49

    Brett No offence at all! I was trying to indicate that I am “camp” by nature. It’s not an act but just the way I was born. I have had friends who were very masculine in appearance and behaviour. Like life in general we come in a great variety of “types”

    Thanks for your concern.

  12. 12 Alex Elliott
    May 6, 2008 at 19:13

    In my experience, NOT coming out at work does more harm to your career. Being comfortable and at home in the office is so important in creating the right working environment.

    People in my new office don’t know yet (because it just hasn’t come up, and I don’t believe in saying for no reason). The result is that I come across as the shy new guy. It seems I need to “come out” to come out!

    The argument that sexuality has no place at work is ridiculous, because straight workers constantly talk about their partners without even realising it. And that is a good thing of course.

    Finally, I would say it really does depend on the workplace. Film actors really do seem to have just as hard a time of it as builders and fishermen – a fact I find odd given the situation of their counterparts in theatre.

  13. 13 Jonathan Rasmussen
    May 6, 2008 at 19:18

    I should think that each individual gay person knows best whether or not his/her career would be imperiled by being openly gay. It depends on the culture, the location, the co-workers. Some would be in danger, and others wouldn’t. That said, the job of an actor is in this respect unique, as it depends on the audience “forgetting” what they know, or think they know, about an actor, to believe for two hours that he has become the character he plays. Apparently the fact of being gay has enough impact on enough people that they cannot accept a gay actor playing a straight character. I’d submit that it’s a very different matter from a typical workplace.

  14. 14 steve
    May 6, 2008 at 19:36

    @ Alex

    Given so many marriages are sexless these days, does speaking of a “wife” have anything to do with sexuality any more? hahah. Sorry, i tried to make a joke.

    Maybe things are different where you live, and I avoid office politics, but the guys I know at work never ever talk about their wives or girlfriends other than “i’m getting married, see you in two weeks, bye”.. I do think the women tend to talk about their personal lives more, which I still dont’ think belongs in the workplace. yesterday I heard some woman talk about her shopping spree she went on and how she was drinking all weekend and not realizing where she woke up in the morning. Not good, not professional. Keep that stuff to yourself.

  15. 15 Jazbleidy Gutierrez, Colombia
    May 6, 2008 at 20:44

    I think that gay people musn´t feel fear of coming out
    because in this days is normal that any person express his feelings and tendency.

    In my case I am not gay but I have many friends who are homosexuals and they told me, and my reaction about it was normal, since to me it doesn´t matter wether they like man, woman or both, the important is that they feel good and carry on with their lifes.

    Finally, I think that make homosexuality public musn´t have an impact on someone’s career because this is part of the private life of the person and the most important in a job is the abilities that the person have,and I am according with my friends of making their homosexuality public.

  16. 16 Dennis Young, Jr.
    May 7, 2008 at 06:48

    I agreed with what Dwight in Cleveland says….

    Madrid, United States of America

  17. 17 Dennis Cote
    May 7, 2008 at 07:56

    I worked with a group of 7 people, we were a close knit lot, so I told a few.
    It didn’t change the atmosphere. Never made a difference.
    It had nothing to do with my work, so it went over well.
    Work’s not a dating service, so I kept it to myself when on the job.

  18. 18 Katharina in Ghent
    May 7, 2008 at 12:43

    I think it all depends on the personality. If the homosexual person is comfortable with his/her life and sees it just as “that’s the way it is”, then the person will probably not run into problems at work when coming out. After all, we’re all adults here and come to work for our job.

    If on the other hand s/he tries to make a big deal out of it and patronizes everybody else about it in the office, then it quickly becomes very annoying for the co-workers. It’s just like a straight guy who tries to hit on female coworkers all the time or makes stupid jokes.

    What I find a bit strange is how ie. in Canada, Civil servants can choose whether or not they want to perform gay marriages, if they don’t want to, then someone else has to do it. To me, as a Civil servant, you should stand above these issues and it’s not about your life, anyway.

  19. 19 S Saroj Kumar
    May 9, 2008 at 18:32

    The more serious problem faced by gay community especially in a country like India (my home country) is being vulnerable to the AIDS epidemic. A healthy survey by the union government revealed that 12.5 per cent of newly detected HIV cases are from MSMs (Men having Sex with Men). This is quite shocking as it top charts followed by needle users and amorous heterosexuals. It is also quite hard to understand why not many of the gays do not forge and sustain monogamous relationships in their sexual life.

    Being a secular democratic country except for the societal rebuke gays’ do not have much of a problem here, but the horrific treatment meted out to gays’ in some Islamic countries smack all the world humanness. The human right abuses of gays are quite undocumented and under-reported in such countries. It’s time for the UN to host a world sex congress focusing on eradication of discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual choice at work place and place of worship.

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