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Why I Decided to Come Out at Work
We need to put in the work to make sure we create a safe and inclusive workforce for all
Thursday, April 01, 2021
A study from Workplaces That Work For Women revealed that 59% of non-LBTQ employees believe it’s "unprofessional" to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace.
It’s this kind of mentality that reinforces the hostility that LGBTQIA+ employees face in the workplace. The same study showed that 46% of LGBTQ workers in the US are closeted in the workplace, and over 53% have heard lesbian and gay jokes at work in 2018. These are just some statistics that paint a clear picture: we need to put in the work to make sure we create a safe and inclusive workforce for all.
My company, Mondelēz International, recently partnered with PFLAG through OREO for the #ProudParent platform. This initiative aims to empower and inspire parents, families, and allies of LGBTQIA+ members to come out in loud, public support. This groundbreaking campaign by my employer has inspired me to share my point of view and help further this important conversation.
I never talk about my "coming out" process because I never deemed it necessary in the professional setting, but mostly because it was a painful one. It involved endless nights filled with arguments that would lead to tears, distancing from loved ones as they expressed their disappointment and disapproval, and even a brief stint in conversion therapy. As a 19-year-old back then, I did not have the emotional intelligence or the right resources to deal with that burden.
Growing up on a small, conservative island, I always felt like an outcast. I didn’t quite understand it then, but before I even came to the realization that I was gay, I was often labeled by other kids as "rarito" (weird). Family members, actual adults, would have conversations behind my back and used exaggerated mannerisms to describe me and make fun of me. I vividly remember being eight years old, dancing in front of the mirror to Shakira’s Grandes Exitos album, and consequently getting grounded because one of my uncles said I was acting like a girl.
Being immersed in a deep heteronormative culture, I struggled to fit in. I didn’t quite know why, but I knew I was different. My classmates would tease me because I wasn’t good at sports and that I preferred to hang out with girls. I constantly found myself hiding the music and shows that I liked in fear of being called out and made fun of.
Things got better when I went to a progressive university. I was able to make dozens of friends from the LGBTQIA+ community. I was part of a queer support group, where we would share our daily experiences. I eventually gained the confidence I needed to slowly put down the mask I had been wearing for years, finally revealing the person I truly was inside. College was truly a safe space, and it really got me through the repercussions of coming out at home.
That openness was concealed once I started my career. I was terrified of bonding with other colleagues. I dreaded the inevitable "do you have a girlfriend?" question. I would get extremely anxious if one of my peers would find me on social media and sent me a friend request, because I knew they would learn about my sexual orientation by just looking at my Facebook. Whenever a team Holiday dinner came up, I wouldn’t feel comfortable enough bringing my then partner as my plus one, even though everybody else would show up with their significant others. I would constantly tell myself that by outing my queerness, I wouldn't be taken seriously.
When I joined my company’s LGBTQIA+ employee resource group, I found a safe space to talk about those things that made me "me". I was honored with the opportunity of representing Mondelēz at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit 2019, and for the first time in my corporate career, I felt empowered to bring my full self to work, queerness included. Getting the opportunity to attend insightful workshops and connect with hundreds of members of the community really was one of the most life-changing experiences I've ever had.
Being part of the Rainbow Council at Mondelēz has given me the chance to learn about my colleagues and their unique stories. It fueled my motivation and gave me the courage to also be vocal and openly proud. I work for a company that truly believes in being "stronger together" through the things that makes us individually unique, and I can happily say I've been fully embraced by my peers and mentors. By being "out", I feel inspired to bring important points of view about the LGBTQIA+ community to the table and bring awareness to how our experiences shape us in and outside of the workplace.
We have accomplished so much since the Stonewall riots back in ’69, but there’s still so much ground to cover. Just this year, six transgender people have been brutally murdered in Puerto Rico, and the perpetrators of these hate crimes are still roaming free. The local government strongly opposes to implement education with an emphasis on gender perspective in schools, therefore allowing the country’s machismo rampant culture to thrive and endanger the lives of women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. At the federal stage, our rights are already being targeted by Supreme Court Justices Thomas and Alito, knowing that reinforcements are on the way.
It is imperative that we provide safe paces to have these conversations as we strive for inclusivity and acceptance. From training the workforce on using the right pronouns and inclusive language to allowing LGBTQIA+ members to be their full selves without fear of discrimination and guaranteeing basic health benefits, we can effect positive change by having these dialogues all-year round and not just during Pride Month.
When I think of "Coming Out Day", I can’t help to think about six-year-old me crying in the back of the car because I couldn’t get the doll I wanted to play with. I think of sixteen-year-old me listening to my Lady Gaga Born This Way record with my headphones on and quietly singing the lyrics so I wouldn’t be made fun of. I also think about twenty-four-year-old me, when my dad got me and him "Equality" bracelets and said that he’d go to any march for gay rights with me.
Though there’s been some struggles along the way, I am privileged to be fully "out" to my family, friends and colleagues. Sadly, many around the world are still being prosecuted for being who they are. And with my privilege, comes the responsibility of speaking up about how to shape a better work environment for everyone.
Robert Eichberg wrote for The New York Times back in 1995 that "homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance". I am doing my part for those who are still not able to come out, and while it’s a very personal choice, I choose to own my queerness as it’s a fundamental part of who I am.