Sebastian Diaz
Jul 9, 2024

Why coming out is a continuous journey

A workplace that fosters inclusivity, diversity, and belonging can significantly ease the burden of coming out for LGBTQ+ individuals, says Bench Media's Sebastian Diaz.

Why coming out is a continuous journey

While corporations don the rainbow logos each June for Pride, the Diversity Council of Australia found that only one-third of LGBTQ+ individuals are publicly out to everyone with whom they work.

While many might envision the moment of coming out as a single conversation or announcement, the reality is far more complex. It's an ongoing process that unfolds over time, influenced by shifting dynamics, evolving relationships, and changing organisational culture.

For me, that was a lived experience.

In July 2017, I publicly came out as gay. A month later, I had to come out again, telling my friends and family I had started employment at one of Australia's most conservative brands.

In typical fashion, my timing was impeccable. Often, I was met with the one-two punch reaction from friends and family: "Wait, you're gay, and you work there?"

Coming to terms with a new sense of self, I felt I didn't need to interact my personal life with my work. But coming out in a workplace—especially with new colleagues in a new, 'conservative' environment—seemed far too uphill a challenge.

In my first few weeks in my new role, our induction process included the typical go-to icebreakers:

"Who was your childhood crush?"

"What's your guilty pleasure TV show?"

For many of those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, we weigh the potential risks against the benefits of openness, often grappling with questions of safety, job security, and professional advancement.

To preserve the latter, I found myself scrambling for straight-safe answers. Truthfully, I was knee-deep in bringing RuPaul's Drag Race Season 9.

In a pure panic, my response was muted and uninspiring:

"Britney Spears. And I don't watch TV".

While I look back on that moment in disappointment (not at Britney), I also had to give myself sympathy.

In Australia, 2017 was a strange time to come out. The Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey meant the debate on same-sex marriage was fierce and heated. Since then, research has found that legitimised homophobic rhetoric at the time was related to increased levels of depression, anxiety, and stress among same-sex attracted Australians. Much of that was masked as ‘healthy debate’.

At the time, self-preservation and a fear of the unknown made it easier to keep my mask on in a new workplace.

The highly contentious postal survey results were announced on November 15—four months after starting my role. Small gestures throughout the week eased my concerns—rainbow bunting was placed throughout the office, and management had all TVs in the office switched on to watch the announcement. And with that, 61.6% of Australians voted in favour of same-sex marriage.

It was, however, the following actions that cemented my comfort in coming out at work when management disseminated the following email:

"To celebrate the results of today's plebiscite, we invite our LGBTQ+ staff and allies to leave work at midday today and celebrate at Prince Alfred Park. Drinks and food on us!"

Pride Month in a workplace reminds us that the journey of coming out isn't an individual experience - it's also deeply intertwined with the organisational culture and policies in place.

A workplace that fosters inclusivity, diversity, and belonging can significantly ease the burden of coming out for LGBTQ+ individuals. In every workplace I’ve worked in since, corporate mandates are publicly present to celebrate all forms of diversity actively and purposely, be it religious celebrations or Mardi Gras celebrations.

Creating such a space for those individuals creates intangible benefits to both the individual and the company. The Diversity Council of Australia found that those who are out to everyone at work are 50% more likely to innovate than those who are not and 35% more likely to work highly effectively within their team.

Conversely, environments that mask support or affirmative measures may compel us to conceal or downplay our identities, perpetuating a cycle of invisibility and erasure.

Ultimately, coming out in the workplace is an ongoing process—a continuous negotiation between authenticity and adaptation. Workplace support for Pride initiatives helps make the process more natural and fluid. Still, for LGBTQ+ members, it’s about finding a balance between asserting our identities and navigating the complexities of professional life.

I have moved on from the “conservative” working environment where I came out and am now at Bench. I have found a place where I come to work and am comfortable being who I am. At Bench, our sexuality is not considered: we are encouraged to be our whole selves at work, share our different perspectives, be part of a team, and ultimately do a great job for our clients.

Pride helps us recognise that the journey doesn't end with a single revelation but unfolds as a dynamic, ever-evolving narrative of courage, resilience, and authenticity as we strive for greater inclusivity and understanding.

Sebastian Diaz is the senior digital solutions lead at Bench Media.

Campaign Asia

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