how do I know if it’s safe to be out at work … and other questions about LGBTQ+ issues at work

After a post earlier this year about coming out as queer mid-career, an LGBTQ+ reader contacted me to ask if she could share more advice for LGBTQ+ readers and allies. Pulling from her own experience creating an LGBTQ+ employee resource group at her workplace and serving on the board of a nonprofit that serves the LGBTQ+ community, she offered up answers to the following nine questions that come up in this realm frequently.

First, her caveat: “Please note that my guidelines below are U.S.-centric, and that unfortunately it is still unsafe for many people to come out in some or all areas of their lives. Each individual has a right to come out when and if they deem appropriate, and their reasons are not for anyone else to judge. If someone’s gender or sexual identity confuses you, consider saying nothing, instead of asking an inappropriate question to a stranger or work acquaintance.”

On to the FAQ!

1. How do I know if a company I’m interviewing at is LGBTQ+ friendly?

This one is tricky because you might have an affirming hiring manager but a really homophobic person in another department who makes life more difficult. LGBTQ+ affirming companies will show commitments to diversity and inclusion. For example, a company might have an affinity group for LGBTQ+ employees or be involved in local Pride parades or organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign or the National Diversity Council, as well as ensuring their polices are supportive of all people. Supportive policies and identifiers include things like same-sex partner benefits, trans-affirming healthcare, and the ability to identify gender as something other than male/female on forms.

Some companies giving lip service to inclusivity by making gestures like changing their logo to rainbow colors in June, but may not have laid any real groundwork to make  LGBTQ+ employees feel safe being out at work. To tell the difference, ask your interviewers about their commitments to diversity, inclusion, and equity, and listen to the response. Is it concrete, with examples? Or is it more of a vague idea of inclusiveness, with no concrete steps they can point to? If the latter, make sure you really do your research about the company and organization to ensure it is a workplace right for you.

2. How do I know if it’s okay to be out at work?

You are the best judge of your personal safety in your workplace based on your individual experience. That said, if other people are out at work, that may be an indication of how safe it is to be out at your workplace. Generally if there is an LGBTQ+ group at your company, you will likely be safer to out yourself if you choose to. If there aren’t any LGBTQ+ groups or people who are openly out, you can observe the behavior and communications of the people you work with, and look for signs of an affirming culture, such as pictures of same-sex couples on desks, mentions of same-sex partners and loved ones, and people talking positively about LGBTQ+ issues and rights.

For example, at one place I worked, I had one colleague and friend who was initially the only openly gay person in the office, and would talk about going on dates or going to Pride. Because that person was comfortable being who they were, others who were also not heterosexual felt safer coming out at work, myself included. Being the first openly out person is never easy, and I would never recommend coming out if you didn’t feel safe. If you’ve worked at a place for more than a couple months and feel comfortable with a colleague or two, you might try, for example, mentioning hanging out with a gay couple on the weekend and check for biases. That can help you start to get a better idea of if you would feel safe coming out.

3. How do I tell my boss/employer I will be transitioning?

I’d first recommend reaching out to your LGBTQ+ group if you have one at your workplace. If not, make sure that you are familiar with your rights and your company’s policies. Consider reaching out to LGBTQ+ affirming groups in your area, or organizations like Out in Tech, Out & Equal, Pride at Work, oStem, etc. While you may be the first person at your employer to transition, you are hopefully not the first person to transition at work in your state, and you will be able to research what has worked for others, as well as potentially network with other transgender people in your field.

4. How do I share my pronouns at work?

Normalize saying your name and your pronouns, such as “Hi, I’m Alison, I use she/her pronouns” or “Hi, I’m Chaz, I use they/them pronouns.” You can also put them in your signature if you like. Even if you are male-presenting and use he/him pronouns or female-presenting and use she/her pronouns, sharing your own pronouns creates space for others to share theirs. The HRC has more advice about this here.

5. How do I talk to my company about creating LGBTQ+ inclusive policies?

If you have an HR business partner, start with them. If you are at smaller company, start with whoever handles the HR type stuff, and prepare to take on some of the legwork as there likely will not be budget. Consider contacting organizations in your area that work on these issues; some might even be willing to review your existing policies and make recommendations.

When you talk to your contact, here’s a sample script you could use: “I really enjoy working here, and with last year’s Supreme Court ruling that sexual orientation and gender identity are federally protected from discrimination at work, we might want to ensure that our policies and procedures remain current in today’s workplace. This is an area I am passionate about, and I was wondering if I could help create LGBTQ+ inclusive policies for our company.”

If they agree, yay! Ask for time to review the existing policies to make recommendations. For example, you may want to ensure that language and dress code are gender neutral and your policies and insurance plans cover same-sex partners, coverage for surrogacy and adoption, and/or transgender-affirming medical procedures. If you get a non-answer or a no, say that you think it will be a bigger issue in the future and ask if you can check in again in six months.

6. How do I start an LGBTQ+ group at work?

If your company has other affinity groups, there are likely formal processes for creating one. Ask HR to share with you the process for creating an employee resource group or an affinity group, since your company might have a charter process already defined. Many of these will require having several potential members identified in order to present the charter.

If no other affinity group exists and this would be your company’s first, you’re going to need help getting this off the ground. If others at your company are interested in starting a group, recruit them to help you; usually 3-5 is good for a core leadership group. If your company has any sort of diversity and inclusion program or department, reach out to someone in that area for guidance. If you don’t have any of that but you have friends who work at a place with an LGBTQ+ group, ask if you could be put in touch with one of their leaders to get advice. Most group members are more than happy to share how their group got started.

If none of that exists, you may find this article helpful, as it outlines how a resource group can be created and even includes a charter template. That charter template inspired my own ERG charter. Be prepared to have lots of conversations internally with your colleagues and potential members, as well as externally to talk to other similar groups in your area.

7. I think I’m experiencing discrimination at work because I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community. What do I do?

First of all, I’m sorry you are experiencing discrimination. You are the best judge of your situation and the company. Personally, I did file a formal complaint after discriminatory comments in my workplace. I reported the issue, there was an investigation, and in the end the person who made the comments was told that their comments were unacceptable in the workplace and instructed to not talk to me unless it was directly related to work we needed to do together. I was thanked for coming forward. Ideally, something similar would be the norm when someone reports discrimination, but we all know that doesn’t happen in all cases. While gender identity and sexual orientation are protected classes, if your company culture tolerates racist or sexist comments they likely aren’t going to be on your side when it comes to homophobic or transphobic statements.

My recommendation would be to investigate if your company has a formal process for handling discrimination complaints and review the process and your company’s code of conduct. If your company has an anonymous ethics or complaint hotline, consider calling for advice and guidance. Think about what you want to happen if you complain – do you want an apology? Do you want the person fired? Do you just want to share what happened to you, so it doesn’t happen to anyone else? What’s your goal, and is it something that you think the company will be capable of doing?

For me, I was in a place where I felt secure in my role and job, even if my complaint was dismissed, which is not a luxury everyone has. It might be better for you personally to find a new job if you fear retaliation, because you deserve to work in a place that is not discriminating against you.

If you have local LGBTQ+ organizations in your area, they might be willing to help you navigate the situation. There are also national organizations that can provide guidance such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ+ Task Force, and Lambda Legal Defense and Education fund, as well as many state and local organizations. You don’t have to go it alone.

8. What should I do if I use the wrong pronouns or misgender someone?

Apologize quickly and once per incident, do not agonize over your mistake, and resume the conversation using the correct pronouns.

9. How can allies help in the workplace?

An ally is a person who is supportive of the LGBTQ+ community and challenges personal and/or systemic discrimination. Typically, LGBTQ+ affinity groups are about half allies, half members of the LGBTQ+ community. Being an ally is an action, not just a label. Specific actions you can take at work include things like joining existing LGBTQ+ employee groups as an ally, advocating internally for gender-neutral language in job descriptions, and advocating for inclusive health care benefits or the ability to choose a gender other than male/female in the HR system. If your workplace has gender-specific dress codes, suggest inclusive changes to create one dress code for everyone. If you hear someone defaming LGBTQ+ people, speak up and say something. If you hear someone using the wrong pronouns or name for a person, gently correct them with the right ones. GLAAD shares other ideas on how to be an ally here and the HRC has this article with ideas and more resources.

For allies, and really everyone, respect is key – respect pronouns, chosen names, appearances, and partners. In addition, consider bringing awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and concerns to conversations about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Challenge your own internal biases and do not make assumptions or generalizations.

{ 213 comments… read them below }

  1. Middle Name Danger*

    I very much got burned at a previous job with “one manager might be supportive and another could cause problems”. When a different person took over my department it went from a comfortable and safe workplace to somewhere I was punished even when I took away visible indications of my queerness. Make sure you look at the whole picture at bigger companies.

    Now I work somewhere where an exec is a cis gay man and multiple people both managers and individual contributors are out. I can breathe a lot easier.

    1. La Triviata*

      Where I work now, my boss is gay – he’s open about it, but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal – and one co-worker (who’s left) was openly gay and it never seemed to be a problem. But I’m a cisgendered woman, so I may not be aware. However, at a previous (terrible) job, one man was fired seemingly because he was gay.

  2. PolarVortex*

    Really well done! Thank you for being so comprehensive and thoughtful. As one of the out-at-work alphabet mafia, it’s nice to see this advice to help support those who have not felt safe enough to come out. Please know friends that we are here for you to help talk through our own experiences and support you in your journey.

    (Also thank you for not saying “preferred pronouns”, I am not certain how that got to be the jargon for asking for/providing pronouns, but it implies the person has the option to choose to use other pronouns if they want and it drives me batty.)

    1. KP*

      I’ve never thought of “preferred pronouns” being an issue… because there are several options that nonbinary/non-gender conforming people can use. They/them isn’t the only option.

      1. neeko*

        That isn’t the point. If someone tells you their pronouns, it’s because those are the pronouns that should be used for them and that is all that matters. There aren’t other options for that person, regardless of gender identity or expression.

      2. Sapphire (they)*

        Hi, nonbinary trans person here, and I use “they/them” pronouns. The term “preferred pronouns” implies people can choose to call me “they”. It’s not optional, it’s the word I’ve asked people to use when referring to me. That’s personally why I don’t like the term “preferred”, but YMMV.

      3. PolarVortex*

        I don’t want to harp on what was already explained but elaborate a little.

        I’m a transmasculine person. That means people often get upset about me living as a trans person and choose to use female pronouns for me. Saying “Preferred Pronouns” means they have an out clause to use “she/her” because it’s just what I “prefer”. It ain’t a preference, if you’re going to use pronouns for me, it’s either he/him or they/them. I don’t care which they choose to use of those options, but those are the only options okay to use.

        1. BubbleTea*

          Does this also apply to “preferred name”? In trying to answer my own question, I suppose one difference is that someone might have a legal name necessary for certain documents, and then a preferred name for general use. There’s no such thing as legal pronouns I guess.

          1. SometimesALurker*

            Great question! One way to handle it on forms and other places you might need language for “preferred name” is to ask for “name” and “legal name, if different.” For many, many people, their name isn’t their preferred name, it’s their *name,* no matter how old they were when they got it or whether they picked it themselves. Their legal name may be a source of past or ongoing trauma, so while sometimes people do need to ask for someone’s legal name, “preferred” is still not the term to use when distinguishing them.

            1. Silicon Valley Girl*

              Also, wherever possible, add info stating why & how this “legal name, if different” will be used. I work in a regulated industry & sometimes ppl think we need to collect “legal names” all the time. But really, there are only specific uses when we do & we try to state this at the collection point. In most places though, a “legal name” isn’t required (so if it’s someone’s deadname, no need to bring it up!).

              1. Kelly*

                It is pretty much common knowledge that, once hired, your legal name is necessary for tax and I-9 purposes (unless you’re working “under the table”). Now your point is valid *before* you have a conditional offer.

              2. Kelly*

                Also, your point should apply to questions about former names (even more so because unlike a non-legally-changed deadname where the employer will eventually need to know unless they’re violating federal law, there can be cases where a former name is not relevant, such as if the name was changed young enough that all employment-relevant records would be under the chosen name).

            2. Ace in the Hole*

              Personally, I would rather have “preferred name” and “Legal name, if different” to make it clear that the name entered in the preferred box does NOT have to be my legal name.

              Since right now “Name” is often used to mean legal name, if I see it listed on a form I can’t be sure what they’re asking for. It’s nice to have a clear indication of what they think they’re asking for. Although if the form were well designed so that the two fields were clearly visible right next to each other, that would resolve the ambiguity… in which case I think your phrasing would be better.

          2. Verde*

            On our hiring info, which is through on online system, we’ve customized wherever we can, and added info about why we need the info that matches your government ID, but please give us your prferred name (system language I can’t change, but there if different from legal, nickname, etc.), and a place to provide the pronouns we should use and any other info the new hire wants us to know.

      4. Canadian Librarian #72*

        I mean, sure, they’re preferred – just as a cis man will almost certainly “prefer” to be referred to as he or him. But we don’t tend to refer to cis people’s pronouns as preferred, so when we do that for trans or non-binary people, it subtly delegitimizes their pronouns as being a personal choice, when it’s not really any more of a choice for them than it is for cis people. My “preferred pronouns” as a cis woman are she/her/hers in English, elle/la in French, and so on. But no one would refer to them as my “preferred pronouns” because they see it as inherently legitimate and natural, whereas the implication for non-cis people is that it’s somehow more of a social construction or a fiction than it is for cis people. But that’s not actually true. Just say pronouns; skip the “preferred”.

    2. Southern Ladybug*

      I did not realize this about the “preferred pronouns” wording. Thank you for pointing it out.

    3. Curious*

      I guess I always thought that the relevant preference is of the person being referred to. If Josephine tells me that they wish to be referred to as “Joe (they/them)”, then that is the preference that governs — I don’t see how my preference (or the preference of anyone other than Joe) is relevant.

      The HRC document says that an employee “may opt to use” particular “desired pronouns”. Opt and desired are both words of preference. But, again, it is the preference of the person being referred to that is controlling.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s that it’s not a preference; “preference” implies it’s something you’re selecting. If someone is non-binary, they/them are just their pronouns. Not their preferred pronouns, just their pronouns. Another example — my pronouns are she/her; I don’t just prefer them, they are what’s accurate for me. I didn’t select them, they just reflect who I am.

        1. Elle by the sea*

          As a LGBTQ+ person, I myself use the word “preference” and I’m fine with others using it. Any word choice is conscious to a certain extent – you have a wide variety options to choose from. I prefer to use she/her pronouns because I feel they represent me the best, but I might as well use they/them and there are other, artificially constructed pronouns that are very close to representing who I am. In my other native language, there is only one pronoun and it’s gender neutral – no matter how you present yourself, you have no option but using that one. But the English offers a wide variety of options which are not clear-cut and obvious, therefore you have the freedom to choose what is best for representing who you are. So, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the word “preference” used in this context.

          1. Elizabeth S.*

            Same here. I’m nonbinary and use open pronouns, I genuinely don’t care what pronouns people use for me as long as they are used with respect and kindness. To me it says a lot about the person speaking what pronouns they use for me, and I find it interesting to let them surprise me. I *prefer* they/them/theirs and xe/xir/xirs pronouns and it’s also interesting to me when people actually try to acknowledge that preference vs defaulting to whatever pronouns they believe I ought to have.

    4. lemon meringue*

      Just to offer a counterpoint, for those of us who are either unsure about which pronouns are the best fit or not necessarily comfortable outing ourselves via pronoun in a given context, the “preferred” type language can soften the blow of having to make a selection that you’re not totally comfortable with.

      But better language would be “what pronouns should I use for this” or something a bit more context-specific, I think. There is something about the word “preferred” that harkens back to phrases like “sexual preference” and a lot of people dislike it because it’s been weaponized against us.

      1. Elle by the sea*

        I’m actually comfortable with “sexual preference” as well because, to me, preference can be something natural and organic rather than consciously preplanned. It just means that you (subconsciously) rank-order. To me, taste is preference and sexuality is taste in people, which involves criteria such as gender, age, hair colour, body shape, height, etc. I can’t find a more succinct and exact way of describing this than the word “preference”. But I understand that many people weaponise the word against us. I’m all for reclaiming it, as nowhere does the origin and structure of this word suggest conscious choice.

    5. Cringing 24/7*

      This is such an important note about the changing of terminologies, because I – as a queer person – was taught by other queer people of varying genders over a decade ago that asking for someone’s “preferred gender pronouns” or PGP was the correct and proper way to greet others. But within a few years of that, people were shunning the word “preferred” (which is completely understandable). The lexicon changes drastically from year to year and decade to decade, and it varies by region and country too.

  3. Velawciraptor*

    Another way to handle accidentally using the incorrect pronoun is to tell the person “thank you for correcting me” before moving on with the conversation with correct pronouns. It takes the pressure off the misgendered person to reassure you that “it’s alright” and signals to others that being corrected isn’t some horrible, shame-inducing thing, but rather something to be appreciated.

    1. Stay-at-Homesteader*

      Oh, I might write this one down on a card and stick it in my wallet or something (metaphorically…but maybe for real?)

    2. Stay-at-Homesteader*

      Also I love your name. I worked with lawyers for years and this might be my favorite lawyer pun ever.

    3. Strict Extension*

      This also works great for mispronouncing someone’s name. A genuine emphatic “thank you” followed by repeating their correction not only affirms the person you’re talking to, but helps rewire your brain.

    4. Liz T*

      Came here to say this! I’m a HUGE fan of saying “thank you” instead of “sorry” in situations like that.

  4. Teapot Repair Technician*

    Some companies giving lip service to inclusivity by making gestures like changing their logo to rainbow colors in June, but may not have laid any real groundwork to make LGBTQ+ employees feel safe being out at work.

    Somewhat related, I’m familiar with organizations that are relatively LGB friendly but are not LGBTQ+ friendly. So one other thing to be wary of.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      And we’re at the point where my brain does the full ‘DANGER WILL ROBINSON’ whenever I see ‘LGB’ without the T etc. It’s unfortunately something that you definitely need to look out for these days.

    2. JSPA*

      Even when not intentionally unfriendly…

      as with any “-ism,” there’s a risk, when companies were progressive on the topic a couple of decades ago, that they have patted themselves on the back, fossilized, and become resistant to further change.

      Individual people who may get a pass if they spent 70 years supporting the UNCF or supporting the Mattachine society, but stopped updating their terminology somewhere around 1980.

      But corporations, and entire countries, are prone to standing on their laurels until they’ve withered. From “not seeing race here” (cough…Br—l…cough) or touting that “we have not criminalized homosexual acts since 1942” (Sw——–d), self-congratuation leads to the conviction that “we’ve dealt with that.” After a few decades, they’re often well behind other later adopters, as far as substantive protections and affirmation and fully equal rights (and often very, very touchy at the suggestion of re-opening or broadening the topic).

      So I’d add that warning that if the company leans to hard on it’s ancient history, “That’s amazing, but with so much having changed since then, what has the company done to stay current / what have you done recently to build on that foundation / how is that spirit currently expressed / when did you last update your policies” become ESSENTIAL questions.

  5. Beth*

    A useful tip in some industries, which I rarely see mentioned: in the kind of business where you provide service to clients on a level where you know them, to some extent, personally — does the firm have LGBTQ+ clients? Are the clients well served and supported? Are the service professionals who comprise the firm truly accepting or supportive, even when the clients aren’t there?

    Some of the indicators can be subtle — if the firm collects gender information on clients and includes “Other” as an option, that’s a truly fine thing to see. It’s rare, but I do see it occasionally.

    My own industry is financial services, including retirement planning. One of my proudest moments was when I successfully advocated for the provider of our contact management database to add the category “domestic partner” to the relevant drop-down list. (Prior to the legalization of gay marriage, this was an incredibly important data point for planning.)

    1. Peachtree*

      I agree in some regards, but honestly, “other”? That pisses me off so much. It’s great that companies recognise something outside of the male/female binary but let’s aim for self-definition please!

      1. KitKat*

        I’m curious as to why it bothers you. If you are comfortable defining yourself with a certain label, why does it matter to you if others are not? Does someone else’s selection of “other” have an actual impact on your life?

        1. JB*

          Let’s re-read what was said.

          At no point was the concept of individual people identifying as ‘other’ a topic in this thread. What Peachtree was responding to was companies offering only three ways for employees to identify themselves: male, female, and other.

          1. Beth*

            And my own original point was that offering three ways is an improvement on only offering two — which is still the only option you get in most cases. If we don’t recognize the value of small steps forward, we’re less likely to get forward at all.

      2. Nic the Librarian*

        Agree, and take it a step further — I don’t want companies collecting a list of people who are non-binary. Does your organization truly need to track gender information? Maybe so, but if not, get rid of it. It’s just another data source to exploit at that point.

        1. RosyGlasses*

          For companies 100 EEs and over, it’s required data by the EEOC to submit. It’s not mandatory for employees to log their ethnicity, race, etc – but it is data that is required.

          1. E*

            In that case, surely it is sex that is required data, or M/F as on documents if different to sex, not gender identity?

            People’s gender identity is sometimes in flux.

      3. Caraway*

        I saw a suggestion recently to include “another option not listed here,” in addition to male/female, which certainly feels more inclusive than “other” to me (a cis woman, so take my feelings for what they’re worth, I guess). Just wondering if that would be better than “other” in your opinion?

      4. Prefer Not to Identify*

        On the “Other” – I prefer to see a “Prefer Not to Identify” (and a non-binary option). I’m a cis woman, but there are lots of instances where I don’t want a company/potential employer to know I’m a woman because, you know, sexism. I do understand why companies collect this, particularly if they’re working to become more inclusive – I’ve worked in talent/recruiting and we were frequently tracking our applicant measures to try and diverse our pipeline across multiple metrics, so knowing gender is helpful, but shouldn’t be required for people to submit until/unless it’s necessary as there are a lot of reasons why someone may not want to identify.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          So how does a cis female hide one’s gender if one has a traditionally female first name that cis males aren’t given? Most companies require you to put your name and contact information on your job application. Granted, a few have the practice where HR deletes the names for the interviewers, for the sake of eliminating bias, but most companies don’t do that. Even putting the first initial and last name on the resume — you’ll come up in a background check eventually, and they need to know what to call you in the interview if you are asked. Unless it’s the military, most won’t call Mary Smith simply, “Smith.”

          1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

            I think she means to just get through the initial filter without bias. It’s not like she’s going to continuously show up with a trench coat, fedora, and one of those fake glasses with mustache attachment to obscure her identity. I understand, without my name and gender identification, my resume has people thinking that I am male.

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            Slightly different situation, but I will often sign emails with my first initial and last name when I’m talking to someone I don’t know in person. As a cis woman in a very male-dominated field, this has been very helpful.

            It’s not about keeping people from ever realizing I’m a woman…. it’s about keeping my gender from affecting their first impressions of me. Once we’ve exchanged a few emails and they already have an idea of my competence/experience/whatever, they’re much less likely to write me off subconsciously when they find out M is for Mary.

          1. Mimi*

            I think Prefer was advocating for both, but yes, it’s important to provide both! Someone I know had to fill out a diversity survey (from a diversity consultant her employer was paying for, no less!) that had “straight / gay / bisexual / prefer not to identify” as options for sexuality, and “male / female / transgender / prefer not to identify” for gender. Setting aside the problematic-ness of classifying “transgender” as a gender identity, there is a huge difference between “intersex” or “asexual” and “prefer not to identify.” People might be perfectly willing to identify, but you need to provide an option, even if it’s just “other.”

  6. 30 Years in the Biz*

    Thank you so much for this information. I’m sorry being oneself at work has to be so stressful and fraught with many significant risks. I’m especially helped by the response to question 9. I’ve wanted to be an ally at work, and now I know what to do.

  7. MuseumChick*

    To the first question, I am reminded of a story I think I’ve shared before. A family friend of mine was interviewing at a large company that was well known for having strong, deep ties to a particular religion that is not LGBTQ-friendly. This was for a pretty high-up position. After a few questions, my family friend said something along of line of, “I always have pictures of my family on my desk. That includes photos of my son, his husband and their children. If that will be a problem here we can just end the interview now.” from that way he tells it this was said in every congenial tone. They told him it would not be a problem and he went on to work there for several years (with his collection of family photos) with no issues. This is obviously very different than being someone in the LGBTQ+ community but I wanted to share it as a way that allies can also screen companies. My family friend (nor anyone in our circle) would work for a place where family photos like that would be a problem.

  8. Out & About*

    I left a previous employer because of a “don’t ask don’t tell” implied policy. By commentary the C-suite would make, it was pretty obvious being openly LGBTQ+ would hinder your career there. The stress of making sure I didn’t say the wrong thing to out myself became too emotionally taxing.

  9. Kelly*

    #1: A good way to tell, particularly with regards to their stance on gender identity, is to look at how they ask for names/pronouns:

    Positive: They ask if you have a preferred (or other terminology) name different than your legal name.

    Positive to some, negative to others: They ask for pronouns. While some non-cis people will appreciate this question, others may see it as an attempt to ask you about your gender. Thus IMO any questions about pronouns/salutations should be strictly optional. In addition, if an employer needs a response to a “sex” or “gender” question that may be other than how you identify (such as for a document that requires legal sex) then they should specify so, for what purpose, and don’t ask until they need to know (if for a background check then it should be afforded the same privacy I think should be applied to deadnames as mentioned below).

    Negative: They ask for previous names before they need to know. When they’re actually ready to run a background check it’s different – but even then it would be best to 1) Maximize privacy (e.g. if the check is done by a third-party allow trans people to provide their deadnames directly to the investigator and keep it confidential w.r.t. the employer unless the name is needed to access a record the employer is interested in looking at themselves – I’ve heard in the UK they use a system like that for formal criminal history checks) and 2) If asked for a purpose like contacting references or verifying a degree, instead of a broad inquiry for all other names used, ask more specifically if knowing a former name is needed to facilitate such contacts or verifications (for example they probably wouldn’t as a practical matter need to know the deadname of a child or teen transitioner, like Alison mentioned at the link below when asked about other kinds of pre-adulthood name changes).

    In addition, in all cases with the above name/gender questions, the employer should NOT use it as an “honesty test” (for example I once heard of an employer that tried to defend not hiring a trans applicant by saying the gender they marked did not match their legal sex and therefore they “lied” – but the employer couldn’t provide a tangible reason for needing to know the applicant’s legal sex). Adverse action should be taken only when such a response has a material effect on the application process.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I’ve been involved in criminal records checks in the UK from the employer side, and have experience where that included a change of name.

      We validate three separate means of linking the person in front of us to a name and an address, which can include a birth certificate (original or certified copy), passport, driving licence, utility bills or bank statements, and so on. At least one must have a photo, at least one must have the current address, and so on. There are rules about how old each kind of document can be.

      We do not need to know about previous names unless the person is using a document predating the name change, in which case we need to see evidence of the name change such as a marriage certificate or deed poll. If you used a current passport, driving licence and bank statement, I would have no idea about past names let alone previous gender assignment.

      However, the agency actually doing the criminal records check would have access to the underlying information on the passport etc including previous names. They would also have information provided by the applicant that I have no access to in the application portal. They would not give me any of that information under any circumstances.

      1. Kelly*

        Apparently the process has changed from when I heard about it a few years ago. At that time you normally had to list any previous names on the form the employer sent to DBS (the name of the agency) – but if you’re trans you could omit deadnames on the employer form and DBS provided a contact where a trans person could supply deadnames directly to them instead.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I don’t see the form at all – the applicant does it all online, I get a notification that Clementine Warbleworth needs validating, and I enter the document details into the online system. The documents don’t leave the applicant’s sight, and I don’t keep copies.

          It’s a million times better than it used to be!

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Sorry, I meet with Clementine to enter the documents she provides into the system.

            The first step I omitted is where I send her an invitation to apply, with the organisation’s identification code.

            Criminal records checks are highly regulated, so not all organisations can request them, and even then only for certain types of roles.

  10. Fricketyfrack*

    I had an interview yesterday where they mentioned that the organization had recently added a set of values and asked if any resonated me in particular and why. Since inclusivity was one of them, I took that as an opportunity to say that it was particularly important to me as a queer woman (and to give a small amount of info about my views on equity/diversity in other areas). I figure if a potential employer is going to react badly to any of that, that’s not somewhere I want to work, so I’d rather get it out there right away.

    That said, I live in a pretty liberal area and I’m not job searching because I need to be, so I’m definitely approaching things from a place of privilege. I absolutely understand why it’s easier/safer/better for some people to remain closeted, and I don’t blame anyone for doing what they need to do.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I hate the way the company phrased that question to you – it sounds like they were fishing for information about candidates, rather than trying to make sure that potential employees were going to adhere to company values.

      For anyone hiring, it would be better to say, “Here are our company values. Do you have any questions about them? Do you feel you can uphold these values? Would any present a challenge to you in the workplace? How would you go about upholding this or that value in your work?”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But the question isn’t so much about screening out people who don’t uphold those values (and few people will say in an interview that they don’t); it’s about screening FOR people for whom those values are either distinguishing characteristics of how they work or especially appealing to them in a workplace. And presumably inclusivity was only one but they probably had other stuff like integrity or or humility or customer focus or who knows what — and you could choose to speak to those instead.

      2. Fricketyfrack*

        Allison’s response is pretty accurate – there were other values like respect, accountability, something about customer service, all things that would allow someone to answer without really giving much personal info away. I just chose to take the opportunity to make it a little bit personal because that’s where I’m at in life and my job search.

  11. nott the brave*

    My personal recommendation on using the wrong pronouns on accident, as a genderqueer individual: if someone corrects you, say thank you instead of sorry. Sorry puts the impetus on the wronged person to accept it in some way, and when it happens to me, it’s always awkward.

    1. WritingIsHard*

      Also don’t make a big deal out of it! If you realize mid-sentence that you said “she” instead of “they,” just make the correction and move on. My mom always tries to overcorrect when she gets someone’s pronouns wrong, instead of just treating it like any other verbal slip up.

      1. Rhonda*

        So I’m a cis woman but I’m 6 feet tall with broad shoulders and when I worked at a theme park several years ago I usually wore my hair in a bun under a baseball cap so when people called out to me from behind I was often misgendered. Usually the second I turned around they apologized and corrected themselves and it never really offended me. However, one of my coworkers would get offended on my behalf and would make such a big deal about it whenever it happened in front of him and it made the whole situation 1000% more awkward because then the person who misgendered me would be falling all over themselves apologizing and explaining why they thought I was a dude from behind and it always made me and the guest feel worse about the whole situation (though I’m assuming watching the apology made my coworker feel better? I don’t know what his motivation was to be honest.).

        Anyway, I guess my point is just yes, in my experience when I was on the receiving end, someone just correcting themselves was a lot more pleasant than a long drawn out apology.

  12. LDN Layabout*

    One thing to add to #9, even the nicest and most well meaning of people can make mistakes and often it’s harder to correct them than the out and out bigots. So if allies can take up some of that burden, it would be much appreciated.

    (A friend of mine had a recent issue at work and it was clear someone had raised it with the big boss before she had to and it was much appreciated)

    The other side of that is, please don’t be offended or angry if you’re corrected. That shame reaction, where you turn it into anger or invalidating the issue so you feel less guilty? Is so easy to fall into (and I know, because it’s happened to me when I’ve made mistakes).

    1. Data Bear*

      Something I’ll add: I’ve had friends and colleagues who have changes names, genders, and both. In every case, remapping the labels in your head is hard and it takes a while to get comfortable with the new tags. It has nothing to do with whether you’re a good person. So don’t feel bad about it, that’s just how it is. Do your best, accept corrections with good grace, and don’t make a big deal about it. There’s no reason to feel shame for making an error, and responding to feelings of shame will only make things worse for the person you mislabeled. So don’t.

  13. The Prettiest Curse*

    If you are an ally, you can also make your presence felt by planning changes that might be entirely invisible to some, but will have a huge impact on others. An example of this – my office is a brand new building and our floor does not have gender-specific bathrooms. All of the bathrooms are single-room bathrooms with a toilet and sink. The only sign on the door indicates that it’s a bathroom.
    This feature totally eliminates the potential for anyone to complain about, for example, a trans person using the “wrong” bathroom, because anyone can use any bathroom. But I can guarantee that this bathroom design didn’t happen by accident – someone had to decide to plan it into the building design. And (as a cis woman), this feature was totally invisible to me until I happened to think about it yesterday. Discrimination that’s invisible to you will always be visible to someone.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Oh, and I should add (because this really made me want to snack myself on the forehead) that I absolutely knew about the concept of all-gender bathrooms and had actually seen them (indicated as such by signs) in retail environments previously. It just apparently didn’t occur to me that the ones at work were all-gender because the signs don’t mention gender at all. In my defense, I haven’t been out of my house much since March 2020 and I’ve only ever been to my new office twice.
      And of course, in an ideal world nobody would care about who uses which bathroom, but we’re not in an ideal world, so designing out the opportunity for people to care is the next best thing.

      1. Former Employee*

        I wouldn’t be surprised if there are at least as many gender conforming people who love the idea of not having to share a bathroom as there are people who are in the LGBTQ group who are happy with that choice for their own reasons.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          Yes, that’s definitely the case. I was just thinking about how I’ll appreciate that feature when we start working on-site again next week.

        2. It's Growing!*

          I was just up in Glacier National Park at one of the (closed) visitors’ centers. There was building that had like 8 or 9 vault toilets each in its separate room. So great! Everybody stood in one line and used whichever room opened up next. Works for cis/hetero me.

    2. German Girl*

      How not to do this:

      We’re in a somewhat old building than that has a mens bathroom on one floor and both a womens and a mens bathroom on the other floor. I guess it wasn’t really an issue for a long time because our field is very male dominated and all the women happened to be in the team on the floor with two bathrooms.
      The department grew and added on a third floor which got a single-room bathroom for all genders. Great, I thought, the company is finally growing out of this very old-fashioned, male dominated mindset.

      So when the time came for remodeling the floor with just the men’s bathroom, I was totally expecting it to become an all gender bathroom, too. But they actually went and made it just a mens bathroom again – wtf?! Such a missed opportunity.

  14. AB*

    Re 2 and 9, Out person at work and have been out almost my entire post grad career (8 years as of Thursday!). One thing I will say is for newer folks thinking about coming out: it really pays to listen to how your coworkers talk about LGBTQ+ friends, colleagues, etc. I thought my coworkers were supportive and made the youthful mistake of assuming cool with pride=ally.

    I think they’d even think of themselves as unequivocal allies, but simply stating I wasn’t straight and had a same gender partner that I lived with in response to someone asking if I had a boyfriend got me: some gross comments about how they could never be into sexual acts with a same gender as them partner but “kissing while drunk at parties seemed like it could be okay.” And very probing questions about how I knew I wasn’t really straight. Easily one of the most overtly homophobic experiences I’ve ever had; don’t sexualize your coworkers.

    Allies: please never do this. Ever. Also understand that being an ally isn’t really something you just declare yourself to be; you have to earn it through your actions, and if it is upsetting you that your local LGBTQ+ colleague isn’t noticing your efforts or thanking you for being supportive, consider asking why it is you’re upset. Guarantee if you’re doing it right, you’re actually getting acknowledgement via that coworker actually being willing to talk with you about those things. I know I don’t talk to coworkers about LGBTQ+ things (or even my spouse) if they show hints of not actually being earnestly supportive.

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Yikes! That is terrible.

      I mean, of course straight people aren’t into those certain sex acts… that’s basically the definition of straight, but just because they aren’t into it doesn’t mean that it needs to be said or discussed or for you to be made to feel “less than.” I’m sorry that happened to you.

      1. AB*

        I think the key thing of course here is that it’s just such an odd declaration to make to anyone, but the fact that my straight male colleague could talk about his weekend plans with his then fiancee without getting such comment while me sharing that I have a same gender partner in order to correct an assumption about having a boyfriend solicited sexual comments is the thing. It’s not really just about being made to feel “less than;” it’s about the automatic pivot to sexualizing my (now) wife and me. But I do appreciate your thoughts.

        1. louvella*

          God straight people are weird.

          I’ve mostly gotten weird attempted bonding from straight men about our mutual attraction to women…which is, uh, not something I have any interest in, ever. Please do not ask me if I think your wife is hot. Please do not joke about whether a pop star is “my type.”

    2. Nonke John*

      “I think they’d even think of themselves as unequivocal allies, but simply stating I wasn’t straight and had a same gender partner that I lived with in response to someone asking if I had a boyfriend got me: some gross comments about how they could never be into sexual acts with a same gender as them partner but ‘kissing while drunk at parties seemed like it could be okay.’ And very probing questions about how I knew I wasn’t really straight. Easily one of the most overtly homophobic experiences I’ve ever had; don’t sexualize your coworkers.”

      Well put. This is such a big one! As you suggest, people seem to think that they’re signaling good intentions if, when they find out you’re queer, they keep harping on it; but the effect is invariably like “Even though I’m a normal, civilized person, I’m not fazed by your being a pervertedly perverted pervert who practices pervy perversion.” If you’re out at the workplace, you have to be mentally prepared to keep an even tone and say, “Oh, I’m not one of those people who like to discuss their sex lives. Now, have you fixed that problem with the compliance report?” when someone affronts you this way, and you never know who’s going to do it.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        A former boss of mine once declared that he felt that any admission of being LGBTQ was ‘bringing sex into the workplace’ and that people ‘shouldn’t be forced to deal with who you like to sleep with’ (you can probably guess whether he repeated this to the straight folks..) I remember him also staging a one man war against our trans female coworker using the women’s toilets.

      2. AB*

        Unfortunately I was both very young in the work force and very new at that job and both coworkers were both older than me and had several months of seniority on me. I wasn’t comfortable yet going to my boss (an older gay man- I’m now quite lucky to have a few community member colleagues and get to mentor lgbtq+ students). Now though I would feel very comfortable pushing back and going straight to HR and bossman on that front.

        “Even though I’m a normal, civilized person, I’m not fazed by your being a pervertedly perverted pervert who practices pervy perversion.”

        My goodness if this did not make me snort. Its so correct and is one of the reasons I love planting rainbow flags around the office, talking about my wife in a mundane way around my interns. I want them to know we’re just as “normal” of a variation as anyone else, we can be happy as ourselves and successful, and there are places it is safe to be our authentic selves and be appreciated for our differences.

    3. nothing rhymes with purple*

      Wow, that is horrible and especially unnecessarily horrible of them. I am so sorry.

      1. AB*

        Agreed! I was so mortified at the time that I just had zero response for the one equating my sexuality to a drunk night of fun at a rave. Pretty sure my jaw hit the floor so hard you can see the crater from outer space!

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Definitely agree about the ‘don’t get upset if you don’t get thanks for doing ally things’. The amount of times someone has said, grumpy, ‘you could at least thank us for listening!’ is a lot.

      I’m adding ‘don’t put us on a pedestal’ too. I’m not interested in being the friendly face of LGBTQ, or the friendly face of disabled people for that matter. I’m way too unfriendly for that.

      1. AB*

        “I’m adding ‘don’t put us on a pedestal’ too. I’m not interested in being the friendly face of LGBTQ, or the friendly face of disabled people for that matter. I’m way too unfriendly for that.”

        Yes! I don’t mind when we’re meeting with lgbtq+ student groups or clients with specifically LGBTQ family members who appreciate knowing that someone like their loved one has a place to be safe and appreciated in a work context and is a part of our work, but I will not be part of diversity initiatives around photo shoots. I’m not someone’s evidence of good work place practices.

      2. Despachito*

        To be honest, I find the entire concept of “allies” a bit strange.

        Would it not be sufficient to be just civil and professional to everyone alike? Which would mean, among other things, respecting any person as such, accepting whatever name/pronouns people want to be called as a fact without questioning it (such as if a new coworker’s official name is Joseph but he refers to himself as Joe, I’d call him Joe without thinking twice, and that’s it) , and above all, not prying into their personal lives, whatever they may be. I’d consider it equally weird an inappropriate to make any personal comments about anyone being single/divorced/ and someone having a same-sex partner, or even treating them differently for that, because this person’s private life is NONE OF MY BUSINESS, and it does not affect my work interaction with them which is the thing which matters. For many people, I would even never know.

        In other words, if I am doing my best to be fair and professional to everyone, I’d see no point of being “an ally”. Perhaps I am totally wrong (different country so I might not get the vibe behind it) but I feel it as if I was self-labeling myself “I am not a jerk and I am not hostile”, while I think that a) not being a jerk or hostile should be a default setting not requiring any special attention, and b) it should be communicated through actions, not words.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It means you pick up some of the work to make things more equitable in your company so that LGBTQ+ people (or people of color, or so forth) don’t get stuck carrying the whole burden themselves. You can also often do it more safely than they can or with more influence/weight. Just not being hostile is a pretty low baseline.

        2. JB*

          You are not required to be an ally.

          Being an ally means going above and beyond the basic professional courtesy you’ve described here, to be proactive in standing with a minority group and helping to ‘share the burden’ that we’re usually expected to shoulder alone.

          For example – if I’m the only trans person in the office, then when someone makes a transphobic joke, the expectation falls on me to be the one to speak up or voice a complaint.

          A cis person who is an ally would make a proactive effort to also speak up. This support is helpful to me on an emotional level, and also helps reinforce the image that the issue is the transphobic jokes, rather than me being ‘sensitive’.

          Many cis women who are trans allies offer themselves as bathroom buddies to trans women so that they can use a public restroom with a witness (there are a vocal contigent of transphobes who target trans women in public restrooms, and they can sometimes be violent or sometimes call in authorities with accusations that the trans woman is a ‘peeping tom’ etc – many trans women are too afraid to use public restrooms and simply don’t, which obviously is both uncomfortable and unhealthy in the long term.)

          Again, it’s not a requirement and is not expected of most people.

          1. Despachito*

            I see that a lot of what you said indeed requires an extra effort as compared to a normal civility (such as the restroom company), and it is a good point which would probably not occur to me naturally (that this is something a trans person would need/appreciate).

            However, as to the expressing that a certain joke/remark is not appropriate a, I’d consider it falling into the normal civil/professional behaviour I was talking about above.

            Alison is right that to be civil myself but letting go hate speech/behaviour of others without batting an eyelid would not be enough, but I’d consider that voicing my disapproval of gross/rude remarks or jokes, be them transphobic/ racist/sexist/ageist or any other insulting nature, is something a decent person should do without needing to be/claiming to be a specific “ally”.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s not just speaking up about hate speech though. It can be things like working for gender neutral bathrooms or salary transparency or other initiatives to counter bias and increase equity in your workplace.

        3. lemon meringue*

          The thing is, self-identifying as an ally should ideally mean that you recognize some extra effort is required of you to uphold equity and justice, because sadly the default position in society is inequitable and unjust. “Just treating everyone civilly” is generally a position of unexamined privilege, because it assumes that issues like homophobia are basically interpersonal issues of rudeness, and that you can counteract that by refraining from rudeness. In reality, it takes active work to counteract the homophobia that is the water we all swim in, both within yourself and with others.

    5. Former Employee*

      Wow! I am a senior citizen and have been an ally since I was young. I was also a very young feminist.

      To me, all civil rights issues are part of one big package and I have trouble seeing how someone can support equality for one group, but not for another.

  15. lgbterrific*

    Honestly, I usually find a way to bring up my wife in the first interview, just to see how the interviewer reacts.
    If that means they don’t want to hire me, well, that’s their loss! And probably NOT a huge loss for me, since a job that would require me to hide a pretty important aspect of my life is not a job I’m interested in pursuing.

    Obviously this depends on where you are in your jobsearch – when I was fresh out of school and desperate for any job I could get (and not married yet), I kept things quieter. Now, though, I’m secure enough in my field that I’m not interested in wasting my time interviewing with bigots.

    1. Former Employee*

      And if I were a friend of yours, I would want to know so that I could avoid the place, as well.

  16. r*

    This seems like maybe an ok place to ask a question re: interviewing while butch. Tie or no tie? I’m always a bit conflicted on this one. I do wear basically a suit, but generally go no-tie. Some of that is because I’m out west & things are generally less formal, but I also worry it’s ‘too masculine’ and would negatively impact my chances. Anyone else have experiences & want to weigh in?

    (sorry if this is derailing? It seems sufficiently connected to the topic, but maybe not…)

      1. r*

        Thanks. Unfortunately, I’m not really in a position where I can hold out for a job where everyone is super chill. I have tried to follow that rule in the past, but feel like people were not comfortable with it & it crossed a line somehow. May have been specific to that environment.

        I also wonder, would I be required to wear a tie if men in the workplace wear them? Frankly, I enjoy wearing them sometimes but wouldn’t love to wear one everyday. I just have trouble figuring out what is expected in the interview/what impression it gives. If I choose to wear one, is it like oh I’m a Scary Gender Pretender? If I choose not to wear one am I Disrespectfully Casual?

    1. AB*

      Hey! I replied up stream about my personal experience but: My wife is a butch! And it really just depends on your personal aesthetic and your work place vibe. If cis male coworkers in a similar level seem comfy wearing them and you like and WANT to then I think you should go for it. Unlike other people I disagree wholeheartedly that ties make it too much of a “man” vibe. There’s no such thing when it comes to a butch; you’re not man lite after all! Butch masculinity isn’t a copy of cis men’s masculinity, it has its own vibe and look.

      A butch may wear “men’s wear” but a butch is always so much more than what they wear. It’s about the inside and self concept too. My butch would wear a suit and tie on the daily if they could, but their job is a bit too casual for that. They’ve interviewed and been hired a number of times. I think being confident in the look is what matters most :)

      1. r*

        Thanks, and I totally agree with what you’re saying about masculinity and butchness. I just worry that cis straight interviewers don’t have that nuance or appreciation! It is really, really helpful to hear about your wife’s success with their interviews. Like, it can be hard to have that confidence if you’re worried you won’t be able to “get away with it”. So, it truly helps.

        1. AB*

          I mean, I won’t lie to you. Several do. But a good interviewer SHOULD be paying attention to: are you neat, in decent repair, and groomed? Did you make an effort with what you’re wearing to the interview to show that this is something you care enough about? And more importantly than all those: was the interview conversation a productive exchange of information that shows you’re a good fit candidate for the job?

          Obviously when interviewing what someone has on is what they have, but I’m much more mindful of if someone is blatant wearing something to go to a dance party in and their body language says they don’t want to be there. Respectful candidates who display interest can always be mentored on work wardrobes that are appropriate for the work no matter the style.

          1. Former Employee*

            Good point. I’d say that applies to all candidates. A gender conforming female interviewing for an office job wearing a short sparkly dress with spaghetti straps and high heeled sandals will not make the desired impression. The interviewer might wonder if she was out all night partying and came to the interview directly from her last stop on the circuit.

            1. Amethystmoon*

              Right, same thing as wearing too much makeup, lots of perfume, and gaudy jewelry to the interview. Many people are strongly allergic to perfume, but these things will not give a good first impression regardless of allergies.

    2. Littorally*

      Personally, I found that a tie was what tipped me over the line from being read as a butch woman to being read as a (non-passing as of my last interview a few years ago) trans man. Though you can probably offset that somewhat based on the tailoring of your suit and so forth.

      1. r*

        Yeah, I don’t really mind about being mistaken as a trans man (it may not, in fact, be 100% a mistake ). It’s more just like, trying to understand how I’d be received/perceived.

    3. Alex*

      If you feel like a tie would be appropriate for the occasion, I think tie is OK! I personally love seeing ties on women regardless of gender presentation–I think they look sharp.

      I think that clothes that fit well and make you feel confident are the way to go with interview clothes–if you look at home in them, that is what matters most (within reason, of course–obviously you can have a bathing suit that makes you feel confident and fits well but…not for an interview.)

      1. r*

        Haha, yeah. Ideally I could interview in shorts & a t-shirt. Sadly, that is not the world we live in.

        For fit, do you mean it has to look tailored? Obviously ‘fit’ is more of an issue when you’re not the target market for the clothes you’re buying. Honestly, Zoom interviews have ruled here because I don’t have to stress about pants. But then the tie/no-tie decision is more fraught!

        1. AB*

          Frequently when you get a men’s suit/pants/blazer, sports coat, they’ll have an in house tailor that can do quick turnaround alterations for dealing with the shoulders, bringing up the bottom hem, and shortening up your sleeves. Pants can be complimentary but otherwise shortening the sleeves and the hem are cheap alterations. Key thing is if you find you need more space in something, go a size bigger to fit the widest part. you can always get it taken in, and you tell them to preserve the line of the garment.

          Also, double vents in the jacket are your friend.

          1. r*

            I don’t think I’ve ever been in a store with an in-house tailor! Maybe it just didn’t occur to me that they exist. I’ll have to look into this. Buying a size up is a good tip, too. I think I’ve been going too small so I don’t look like I’m drowning. Which obviously causes its own problems.

            1. AB*

              Men’s Warehouse, DXL, most department stores have one in house, so you can always ask the associate if they have a tailor, and if not, do they have one to recommend.

              Going too small will definitely leave you feeling much more noticeable I think than give your body some grace to be comfortable sitting, moving, having eaten recently, etc.

              1. gurbles*

                Men’s Wearhouse performed an actual tailoring miracle on my suit pants. I cannot let anything bad ever happen to those.

    4. The things we do. . .*

      Kind of on-point, if a lesser ‘red flag’: I used pants in my interviews for a professional career where many of my female classmates believed they’d hurt their chances if they wore anything but a skirt suit or dress. But I wanted to hurt my chances with any employer who believed I couldn’t be a woman and wear pants. If a tie is industry-standard, looks good, and is part of your style, wear it! It’ll eliminate the folks you don’t want to work for.

      1. r*

        Yeah. My first job was adjacent to/interfacing with the legal industry, so I think that’s probably where some of my stress about this comes from.

        Right now, I want to work for everyone. :3

    5. eMILY*

      I think if an employer would find a tie too masculine, they would also find a suit too masculine — a butch suit is not the same as a pants suit from Anne Taylor or something. If you want to wear a tie, wear a tie!

      1. r*

        Hm. I agree the suits are different, but in my experience the tie does get you different reactions. However, you may be right that the suit would already put me over the line for people who’d care.

    6. gurbles*

      I go no tie. Ties tend to tip me over the boundary from “androgynous professional” to “suspiciously well-dressed preteen.”

      1. r*

        OMG yeah, that is so true! I interviewed at a place where teenagers were also present and as I was going into the interview room, a woman yelled at me, “Young man! You do NOT have the right to go in there!!!” I believe I was wearing a tie, too.

    7. Mimi*

      Several years ago I saw a clearly-AFAB person come in for an interview in very spiffy menswear — dress shirt, vest, jacket, pants — with, I think, a bow tie. Possibly no bow tie, but definitely not a long tie. She (? name given to the front desk was something like Genevieve, but that’s not a guarantee) looked really good and confident, and my overall impression was “This person is cool and I would like to know them better.” So you could consider that if it would work for your personal style and line of work.

      1. r*

        Unfortunately, I would just feel really silly in a bow tie. I agree that they look great on people, especially butches but… I can’t do it. And I think the one thing we’ve reached consensus on here is that, whatever you wear, you have to feel confident wearing it.

  17. mcfizzle*

    I am on the “L” of the spectrum, but won’t come out at work. I work for a public school district (not directly with students) and the risk is simply too great. Doesn’t help that I’m in a conservative county and there are TONS of the “good ol’ boys” club still around. Officially the district is supportive, but I always worry if I get a new supervisor or some kind of restructuring happens, things could change quickly. Probably this means I’m something of a coward, but it works for me.

    1. Judge Judy and Executioner*

      It doesn’t make you a coward. You analyzed the risk and made the decision that was right for you based on the current climate. Your safety is more important than being openly out. <3

    2. nothing rhymes with purple*

      The longer you can stay employed the longer you can keep going, and the longer you can keep going the more good you can do. In hostile territory, just surviving and thriving is doing good. So I don’t think you’re a coward at all.

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      You’re not a coward at all! The microscope for anyone working for a school (even if you’re not a teacher) is all the tighter, and if there’s even a chance that your employment could be in jeopardy there is nothing wrong with choosing to protect yourself.

      (To be clear, even if you didn’t work for school, you still wouldn’t be a coward for choosing not to come out, but it’s all the more understandable!)

    4. AB*

      In the name of being visible I think we lost that we never owe anyone being out, especially if it’s necessary for our own safety. Being out is one of those things cis straight folks put a huge emphasis on but, but being “out” should always firmly be our choice and not about the cis straight people in our lives.

    5. Midwest Teacher*

      Yeah I’m non-binary and work in schools in a conservative area and I doubt I’ll ever come out at work. Protecting myself doesn’t make me a coward and you aren’t one either!

    6. Former Employee*

      Please don’t see yourself in such a negative light. It appears that there is no upside to your sharing such personal information with others and the potential for a serious downside is great.

    7. WS*

      No, definitely not a coward, but a person in a potentially hostile environment. You can assess your level of risk better than anyone else can. And I say this as someone who has been out since 1996.

      1. Mimi*

        I’d up “potentially” to “likely,” unfortunately. Even if you didn’t take any flak from colleagues, parents can be a big problem, too, possibly one on the scale of losing your job, depending on the exact degree of conservatism and your local legal protections. Even if it’s not that bad, being out would put you in a position to take a lot of casual (or not-so-casual) abuse, and you don’t owe that to anyone, whether or not you wish you could be an out role model for your students.

  18. Professional Homosexual*

    Story time!

    In my early 20’s, I worked for a boss who considered herself a big ally to the LGBTQ+ community. I has been there a couple of months and was not “out” yet. One night after a big client meeting we were in the elevator leaving together when she dropped a casual “You know, [rich client] is single, they could be a good match for you,” which basically forced me to come out to her. She then said she suspected I was gay and had made that comment on purpose to see what I would say. GROSS GROSS GROSS I would rather be asked outright about my sexuality than be baited into revealing it (but don’t do that either).

    1. mcfizzle*

      Oh my… talk about putting you on the spot. That’s so not cool, even if her intentions were officially benign. Yeesh.

    2. JSPA*

      Would have been just as gross if you were straight, mind you. Who DOES that, even joke-matchmaking their reports and their clients? Ick.

    3. Jj*

      Me too. I wasn’t out at work but one day on the way out I hooked my key caribeener on my belt loop and my “ally” boss looked me up and down and pointed at my keys said “what’s that about?” I said it holds my keys to my pants. From there he asked me pointed questions for months until I was too tired to keep dodging and I said yeah I have a girlfriend. It really sucked.

      1. Mimi*

        Wait, caribeeners are a gay signifier now? I thought they were just popular in a certain outdoorsy and outdoorsy-adjacent sector of society. (I mean, yes, plenty of my queer friends use them, but many of my friends are queer, and I’m pretty sure some of my straight friends also use them…)

    4. allathian*

      Yuck, this is just so wrong on so many levels. She intentionally trapped you into revealing something you didn’t want to tell her. But it’s not just that, even if you’d been straight, matchmaking your reports and your clients is not a good look for any boss.

  19. fueled by coffee*

    (I am a cis woman, so happy to be corrected here by trans/nonbinary folks but):

    In relation to sharing pronouns: PLEASE make sharing pronouns optional. I say this mostly from experience as an instructor in college classes.

    Normalizing sharing pronouns, using non-binary pronouns, and not assuming others’ pronouns based on their gender presentation are all great things. Especially (as OP writes) to the extent that cis allies can work to normalize this!

    But in the required “let’s go around in a circle and say your names and pronouns,” I find that all this does is force people who may still be questioning their gender identity or not yet ready to come out to either out themselves or misgender themselves, often in front of total strangers.

    Instead, I’ve started saying things like “please introduce yourself, including your pronouns if you want to.” Over zoom, I say something like “If you’d like to add your pronouns to your name, please feel free, but of course you don’t have to.” In college classes, I give the explanation above for *why* I’m doing this, but YMMV. In cases where it’s necessary for me to know students’ pronouns, I ask for it in a private form, with a note that they are welcome to update this at any point during the semester.

    Just wanted to share this, since I definitely used to be of the “making everyone share their pronouns is so cool and progressive of me” mind, until I learned about how uncomfortable this can make folks who aren’t ready to share this info with a room full of strangers.

    1. trans and tired*

      While there is disagreement in the community about the best way to handle this, I very strongly prefer creating the option for people to share when they want to rather than putting everyone on the spot. My gender identity matches my gender presentation now, but I still find it super triggering to be put on the spot and have to explain what gender I am to a room full of people.

    2. AnonPi*

      This very much. They recently started asking employees at work to start adding pronouns to signatures, meeting ID’s, etc, with some subtle pressure that while it’s not required they really want you to do it. Since it’s about a half/half liberal/conservative company in a conservative state, I don’t see it happening anytime soon. But I still don’t like the implication. One I don’t like labels except on my food, and two as of now I don’t fit in a box to label. While I present female, and if pressured that’s what I’ll give them, I’d feel uncomfortable doing so knowing that’s not me.

    3. peasblossom*

      Yes! A lot of well-meaning cis allies go full force on this, thinking they’re doing the right thing, but end up creating a really uncomfortable space. The practices you’ve laid out here are great. It is so critical to be cognizant too of the the relative safety of the space of disclosure. Not all spaces are equally safe and (especially if you’re cis) you might not always have the best gauge of safety so it’s best to make sharing pronouns welcome and optional.

    4. Midwest Teacher*

      Absolutely this. I came to say the same thing!! I’m not out at work and requiring people to state their pronouns would force me to either out myself or misgender myself.

    5. Simply the best*

      This is so timely because I literally had this conversation with my boss today. I was very nervous and uncomfortable when I brought it up, but she was so receptive to everything that I said and we ended up having a hugely long conversation about her wanting to do her best to truly be a welcoming and accepting workplace and not one that was just performative (which the publicization of pronouns can really turn into). She immediately made a change to our website in the middle of our conversation and put it on our agenda to have a conversation and make tweaks to our current procedure at our next staff meeting based on what I brought up. I was truly floored by how well the conversation went and how she immediately jumped into action to course correct.

    6. JB*

      Co-signing this, as a trans person who is not out at work. If anyone put me in a position where I HAD to give my pronouns, it would be very awkward indeed.

      (And no, ‘what pronouns should we use for you’ and all these other re-worded requests don’t do anything to change the fact that you’re asking me to instruct you to misgender me.)

    7. Transanon*

      I know other people might disagree, but I personally like it when others assume my gender based on my presentation, it makes me feel affirmed and validated. People asking for my gender makes me anxious and worry that I’m not passing. Even before coming out I’d much rather people just assume my gender than ask me about it and forcing me to either come out or misgender myself.

  20. bee*

    Any advice on being out when you work at a religious institution? I work at a fairly conservative (but non-Christian!) religious university and I’m on the fence about being more widely out. I’m currently just out to my boss, and I would feel comfortable being more open with my direct coworkers, but I have concerns about our adjacent departments and the university as a whole.

    I’m pretty confident that I can’t be fired because of my orientation (I’m in a liberal state with strong protections) but the university is currently being sued for refusal to recognize the LGBTQ student club, so I have some worries. My grandboss is gay, but I only know that because my boss told me about someone in an adjacent department obliviously saying something homophobic to him. So it’s complicated!

    I’m not sure what advice I really want, I think mostly just reassurance that putting up pictures of me and my girlfriend and saying “my girlfriend” instead of “my partner” in work meetings would not be a Huge Deal? I go back and forth on it, part of me thinks people will take it in stride, and part of me just gets nervous about it.

    1. Andy*

      I guess the only real answer is that it is a risk. Some people won’t have issues. Some will, simply because the institution is too large for there not being someone like that.

      I have known person who slowly opened up about being guy to more and more people. It was longer process and that person said they know there are people who have issue with them no being heterosexual.

      I think that they were as high as they could be anyway, so blowback could only be personal and not professional.

    2. Curious*

      Please do be careful with your assumptions about whether you are legally protected. The intersection between your anti-discrimination rights as an employee and the religious freedom rights of a religious employer might be … tricky.

    3. FrumFeygele*

      Are you at YU? If so, the weird secular-religious split they have there may impact how you’re protected (or not). Seconding the advice to consult a legal aid org or an attorney.

  21. Ray Gillette*

    At least twice a month, someone at work calls me Ron. I do work semi-closely with a Ron, but we’re in different departments and other than the fact that we both have sweet mustaches, we don’t look alike or anything. This isn’t a huge embarrassing thing, it only necessitates a “Ron – sorry, Ray – was telling me that we should have an update on the Penske file this afternoon.”

    Getting someone’s pronoun wrong isn’t exactly the same as getting their name wrong, but you can handle both in the same way to minimize any awkwardness or embarrassment on the part of the other person: note the mistake, correct yourself with a brief, matter-of-fact apology, and move on.

    1. Cam*

      Yes, this also works from the other side – it was pretty much my coming out as trans strategy to simply correct with “please use he and him for me” and move right along without encouraging the other party to dwell on it.
      Many people would like to say something supportive, but it makes me squirm to watch them look for the words. Easier to blow past it, and they can bring it up another time if they still want to say malarky about how much they love trans rights.

  22. Bugalugs*

    So I have a question about #1. We’re a small staff of 9 within one building but the company is nation wide. The company doesn’t do anything to support anything religion, charities, anything and neither do we locally. Our warehouse is comprised of people that don’t have a problem with genders, race, religions etc. as long as you’re not preaching whatever it is you believe in to other people or look down on other people. We do have the odd discussion about random topics but everyone has always been able to share their opinion, as far as I know anyway nobody not said anything. So if someone asks the question about “their commitments to diversity, inclusion, and equity” We don’t really have an answer for that since we don’t really do anything besides not be dicks to each other. So what kind of answer could we give that could show we only care that you’re not a jerk, you show up and you do your job well. We have had trans, gay and Bi people who have worked here over the years it just seems really off putting to tell people that rather then something else that could indicate we’re okay with anything.

    1. Ali G*

      You’ve kind of hit on where I am too! We are small, like ~60 people all over North America, so like, I could be working with LGBTQ+ people and never know it. We have changed some hiring processes, like including more HBCUs and adding more than just M/F to the application, etc. But, yeah, besides that? Don’t be an a**hole and you’ll be just fine. I know that we would shut down any sort of racist or bigoted behavior, stat (I myself once got chastised about what I thought was an innocent comment about being child free – turns out it was not and I apologized, genuinely).
      I do know that in the past, we’ve had people transition with us, but that’s about it. I think if I was asked by a candidate in an interview about how we practice inclusivity (OK “inclusivity” keeps getting flagged as misspelled FYI), I wouldn’t too be far off: “we just aren’t dicks. Do your job well and we are all good” Like you said.

      1. louvella*

        Yeah I worked at a place that would have said very similar things and as a queer person I was not comfortable there.

    2. HereKittyKitty*

      If you have any “misconduct” language you can point to, that could be helpful. Presumably, there’s an operating procedure for allegations of discrimination or hate speech- that they’re unacceptable and taken seriously and what steps are taken to ensure the safety of the people involved. So even if you can’t point to specific values or charities, something like “We have a strict policy of treating each other with respect and take seriously any allegations that someone is not being treated respectfully. That applies to people in the LGBT+ community, people of different races and religions, different genders, and folks with disabilities. We welcome all in our workplace and expect people to behave appropriately.”

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be blunt, if I were a candidate, that answer would sound like “we haven’t thought that deeply about it / we’re assuming all is fine as long as people aren’t actively jerks.” It’s a little too close to “we don’t see color.” That can feel like it’s working when you’re a member of the dominant group, but you won’t necessarily see the ways things play out for people who aren’t. If you’re not really actively working on inclusion and equity other than “don’t be dicks to each other,” there may be big blind spots you’re not seeing around, for example, the experience of people of color on your team. A company can be composed of not-dicks and still have real issues around who gets what feedback, who gets what development opportunities, what voices carry most weight, etc. etc. etc. … and if you don’t commit to actively tackling those sorts of issues around bias and equity, “don’t be a dick” isn’t enough.

      I obviously don’t know anything about your company! Just sharing how that answer would land with me and maybe others.

      1. Tali*

        That is how it would land with me too. “We haven’t thought about it and we won’t unless it’s, like, 1980s movie bully level egregious. If a discrimination claim comes up, we will quibble with the victim about the perpetrator’s intent and “but they meant well” until the victim gives up and surface harmony is restored.”

        Answering inclusivity questions with “don’t be a dick” is like answering “how often do you clean?” with “whenever it’s dirty.” That’s not a reassuring answer and that person definitely has a dirty house!

      2. lemon meringue*

        Yep. And I have to say that for those of us who have to actively scan for employers’ diversity efforts, I would note the conspicuous absence. You’re essentially advertising that you’re the Wild West of DEI and any employee who experiences discrimination will be on their own. Processes are good! Processes and structures are what save us from ourselves. If you don’t have any kind of employee protections or diversity initiatives in place, you might as well be up front about that, I suppose. But this language will probably give the game away in any case.

    4. Mimi*

      Things you could potentially do:
      – Have a clearly-stated harassment policy (that’s easy to find), and an alternative reporting method in case the problem is with the person one is supposed to report to.
      – Have inclusive parental leave policies (any gender, include fostering or adoption), and partner benefits, if applicable.
      Those might be things governed by the national organization, but “advocate for these things at a parent-org level” is an action.
      Something you could definitely do:
      – Have a discussion with other staff about how the organization could be more inclusive. If nobody has *any* ideas, that suggests that either your current staff is extremely homogenous, or that people who do have ideas don’t feel comfortable speaking up. An anonymous suggestion box might be better for this, actually.
      – Work to get honest feedback in exit interviews. I’m not sure what best practices here are — possibly you could work with your national bosses on this?

    5. Liz T*

      So, what would happen if you accidentally hired someone who WAS a dick? That’s what I would be wondering. (In addition to what the others have said.) Do you have any systems in place to deal with that? Because even if everyone who currently works there happens to just be really chill, there’s nothing about the company that’s magic, right? Since nothing particular is being done, there’s nothing in place to weed out homophobes or make sure they’re dealt with promptly.

      So even assuming that everything’s exactly as cool there as you think it is, how does the company plan to keep it that way?

  23. DuckingLexi*

    Great read Allison. Does anyone have experience being out as a non-binary recruiter where you’re in contact with a lot of different indivduals?

  24. logicbutton*

    For #1, I would actually move involvement in Pride parades to the lip service category alongside rainbow logos, unless maybe it’s a business or organization that’s clearly directly relevant to queer people. I am personally really against brands at Pride, so I’m never gonna be like, “Hmm, I wasn’t sure whether to apply to work at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant until I saw them marching at Pride, and now I’m sold!” It’s always going to be more important to me that queer employees are supported at work in the other ways listed.

    1. Some dude*

      A lot of companies that are draped in rainbows in july are happy to donate to anti-gay politicians the other 11 months of the year. so, yeah.

      The last pride I went to, a few years ago, I was really grossed out by all the tech companies there (I’m near silicon valley). If their presence means that their LGBTQ employees felt more supported, awesome, but it really seemed more like marketing and PR to me.

    2. Tali*

      I agree with this. Our local LGBTQ+ scene is still very much in the closet/fighting for basic equal rights stage (slowly improving!) and yet I saw many big banks and retailers with rainbow colors at Pride. These are the same places requiring heels for female workers and extensive overtime from men (because of course they have a wife at home). It’s very easy to for the marketing department to throw money and brand colors at Pride and make no significant changes anywhere else in the company.

    3. JB*

      Eh, for some queer people it’s important, others not so much. A previous manager of mine tried to poach me to the large (household name) company he works at now, and one of his selling points was ‘they’re at Pride!’ He was crestfallen and confused when that wasn’t any kind of incentive for me. (We’re both queer.) But for him it’s a big deal because he knows he can attend pride without risking his job, which still isn’t the case everywhere, even in liberal parts of the US.

    4. neeko*

      I think this is very much a case by case thing. I’m defintely not into rainbow washing but plenty of orgs participate in pride because of their LGBTQ+ ERGs/affinity groups want to participate. It also depends on the politics of your pride event which a whole cluster on it’s own.

  25. Dasein9*

    One thing I might add is if you choose to stay in the closet, avoid coming out privately to someone who is both out and lower than you are in your organization’s hierarchy.
    Protection works like gifts in this sense: it should flow down, not up.

  26. Gnome*

    Nicely said. As a person who does not have these particular challenges, but who is visibly and very notably The Only One of another minority group just about everywhere, I really resonated with the part about how being the first is never easy!

  27. Kate*

    I am still working out how I feel about my own pronouns but I really want to make space for others to feel like they can use theirs.

    Putting she/they in my email signature feels like a way bigger step than I am comfortable with for something that is a very small part of my identity (for me; I recognize for many other people, it’s a much more important part of themselves).


    1. lemon meringue*

      Eh, speaking for my (trans) self, I don’t really care that much about the signature pronouns one way or the other, except that I hope no one pressures me into adding them. I don’t think any gender diverse people at your company would want you to make yourself uncomfortable for the signature pronouns cause, which is only of fairly nebulous benefit to most of us. I’d only add them if you really want to.

    2. tamarack and fireweed*

      Queer and cis here, and the name I go by is gender-neutral. I have pronouns in my signature mostly to make it easy for others to, and also (most of the time I put [she]) to avoid people thinking I’m a man :) . But I go back and forth on [she/they] … and also think that going back and forth is fine, and that pressuring people is not cool.

      Don’t make rules where no rules are needed.

    3. JB*

      The biggest thing to do is just be accepting and – for lack of a better word – normal about it if someone tells you their pronouns. There’s not really any other way to advertise that you’re not transphobic, except to not be transphobic.

      I suppose you could get an ‘ally’ pin (there are some very nice professional ones out there) and self-describe as an ally. But that will mean trans and queer people might expect more from you than just acceptance – like that you will stand by them and back them up if they are targeted by someone hateful – so only do that if you are, in fact, willing to help out.

  28. HereKittyKitty*

    I’m a queer cis person and would love to add my pronouns to my email signature- and I’d be the first person to do so in my department if not ever. Has anyone else been the “first” to do something like this at their company? Should I expect any questions or commentary around the decision? I don’t necessarily feel like giving my bi-life spiel at work, but would like to have my pronouns in my email as I think it’s good practice.

    1. Ms Frizzle*

      I was far from the first in my district, but I was the first staff member at my school to put pronouns in my email and Zoom name. I’m not the only one anymore! I didn’t get any questions or comments, but I work in a liberal district in a liberal city.

      I don’t like explaining the details of my queerness at work either—going into asexuality is inherently awkward, and I can’t feel comfortable doing it professionally—but as a very straight-passing cis woman I kind of like having pronouns in my signature because it signals that I’m at least queer-friendly.

      1. HereKittyKitty*

        Same feelings here. I’m bi and married to a man, so I tend to get looked over often. I like having my pronouns listed to just signal out that I’m queer-friendly. That and the pink hair sometimes helps haha.

        1. Ms Frizzle*

          I have waist length hair in my natural color and I love it, but I have occasionally thought about a queer haircut just to communicate SOMETHING ;). Apparently I pass so convincingly that I can go to a social event in a Pride-level rainbow outfit and still get told that I seem straight.

        2. Raxhel*

          This is a really interesting point. I’m a femme-presenting cis woman and my pronouns are she/her. I accept they/them because I think it’s important people don’t make assumptions about pronouns. But it is wrong for me.
          In the world that we currently live in I think avoiding the phrase “preferred pronouns” is best, but I always liked the idea of a world where everyone was referred to by totally neutral pronouns / titles etc etc and then one could express a preference for more specific options.
          It seems to me that a part of the issue is the difference between “I don’t want you to make assumptions or speculate about my gender identity” and “I would specifically like to use pronouns that make it clear that I identify outside the she/he binary”
          I personally take they/them to be “your gender is none of my business unless you tell me” but I don’t know how people with they/them pronouns perceive that interpretation?

    2. Ali G*

      If you are worried about it, maybe find a few other colleagues willing to do it as well, so you aren’t the stand out. If someone came to me and asked if I would so they wouldn’t be the only ones, I would do it for sure.

    3. Merry and Bright*

      I was the first in my office to add my pronouns to my signature (I am straight cis woman). I am the building representative for our safety committee (of a large global company) and send out emails a couple if times a month to our team, and I had one topic about our anti discrimination policy including based sexual orientation. I also put in there ways to be an ally and explained that adding pronouns to your signature was one of them which is why I was changing my signature. (Thanks Allison, I got that suggestion here).

      I didn’t get any comments from my co-workers in my office, and have only gotten a couple of questions about it from clients. I created a quick 30 second blurb (when I changed my signature) to share for when I was asked questions, which made it feel like I wasn’t being put on the spot.

      Honestly, most people don’t say anything. The hardest part for me was the mental preparation to make the change, and I come from a place of privilege. Best wishes!

    4. tamarack and fireweed*

      If it’s something as small as pronouns (in an English-speaking country), and you don’t have an outspoken homophobe with power in your business unit to deal with, I would just do it. I was probably the first to put pride stickers on my laptop and have a photo of a person of my sex on my desk.

      Some queer networking is helpful – if you already know who some other queers are, you can psych yourself up.

      My default way to deal with the occasional vaguely-negative reaction is a slightly ingenue-surprised attitude: “Oh, I do it in my private email and it’s all over social media. I just find it really nice and helpful…” . As long as it’s not your boss trying to ban it they can’t actually stop you!

      As for my pride stickers, after I got my PhD and before I was hired on a full-time position, I had a temp job for a while and was using my own laptop at work. Covered in nerdy stickers, including a very prominent moose in rainbow colors. On short notice I was pulled in by our project’s PI to be come along to a meeting with one of our state’s senator’s staff, about what kind of stuff we do. I took my laptop along. The senator is a republican (though an easy-to-talk-to one, and she wasn’t there anyway), but her staff was professional and friendly and I did an improvised presentation about our data collection capabilities. Only afterwards I realized they were looking straight at my rainbow moose. (I’ve also had co-workers from other units come out to me spontaneously after a first meeting with me and my laptop.)

      1. HereKittyKitty*

        Thanks! I think part of my hang-up was being a new person at the company and I’ve only met my other coworkers once in person. But I went ahead and went for it anyway :) I like the language you presented here too, I’ll pocket it away.

    5. Mimi*

      In the areas I’ve lived in, it wouldn’t be a big deal at most orgs and wouldn’t require explanation, but I think I’ve seen people linking to “pronouns 101” type sites when doing it in areas where it’s not necessarily common practice.

    6. Remote from Corp*

      I’m a cis-male who uses he/his/him pronouns who has LGBTQ children. I decided as an ally a simple thing I could so was to add my pronouns to my email signature at work – just a simple “pronouns: he/his/him” on a separate line. I work in a male dominated, fairly conservative, health care company with thousands of employees.

      I got a call a couple of weeks later from my grand boss asking about it and saying he was going to HR to talk about whether it was OK for me to have my pronouns in my email signature. He said I wasn’t in trouble, but he was concerned about it because we are highly regulated and he was wondering if it might be a problem because it was different than everyone else (we do have a standard email signature format which allows for very few differences). HR apparently didn’t have an issue with it and he dropped it. Sharing just because it didn’t even occur to me before that something like this was even remotely likely to happen….

  29. Colorado Bisexual*

    When I first read this, I missed that it was submitted by a reader. I saw the phrase about “that’s how I knew it was safe to come out too” and had a moment of joy when I thought it meant Alison was one of us too (all the cats = not not bi woman married to a man energy). I just put it together, thank you for your allyship Alison!

    1. LGBTQ+ FAQ Author*

      You would be right though, the author is a bi woman married to a man <3
      I'm more of a dog person myself though :)

  30. Cam*

    From the trenches on transitioning somewhere where coworkers had known me for many years, I generally come out (and introduce myself to new people) with something like “please call me Cam and use he and him with that” with no mention of the word “pronoun”. I frequently follow it by jumping straight into business, just to move the conversation along and away.

    I’ve found that if I say “pronoun” people are much more likely to go on a mental digression into whether they know what the various parts of speech are, which takes them out of the conversation. Telling them how they should address me is giving them the interface they should use, and that’s all they need – they can infer identity from that, but it’s really none of their business. My tone is brisk and businesslike, and most people just follow my lead.

    I do think that the direction of transition makes a big difference to the scripts to use – it’s more gender conformant for a man to be blunt and assertive, so I suspect that my scripts don’t translate easily to the other direction of transition. Overall my experience has suggested that misogyny was a much larger impediment at work than transmisia.

  31. Cat Toys*

    How do you get your company to include anti LGBTQ+ harassment training when they normally include other yearly harassment training like age/sex/medical status?

    Last year we had our yearly anti-harassment training and anti LGBTQ+ harassment training was obviously missing. HR was using a video series for the training corporate HR purchased from somewhere (which also had really gross female stereotypes, like the dumb blond not understanding why you shouldn’t a public VPN for accessing sensitive information from work).

    I suspect part of our high turnover rate is due to people part of the community getting hired in, not feeling accepted/included and leaving shortly after that.

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      Why don’t you write a friendly, professional email to the head of HR?

      You can’t rely on it being successful, but more often than I expected I actually saw companies react to feedback like this. You may not necessarily even be informed, but sometimes a year later the offending thing just isn’t there any more.

  32. Dumblydore*

    Appreciate the comment saying this post is US-centric. In certain cultures I would emphatically advise NOT to come out, at work or even in personal life, for one’s own safety.

  33. tamarack and fireweed*

    Nicely done. I came out ~25 years ago and have never been seriously in the closet again.

    A couple of additions, maybe.

    – What can you do as an LGBT person to be helpful to those who come after you?
    Being out really helps to turn the atmosphere further towards openness. At one job I had started to work at my new desk when the department chair (not someone I was directly or even indirectly responsible to) came bouncing by, introduced himself, and then mentioned that he and his husband always have a big bonfire at the end of the summer and I was invited. That was a pleasant experience for me!

    – As a non-LGBT person (“ally”, though I’m not a super fan of the terminology) you can be extremely helpful by taking tasks off the LGTP+ people:
    — Denormalize the default assumption of straightness and a gender binary: Talk about “when they have a boyfriend or girlfriend”, mention same-sex partners when appropriate (“we had a very nice dinner at the end of the conference day, and Sally’s wife joined us”). Of course, don’t make it a THING, or overdo it (more than it would be natural to), but the reality is that people tend to avoid mentioning same-sex partners where they *would* mention other-sex partners, so a little bit of balancing things out is appropriate. Use “they” when the gender of third parties doesn’t matter and there’s no strong marking already in the conversation.
    — For some out queer people, such as myself, (but do use good judgement!) it’s a nice thing to do their coming out for them. For example sometimes the reason people don’t mention someone’s same-sex partner is from the misguided assumption that the queer person should be in control about every single individual coming-out. SURE, SOME DO! But I find it very tiring given my outness level. So I appreciate even a bit of friendly gossip. I just assume everyone already knows I’m a lesbian and proceed from there.
    — Particularly useful: When no other queer people are around (that you know) keep challenging bigotry. Of course whenever it’s blatant, but also when it’s subtle. Eg. if in a group of (presumed to be) straight co-workers someone makes a mild allusion to someone’s breach of conformity with gender expectations (a woman being butch, a man being campy / domestic) as an explainer for the way they do something or aspire to something, then say something. I don’t mean put a taboo over observations that are friendly and accurate, but stuff like tying the success or the ambition of a woman in a male-dominated field to her sexuality, or stereotyping a gay man who is also a good cook. A friendly “I think we should be careful here – plenty of straight men are excellent cooks too”, delivered in a friendly tone, can help defuse some stuff.

    1. Mimi*

      On the friendly gossip, I’d suggest: You can ask! If someone mentions their same-gender partner, you can follow up later in the conversation, when there’s a natural pause, “By the way, are your open about your relationship at work, or would you prefer that I not share that info?”

    2. RWM*

      Love all of this, and I’d add that companies/managers with that default assumption of straightness and the gender binary are the ones that stand out as “not great to work for.” The opposite is also true: I always notice when a company uses gender neutral pronouns/the singular “they,” asks for your pronoun (and has more than “he” and “she” to choose from) when filling out paperwork, or if they say “partner” vs. “husband or wife” when talking about things like healthcare benefits. So keep that in mind if you’re looking for an inclusive workplace, or if you’re an ally who wants to make sure your company is welcoming and inclusive.

  34. Canadian Librarian #72*

    If it’s a large company, they might have sought to be listed as one of “[Country/city’s] Most LGBT+ Friendly Employers”. You need to take that with a grain of salt, because officially they may have good policies but specific individuals within the org might be homophobic or transphobic assholes. However, if they’re on such a list, that’s a good indicator that should you run into difficulties, HR will likely be supportive in helping find you a solution.

    I will say personally I’ve struggled with being out at work, because I’m a cis bisexual woman whose gender presentation is pretty conventional and who everyone knew had a male partner. I often felt like if I was out about not only liking men, that was going to be seen as me TMI-ing about my personal sexual proclivities (which is not something I really wanted to give out much information about anyway). I think I mentioned it offhand a few times, and definitely no one raised an eyebrow. But it was something I was conscious of and ambivalent about.

    On the more positive side, my coworker came out as a trans woman about a year after she started working with us, and while there were a few pronoun slip-ups from some of our older colleagues, everyone really seemed to take it in stride and it was a non-issue as far as I was aware. My coworker came out during one of our semi-regular meetings during quarantine, and just made a simple announcement about it. Everyone said congratulations, our boss offered to make any accommodations necessary, and we moved on to the next agenda item. Since not everyone had a webcam for meetings, I didn’t actually see this coworker for over a year, and when I next ran into her, she looked quite different, so I assumed things had been going well for her at work such that she felt comfortable presenting as a woman in the office (her job required her to go in physically sometimes; mine didn’t). I don’t have any more details about how things went for her since I didn’t want to pry, but I’ve been hopeful that they went as well as they seemed to.

    I would also say that it’s a good idea for everyone (especially cis people, or people whose pronouns are likely to be seen as consoant with their gender presentation) to put their pronouns in their email signatures. The more people do it, the more normalized it will be, and this helps everyone (including cis people who have gender-neutral names or names in foreign languages, where others won’t necessarily know if they’re a typically female or male name).

  35. Some dude*

    Young-ish, gay, cis, POC here.
    I just wanted to share my perspective…

    At my last job I was not out despite having openly gay people at that job, largely in part because they were all white cis men. They claimed to be LGBT+ friendly and even had pride events, but it was clear to me that I was not their expectation of a gay person (don’t get me started on privileges for hetero-normative relationships/lifestyles), and I felt coming out would do more harm than good.

    In contrast, I’m out at my current job for 2 big reasons, an LGBT+ committee, AND a diversity committee.

  36. Spooncake*

    Just wondering whether anyone has advice/experience on how to navigate this as an asexual person (or aromantic- pretty sure I’m somewhere on that spectrum too). I’m very wary of saying “I’m asexual” because of the high likelihood that I’d have to explain it, leading to “nobody needs to hear about your sex life at work”. But… I’m also in a long-term relationship that looks like a heterosexual one, and am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the assumption that that makes *me* heterosexual. I’m starting a new job soon and I’d like to be involved in any LGBTQ+ stuff they have going on so would like to be out even in a low-key way, but I have no idea what I’m doing!

    1. Ms. Frizzle*

      This was me a few years ago! It’s actually still mostly me except that now I am very single, instead of in a straight-passing relationship. I’m ace and bi-romantic, and I got to the point a few years ago where I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable with being assumed straight but didn’t know what to do about it.

      It’s become easier for me because my school does a lot of social justice/equity work, and often there are places in those discussions to talk about your own identity. My hands shook a lot the first few times I talked about being queer but it feels really good now that at least some people know. I generally use “queer” or “bi.” I agree that there is no good way to come out as ace at work in a world where most people don’t know what asexuality is. I felt even more strongly that way when I was dating someone, honestly.

      Besides the equity discussions, things I have tried or seen other people try include: mentioning going to pride or queer social events, putting up safe space stickers in my classroom, buttons on my lanyard*, being intentionally vague about pronouns when discussing past exes/potential relationships, and adding pronouns to my signature and Zoom name. I don’t think most of those things are enough to out me on their own, but if I saw someone else do all of that I would start to wonder about them.

      *Besides rainbow stuff, I usually find that if someone recognizes the ace pride flag then they know enough to not require an explanation from me.

      1. Spooncake*

        This is really helpful, thank you! In my new job I’ll be working remotely so won’t have much opportunity for badges/stickers etc but the other things you’ve been doing are definitely things I’ll be considering. I’ve been thinking of just sticking with “I’m queer” anyway to be honest, it seems like less effort than the full explanation of what’s going on with me, which even I’m not 100% sure on. Staying in the “if they do all these things they’re either one of us or serious about their allyship” space will be enough for me outside of those specific times when I need to talk about it, I think :)

        1. Ms Frizzle*

          I hope it goes well, good luck at the new job!

          I started using “queer” when I first realized I wasn’t straight but didn’t know exactly what else to say yet. I like that it’s flexible, like you say, and also that I can be non-specific. I also like the social and political implications—but mostly it just works for me on a practical level.

  37. SomeoneWhoIsAlwaysWillingToPutOnASweaterAndSlippers*

    Thank you for this. I am sharing this link with the fellow members of a workgroup I am a part of that is working to formalize our policy/process for students and faculty/staff to request a non-legal name change. While that is our focus, the workgroup is also part of a larger committee focused on DE&I, so this may also be helpful for the full committee.

  38. photon*

    Many trans folks do not feel comfortable with the push to make everyone state pronouns by default (and for many, it can be actively triggering). This is an ongoing discussion within the community, but for some reason cis allies have really latched on to this as though there is common consensus around it.

    If you want to share your pronouns, fine. But please don’t push others into sharing, or treat the trans community as a monolith who all want the same thing.

  39. Pantalaimon*

    I am a queer person who’s not super worked up about my gender and doesn’t really care how people refer to me, and I hate being around or being expected to participate in pronoun talk. If I’m forced to tell strangers how to gender me, I always end up saying something noncommittal and vaguely defensive.

    Telling somebody what third-person pronouns to use to refer to me feels like saying, “I know you’re going to be talking about me after I’m gone, and this is how I want you to do it,” which is super controlling and none of my business.

    And also I am super skeptical of straight/cis people who lead with pronoun talk, because they’re usually big ol’ virtue-signalers, and now that’s the first thing I know about them besides their name and gender, and we’re already off on the wrong foot.

  40. Shay*

    One of my big things for figuring out if it’s safe to be out at work is putting my pronouns (they/them) in my resume and cover letter. First good sign is getting an interview; second good sign is how they handle the pronouns during the interview. I’m looking for natural usage of my pronouns, ideally not having to explain what they mean or how to use them, and most importantly, no other comments/questions about it. (I’m fine being the educator in my work setting in an informal way, but that is definitely not the way I want to see them using my time for an interview!)

    I’ve also become increasingly open about my work on DEI initiatives – specifying on my resume/LinkedIn if I made x and y culture shift related to LGBTQ+ identities, what policies and trainings I brought to the org, etc. That’s not going to fit everyone’s role, but if you do have any experience volunteering or advocating for equity, that can be a great way not just to screen out discriminatory workplaces, but to attract yourself to the ones that care about making progress in those areas.

    This comes from a place of preferring a safe workspace to more job opportunities if it means I’m screening out discriminatory companies, but after being out of the closet to my academic/professional community since adulthood, hiding that again doesn’t feel like a shift I could stand making.

  41. Jennifer Juniper*

    Bisexual ciswoman here.

    I know to use people’s required pronouns. What do I do when people’s pronouns change regularly, as with genderfluid people? I want to make sure I’m following the correct etiquette.

    1. Shay (they)*

      What I see most often is that either 1. They will alert you to their pronouns for the day that they’d like you to use, or 2. They’d like you to mix up which pronouns you use – sometimes they and sometimes he, throughout the course of talking about them.

      Less commonly I see 3. They’re okay with you picking one of their options for you to use consistently. (There will always be people who are genuinely okay with this and will tell you so, but a lot of time I find out when I get closer to these people that they really do want to use pronouns that don’t align with their assigned gender, or that they do want their pronouns to vary, but they won’t insist on it because they’re nervous about it.)

      1. Shay (they)*

        * sometimes they and sometimes he just as one example, not as a blanket for all multipronoun people lol

  42. Avery*

    I just want to add my two cents as a nonbinary person–I’ve gone back and forth on whether I want to be out in my professional life, and what made me decide to come out upon starting a new job was seeing that several of my coworkers listed their pronouns in their email signatures. I came out by doing the same and listing my pronouns as she/they, which makes it pretty clear that I’m not cis. Nobody’s brought it up yet; it seems to be a nonissue at my current workplace. So allies, know that small gestures like listing your pronouns really do make a difference!

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