Coming Out of the Closet at Work: Is it Easier for Young Professionals?

Statistics say many find it difficult. Here's how you can cope

Though celebrities including Frank Ocean have been open about their sexual orientation, statistics show many youth are still not comfortable coming out in the workplace. (Image: File)

Even with the Don Lemons and Frank Oceans of the world, choosing whether to come out at work can still lay a heavy burden on a young LGBT employee.

In what may come as a surprise to some, a recent survey revealed that young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) are far less likely than older LGBT workers to be open about their sexual orientation in the workplace.

The survey, conducted by workplace equality organization, NGO Pride and Diversity, found that 16- to 24-year-olds are the least likely of any age group to be out with their colleagues, clients and customers.

According to a new report by Human Rights Campaign Foundation, where 700 LGBT employees were surveyed, only 5% of LGBT employees ages 18 to 24 are completely open at work.

Why the hesitation to open the closet doors at work?

Despite popular perception that young people these days are more comfortable with their sexual orientation, 38% of young LGBT employees don’t yet feel that they can be themselves at work, 29% can’t confidently say that their work environment is safe and exclusive while 12% wouldn’t feel comfortable in reporting homophobic bullying or harassment.

The fact is it’s still legal in 29 states to fire employees solely because they are gay or are perceived to be gay.

What’s a young LGBT employee to do?

While many U.S. companies, including nearly 90% of Fortune 500 companies, are making strides to extend protections and benefits to their LGBT employees, many young workers remain unsure of their rights, whether coming out will impact their standing among their colleagues and whether it will jeopardize their job security and advancement.

Feel out the company culture: Regardless of what the law or company policies say, experts recommend considering the impact that coming out may have on your career path or day-to-day job satisfaction. Get a feel for the company culture and your colleagues. Make sure that you are ready for your orientation to be known and be aware of the various reactions you may encounter.

Create a plan: Figure out exactly how much information you plan to divulge and who you’re going to tell. Whether you plan to take the band-aid approach or subtly drop breadcrumb hints along the way, try going to a trusted source first. They’re more likely to give you the support, acceptance and confidence needed to make this journey a smoother one. Also, if your company has support groups, join one. Don’t let age or fear hinder you from being comfortable at work. It’s  your right.

Do you think young LGBT workers are more or less closeted than their older counterparts? #SoundOff and follow me on Twitter @JayNHarrison.

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