Fast Company

Out of the Closet, on the Job

Open talk to make workplace relationships work for gay couples.

"The big issue is being closeted if your lover is not," says Brian McNaught, author of "Gay Issues in the Workplace" (St. Martin's Press, 1993) who consults to companies including AT&T, Motorola, and Bell Communications Research on homophobia. "If your lover can talk openly about the relationship and you can't, it takes a toll. That happens regularly because people are at different stages of coming out." Here are McNaught's tips for making the process easier on everyone:

Don't assume your partner feels as comfortable as you do about being out at work. Or that he doesn't love you if he wants to keep the relationship closeted.

Have an open talk at home in which you set specific limits on how often you're willing to be seen together at work and at work-related functions such as the Christmas party. Get it ironed out at home so you don't argue at the office.

Look for advice within the company. Some companies have an employee assistance program or a gay and lesbian support group at work, which will update you on company policies and provide a networking resource. AT&T (Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay United Employees at AT&T) and Pacific Bell (GALEEMAS), for example, have well-established gay resource groups. "The 100 Best Companies for Gay Men and Lesbians" by Ed Mickens (Pocket Books, 1994), lists other progressive companies.

Talk to people, gay or straight, who've been there. If the couples at your office are too far underground to find, seek out an online forum. Digital Queers, digiqueers@aol.com , a national professional organization for gays and lesbians who work in the high-tech industry, is a good resource for networking.

Seek a couples counselor who specializes in gay issues. If you're deadlocked -- she wants to come out at work, and you absolutely don't -- call the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists at 212-925-5008 or your local gay and lesbian hotline for a referral.

Realize that being open can be a positive experience. "I encourage gays and lesbians to be out, if they can, and to answer coworkers' questions about their lives," McNaught says. "People can start to see that you have relationship values and are not just rudderless sexual people."

Coordinates: Brian McNaught presents two corporate workshops, "Homophobia in the Workplace" and "Managing Gay and Lesbian Issues in the Workplace."

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