Workplace Relationships: Supporting a Gay Co-worker
When a colleague comes out at the office, co-workers may not know what to say or do. Some may feel uncomfortable with the subject and avoid talking about it at all costs. Others may respect the person’s courage to speak up but be unsure if broaching the subject is a good idea or not.
As with many workplace relationships -- such as those involving age gaps, gender, or race -- looking for commonalities often helps colleagues get along better than focusing on differences. “Remember that GLBT people do most of the same things you do apart from loving someone of the opposite sex,” says David Couper, a career coach and author of Outsiders on the Inside: How to Create a Winning Career . . . Even When You Don’t Fit In. “They go to ball games, see movies, go to their kid’s soccer games and get their hearts broken and opened!” He suggests treating them as you would any other co-worker, such as asking about their weekend and being just as interested in their activities as you are with the news of straight workers.
Along those same lines, Simma Lieberman, author of Putting Diversity to Work: How to Successfully Lead a Diverse Workforce, urges colleagues to be sure to continue including the person in informal networking conversations and activities. “Often when people come out, they are no longer invited or included in conversations because people don't know how to act, or they think that the LGBT person would not be comfortable.” Couper agrees, adding “If you normally invite spouses to the company picnic, make sure that you invite their same-sex partner too and be welcome and warm to them.”
As for those interested in lending additional support, Lieberman suggests not treating the news as a huge issue, but also not making it a non-issue. “People come out because they want others to know who they are, and they want to bring their whole self to work. It's OK to ask what helped them decide to come out, what stopped them before, and ask about any concerns they may have.”