In the spirit of National Coming Out Day, we turned to Candace Gingrich-Jones, associate director of the Youth and Campus Outreach Program for the Human Rights Campaign, for advice. Gingrich-Jones is a renowned advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and is also famously known as the half-sister of former Rep. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Here's what she had to say:
- Be aware of the consequences: "One thing to make sure gets mentioned is that it is still possible in some places to be fired for being gay; for being openly gay at work," Gingrich-Jones says. "I do encourage people to think about it before coming out at work because of that possibility. The majority of people who come out at work don't run into trouble, but it is something to keep in the back of your mind."
- Know your rights: Do your research to find out the employment laws where you live and in your company. One good resource is the online registry by the Human Rights Campaign called the Corporate Equality Index that evaluates companies on how they treat LGBT employees. It measures companies based on factors like the existence of nondiscrimination policies and domestic partnership benefits. Another helpful source is the Municipality Equality Index, which studies 100 municipalities in the country to evaluate them based on things like the nondiscrimination policies available in the area, openly LGBT in the office, and if the city recognizes domestic partners. There is no federal law that protects the LGBT community from discrimination, but some states and cities do, so do your research to find out what type of area you live in.
- The subtle route: You don't have to come out at the office with trumpets and fanfare — there are subtle ways you can make it known at work. You can do it by just simply living your life. "Some people might not think of wearing a wedding ring as coming out, but you are," she says. "Putting a photo on your desk, being able to talk about our families or what we happened to do over the weekend, these are ways that we all come out . . . there are some people who think that coming out is always supposed to be fireworks and a brass band [but] it is still powerful [whether it be] subtle or the big band."
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- Find an ally: For those who are nervous, Gingrich-Jones recommends to test the waters with someone you feel comfortable with at work. You can find nonobvious ways to engage in LGBT topics by bringing up pop culture or current events. "You have the opportunity to gauge how they feel about the issue based on how they are talking about Modern Family or Jason Collins . . . That is a way to find out ahead of time who could be allies." Once you find someone on your side, you can gradually come out with the person's support.
- It's a personal decision: It's your own decision, and you have to decide when is the right time for coming out. If you are not in the place emotionally and financially, or if you have heard people at the workplace talking and know it is not friendly, Gingrich-Jones says your safety comes first. She says, "People say that if everyone that was queer came out tomorrow, we would have our rights in 24 hours because people would just see the sheer numbers. But we can't do that because it is a journey. And for some people that journey doesn't take them into the workplace and I respect their privacy."