Think back to starting your first job: did you ever question how to strike the right balance of personality and professionalism? How much personality is too much in the workplace? It’s always been more of an art than a science. And remote work has only blurred these lines further—when your kids are running around or your favorite punk band poster hangs on the wall behind you on Zoom meetings, you’re sharing little bits of your “personal” self at work.
What people don’t talk about much, however, is being gay at work. How much of that identity do I bring to the office? It’s such a complicated question, and as we celebrate Pride this month, I think it’s one worth talking about.
Studies show sexuality and identity impact pay—most often, negatively. There’s still high unemployment rates and horrible violence against many members of this community. Until this isn’t the case, and until every LGBTQIA+ person can come to work with confidence, there’s still work to be done.
Learning to be proud of my true self
I distinctly remember the moment I realized I was “different”. My best friend, Jared, and I were walking back from recess when he casually asked me who I had a crush on in our class. For any other 4th grader this was probably a simple question, but for me, it always gave me pause because everyone else would always talk about their girl crush. I didn’t feel the same way.
Being a part of tight-knit Chinese family and community in Hawaii only further complicated things as I went through my teenage years. In Chinese culture, the eldest son is often looked at as the role model for the family, which also carries with it this unspoken responsibility to bring honor to the family name. And for a long time, I couldn’t reconcile my gay identity with my Chinese identity. I felt that being openly gay meant jeopardizing my family’s reputation, and I didn’t want to do that to my parents.
Junior year of high school was when everything changed for me. I had just moved to California, started at a new school, and had zero friends. A couple weeks into school we got our first project: read The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and present to the class what your metamorphosis would be and why. Ultimately, I started my coming out journey with this presentation to my classmates in 2008. The following months grappling with my truths were difficult and emotional, but as I reflect back, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Then with the support of new friends I came out to my family on Jan 1, 2009. In 2011, I joined a gay fraternity and walked in my first Pride parade. In 2012, I had my first therapy session. In 2013, my dad and I repaired our relationship, and he said was proud of me. In 2016, I joined Front. In 2018, I came to work and interviewed a candidate while in full drag. In 2019, I got engaged to my fiancé, in a surprise party surrounded by friends and coworkers alike. And today, I shared my story with all of you on our company blog.
Navigating identity in the workplace
So many companies have made great strides over the last few decades in supporting and ensuring equality for the LGBTQIA+ community. There are employee resource groups and public celebrations for Pride and corporate pledges to support LGBTQIA+ organizations. And I’m grateful to be a part of a company today that is so supportive.
But we’d be lying if we said this is easy territory to navigate on an individual level. There’s no playbook for totally crushing it at work as a gay man. And it’s impossible to know that every company or industry or partner or coworker I work with in the future will be as supportive and accepting as the ones I’ve been lucky to be around so far.
When starting my first job, it was admittedly confusing. Do I talk about it? How much? Will it be weird if I wear my rainbow t-shirt or my Pride pin on my backpack? Will others be biased based on my sexuality, either knowingly or unknowingly? Will it negatively impact my growth or promotion path? How will I even know if it does?
What I’ve learned over the years
I don’t have all the answers to the questions above, but I’ll leave you with some lessons from my journey of coming out and navigating the conversation at work.
You never stop coming out: Coming out for the first time isn’t the only time you’ll have the conversation. It’s something we do many times throughout life, any time we’re entering a new social situation or meet new people.
Being out matters at work: Especially when building a startup, you often find yourself deep in the trenches with your teammates. For me, by coming out, I created a space for myself to be free and comfortable. When I joined Front, there wasn’t anyone who openly identified as gay. By coming out, you’re also creating a welcoming space for those who join after you.
Build your community: Having a community to support you pays off—whether they’re individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ or allies. When you’re starting a new job, identify mentors or colleagues who you can trust and be yourself with. It’s a great way to get advice and learn from their experiences.
You’re not alone: This comes hand in hand with number 3 above. Coming out isn’t an easy part of life, and doing so at work is often a whole other consideration. Know that even if they’re not at your company or in your immediate community, there are people out there going through the same thing.
Own your narrative: Coming out allows you to take control of the narrative. It allows you to showcase your true self and give others the real version of you. Sharing your story can be very empowering and can give you confidence, whether it’s at work or whatever situation you’re in.
Everyone’s got a different story
I recognize that I’m lucky to have a found a place to work where I’m comfortable bringing my whole self and where doing so is celebrated. Writing this article is a bit of a personal milestone for me. It’s as much for me as it is for younger generations as they embark on their journeys into the working world. Everyone’s got a different story, and not everyone will want to share it. It’s my hope that everyone gets the opportunity to share as much or as little of their “whole selves” as they want, in ways that make them feel confident and happy.
Written by Andersen Yu
Originally Published: 23 June 2021