Written by Daniel Matchett, Associate Solicitor, International Serious Injury team.
Today is National Coming Out Day, 11 October 2021 and it's worth bearing in mind what the ‘coming out’ process actually involves. Many people will think of a person coming out (i.e. openly stating their sexuality or gender identity) as a singular event. However, this is not quite correct. Whilst it's true that the first occasion on which a person comes out of the closet to friends, family or others, is a significant milestone, it's actually the case that the need to ‘come out’ extends well beyond that one occasion and is in fact an everyday reality for LGBTQIA+ people.
This is particularly the case in a workplace setting. Consider the typical conversation between colleagues over a cup of coffee in the morning. The queer woman choosing to tell colleagues that she spent the weekend with her girlfriend, rather than use the ambiguous term “partner”, is an everyday act of coming out. These moments require LGBTQIA+ people to have a constant awareness of context and to assess whether or not they feel safe being open about their identity in any given situation. This may include assessing the extent to which it might be possible to discuss their sexuality or gender identity with clients. I have myself had experience of clients, unaware of my sexual identity, using language in my presence which is outdated and un-inclusive. Such occasions, thankfully rare, have caused me some discomfort and a sense of insecurity. I've been glad on such occasions to have had the support of colleagues and of my firm generally.
As we approach National Coming Out Day, we should all, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies alike, reflect on what we can do to support LGBTQIA+ colleagues who face the reality of coming out as an everyday imposition. Simple things, such as the language we use, can have a big impact. As an example, asking a colleague whether they have a partner (rather than specifically whether they have a girlfriend or a boyfriend) can help an LGBTQIA+ colleague to feel less put upon to reveal their sexual identity when they may not be comfortable doing so. Equally, strong visibility of support for LGBTQIA+ colleagues within a firm can go a long way to helping such colleagues feel comfortable within an inclusive environment. Such measures are all amongst the steps which firms and individuals within the profession should take in order to ensure that LGBTQIA+ colleagues don't feel comfortable being open about their identity for just one day but for the whole year round.
Simple things, such as the language we use, can have a big impact.