Coming out in the workplace – people of colour

This post is for those who have little or no knowledge about what it means to be an LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME)/ person of colour (POC) in predominantly white heterosexual workplaces. It is rare to find organisations giving any thought to the issues below.

  1. Lack of visibility in noticeable numbers can make it harder to come out as POC LGB.
  2. Support, understanding and safety within POC communities in the workplace (and in society in general) with regard to racism means some people are unwilling to come out for fear of loosing that support (around racial prejudice) which they can’t always count on in wider white LGB communities. This is especially the case for BAME/POC LGBTQ+ people from economically disadvantaged and poorer sections of the community.
  3. Intersectional issues in terms of LGB and POC can severely affect an individuals ability to gain employment and stay in employment.
  4. POC/BAME staff networks in workplaces should explicitly state that they welcome all sexual orientations. There should also be an attempt to reach out, otherwise it is unlike that LGB POC people will join these networks.
  5. LGBTQ+ staff networks in workplaces should explicitly state that they welcome all nationalities, ethnicities etc. They should demonstrate reaching out to marginalised communities to counteract the historical discrimination faced by POC/BAME LGBTQ+ people from within the LGBTQ+ community.
  6. US studies show that young POC lesbian, gay and bisexual people are less likely to be involved in LGB social activities, they report less comfort with people knowing about their sexual orientation and they come out to fewer people than do white young people. 
  7. There is also the issue about people coming out when they are at university or college but going back into the closet when they enter the workplace for fear it will affect their career. This is compounded for POC/BAME communities who already face inequity in the workplace (see Equality and Human Rights Commission reports) based on ethnicity regardless of their educational qualifications. At present
  8. In some studies BAME LGB respondents report a range of experiences in the workplace: juggling multiple identities; seeking work away from family areas and businesses and the importance of racism and homophobia being challenged by both LGB and BAME communities. As sexuality was not ‘visible’ one way of tackling multiple discrimination was to not come out at work. This has also been reported by those with disabilities.
  9. Workplaces should have explicit policies supporting LGB staff regardless of other intersectional identities such as race. It is generally found that people feel more supported in the workplace if there are inclusive LGBTQ+ staff networks and visible senior allies.

Further reading

There are very few studies on coming out in the workplace for LGB people and fewer still that look at intersectionality. Below are some resources, please add to them in the comments section if you find anything useful.

Coming Out as a Person of Colour

Barriers young BME workers face in the labour market

The Challenge of Diversity

Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Workers: A qualitative study

BME career progression – CIPD report


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