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Should I Come Out Gay at Work? Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

Question: My partner has been on my case lately to tell the people I work with that I am gay. He wants me to bring him to company events and be proud of whom I am. He works in the public sector as part of a union so his job is protected and he has openly revealed his sexuality there. I would like to do the same, except I am worried. What will people think? Can I be fired? I just want to keep doing my job and not have to make my life any harder than it's been.

(Name Withheld By Request), Winnipeg, Manitoba

Dear Gay in Winnipeg,

I am genuinely pleased that you've written me about this important issue. Just like any other human being in our society, you should never have to feel insecure or discriminated against simply for being who you are.

Ask anyone who has cringed on Monday morning when a co-worker asks normally harmless questions like ''so what did you do this weekend?'' or ''who's that in the photo on your desk?''

Given that we live in the year 2008, you'd think that the Enlightenment would have taken hold by now. Unfortunately, ignorance and small mindedness persist in too many places. And some people are quick on the draw to persecute others any chance they can get, which is why I can understand your reluctance to tell people at work that you are gay. Negative outcomes can include being subjected to ridicule or rejection by colleagues and management, leaving you feeling like some kind of social leper. Then again, the feeling that you have to live a lie (by pretending not to be gay) can erode your self-confidence and lead to stress-related illnesses over time. Not to mention the sense that you are a second class citizen in a supposedly egalitarian democracy.

One thing you should be aware of is that it's illegal for an employer to fire you in Canada based only on whether you are heterosexual, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or somewhere in between. But that doesn't mean you're protected from being let go on some other trumped up reason. So the decision to come out should be weighed carefully and depends very much on your employment environment.

For instance, if you work for a large organization, many of them have explicit non-discrimination policies for gays and lesbians. And they may hold workshops on diversity or even sponsor Gay Pride events.

However what if you work in a mainly male, macho division of a bigger organization? Or in a smaller company where you suspect there are closet bigots in your midst and you have to work in close quarters with them?

Obviously it's your choice as to whether you expressly declare your homosexuality at work, or simply leave the folks there to draw their own conclusions. Not that it will take them all that long to connect the dots. When you use phrases such as ''my partner and I went up north for the weekend,'' when you repeatedly show up without a wife or girlfriend at company functions, and if your mannerisms or speech patterns betray you, then not much is left to the imagination.

So maybe it's not necessary to formally bring your status to light, particularly if you're anxious about triggering negative reactions. Or maybe it's a matter of principle for you to stand up and be embraced for being you. Whichever way you decide, you should be at a point in your life where you are ready for the results. And if you do choose to reveal, you may just find that the truth shall set you free.

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