Being out as bisexual at work

Yesterday my boss was preparing to go on annual leave. Next week we will have our company-wide staff meeting so she gave my two co-workers and I a sheet of notes of things she would like us to discuss. There was a paragraph for each of us on the page, and we knew which one was ours as they had been colour coded according to our favourite colours. As it happens our favourites are pink, blue, and purple. My purple paragraph had been placed in the middle.

“Awwwww,” I said upon opening the document. “You’ve accidentally made the bisexual flag with your paragraph colours!”

My boss didn’t know there was a specific flag for bisexuality so looked it up, and we all talked about a few other things relating to flags, labels, and sexuality before returning back to work.

I thought about how lucky I was that I could use my bi activism to help me get a job (on two separate occasions now). As well as talk about this blog and the Big Bi Fun Day at work, and about bisexuality in general. I’ve been out in nearly every school/office/dead end job I’ve ever worked in, but this is the first time I’ve never been questioned, mocked, or made to feel unsafe because of it. In fact, I can safely discuss bisexual issues quite a lot.

If people are able to try coming out as bi at work they risk being treated differently and being viewed as an untrustworthy, indecisive, and unreliable colleague. They risk being passed over for job opportunities and promotions, being fired, or for people to make their working lives so miserable they have no choice but to leave. Bullying is rife in many offices.  I have either experienced all of these things firsthand or seen them happen to other people. As a bystander you can defend someone through actions such as shutting down gossip, supporting them in team meetings etc. but so much happens beyond the space you occupy. And when it’s management or a large group of people you often have very little power to stop it.

For most people it is still not safe to come out at work and it never will be. Often it means working alongside people who you know are biphobic, perhaps even having to put up with anti LGBTQ+ comments and behaviour every time you go in to work. Sadly it’s not limited to your colleagues – if there is no system in place for dealing with it then you may well have to endure the same from clients, service users, and/or volunteers too.

Depending on which study you cite, only 6-12% of bisexuals are out to their co-workers. A figure that is a lot lower than the numbers for gay and lesbian people which is around 40% – which of course is still a very low figure. (Stats from Invisible Majority, lgbtmap.org – thank you to @KivaBay for sharing this link on their Twitter timeline.)

I still stutter and stammer sometimes when my co-workers ask me about the events I run. Even though I know it’s ok to talk about it, it is hard to let go of the fear that automatically floods your veins and makes you freeze when someone mentions anything LGBTQ+ related in the workplace.

It is so amazing to have the support of my work colleagues and yesterday, after the ‘bi-coloured-meeting-notes incident’, I took a moment to appreciate how rare this is and how lucky I am to fall within that small percentage of the bi population.

 

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Can bi volunteer work help you get a job?

This year has seen a lot of changes as I’ve moved house, moved cities and found a new job – no wonder I haven’t had the time or energy to write anything here since January!

I was very fortunate as I had enough money in the bank to last through a short period of unemployment and pay for the cost of moving. I also had enough to give me 1-2 months to find work/start temping so I had the privilege of being able to be out on my CV and take a higher rate of rejection. If it took longer to get work I would be able to cope for a while.

There were a few reasons why I chose to do this. One is that I can no longer bear to hide my sexuality, even if I know the results of coming out will be damaging. I want people to see ME and not something I’m pretending to be. Another is that BiTopia and bi activism took up so much of my life there was little time for anything else. (Clearly wasn’t following my own advice on avoiding burnout!)

In the UK there is an expectation that your CV must show examples of employment, volunteer work, AND some kind of skill building, teamwork based hobby. (Way to discriminate against all the bi people who are just struggling to get by, and can’t do some/all of the above.) So if I didn’t talk about my bi group on my CV, it wouldn’t fit the unspoken criteria for being short listed without lying anyway. Besides, it was all relevant experience to the jobs I wanted to apply for so it made sense to put it on.

Another reason was that as I was moving to a much bigger city, there would be a better chance of finding an LGBTQ+ friendly employer. The people who saw queer stuff on the CV and immediately rejected me because of it would be the people who never got in touch – hurrah!

Finally, I wanted to share what I’d achieved because I felt proud.

It felt very scary talking about it out loud in the job interview in response to questions like, ‘Do you have experience using social media?’ or ‘Can you work with a wide range of people?’ I felt very vulnerable and afraid. I kept reminding myself they could be LGBTQ+ too,  but mostly I was waiting for them to shoot me looks of disgust or call the interview off early. (Not that they did of course.) My voice did wobble at times despite my best efforts to keep it steady and talk naturally.

In the end I got the job, and I also had another interview lined up that I cancelled once I heard the news.

I’m not going to end this with some sappy “You can do it too!” sentiment. Everyone’s situation is different. You might not be in a financial position that allows you to leave a job, take longer to find one, or pick and choose amongst them. It might be damaging or dangerous to come out in your field of employment. But bi activism and organising groups and events can equip you many relevant skills and experiences. And these can aid you in applications and interviews. If being out on your CV is something you are thinking of doing then I wish you good luck!