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.