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Coming out at work and how to be an LGBTQIA+ ally with Remco Boxelaar

Remco shares his tips on how to come out yourself and how to best support a colleague who has come out in your workplace.

Diversity and inclusion is a key pillar of The Social Hub community and a non-negotiable within any one of our spaces. But that’s not always the case in work environments. We caught up with one of our ambassadors, Remco Boxelaar, founder of Corporate Queer to hear about his experiences and what he’s doing to drive change.

What keeps Remco up at night?

After starting his career in a corporate workplace, Remco quickly discovered that it was not the most welcoming of environments. Despite the fact that the Netherlands is considered one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to LGBTIA+ rights, there’s still discrimination taking place every day.

The clear binary distinctions between men and women were what startled Remco the most in his day-to-day life. He found this black and white thinking very restrictive. For example, what men were expected to wear and what women were expected to wear. As someone who sees gender as more fluid and behaviours and actions being led by feeling rather than gender, he always felt like he had to modify himself and conform.

There seemed to be an unspoken rule that the way you dressed determined your professionalism. So, veering outside the lines, being yourself, for example, Remco says he would wear nail varnish, that would be deemed unprofessional and he’d be taken less seriously.

The Corporate Queer

Corporate Queer is motivated to change the stereotype of what it means to be ‘corporate’ and also to encourage people to be themselves. Founded by Remco himself in 2018, the online platform stimulates LGBTIA+ professionals to express themselves openly and proudly at work. In the last five years, it’s grown to a community of over 5,000 and continues to grow by the day. Members are bound by the same mindset of challenging heteronormativity and motivated to lead for a more diverse and inclusive workplace and world.

In this article, he shares tips on what to consider before you choose to share your story with your employer and teammates. He also gives tips on how you can be an ally to someone if they come out to you at work.

Collection of images representing Pride & the LGBTQIA+ cmmunity.

Two tips for coming out at work

The workplace is an environment where you should feel comfortable to always be yourself. It’s totally up to you how much you share with your colleagues and employees, but if you feel you’re at a stage in your journey where you’d like to share your sexual orientation, these are some tips that could help the process.

1. Trust is key

“It’s about your safety,” says Remco. “Tell a colleague that you trust, [because] you don’t want people gossiping behind your back”. When it comes to disclosing anything personal, we’re vulnerable. That’s why it’s key to feel like you have an ally who you can rely on and makes you feel safe in their presence. It’s also wise to build yourself up and tell one person to begin with, rather than a whole group. When you do choose to share with a wider group, you’ll have the backing of your friend. Don’t be afraid to share with them what you need and how they can best support you in this environment.

2. Find out more about your organisation

Before you disclose something personal, it’s good to have a rough idea of what kind of reaction you’ll be met with. Hopefully most organisations are exercising diversity and inclusion and have respect for every individual who works for them, but it’s also useful to know what their official standing is. “Check out their HR policies. Do you feel included in them?” If not, maybe you could consider how you could step into a role to create more diversity and inclusion. “It’s a role that gives me a lot of joy and fulfilment.” Next to your trusted friend who you can rely on, it’s useful to have a person in a more senior position who you trust and feel you can develop these ideas with. Possibly there are more people in your organisation who feel under-represented and insecure, so this gives a chance for more individuals to find their voice.

Two tips for being an LGBTQIA+ ally at work

The workplace can be an inspiring place for some and a daunting place for others, especially if they’re not able to be themselves. In your role as an ally, you have the power to create a safe space for individuals and to educate others on how to make the environment more inclusive.

1. Listen and learn

“Being an ally starts with listening,” says Remco. It’s time to give the person space and time to share what they want to say. Try to refrain from judgement and be sensitive when you ask questions. Instead of asking about the content of their story or journey, focus on your questions of how you can be of help, ask them what they need and how they’d feel most supported. The fact that someone has trusted you suggests you have created a space where they feel safe. That says a lot about you, and so you should take your role in their life seriously. Take the time to educate yourself on what it means to be an ally.

2. Go at their pace

You might have your own opinion on how they ‘should’ act once they’ve shared their news with you, but it’s not your journey. “Don’t rush or push them”, advises Remco, “follow them at their own pace.” If you’re the first (and only) person they’ve told in the team, understand that it may take them time before they continue to share their story. You could ask if the sharing of news is something you could help them with, for example, maybe they’d appreciate it if you told some colleagues, or if you’re a manager, if you shared it with the management team. But only through communication and listening can you be of help. Don’t do anything without the consent of the individual, even if you think it’s for their ‘own good.’ If someone in the team asks you about the person, how would you react? Again, since it’s not your news to share, nor are you interested in gossip, give a response that kindly but firmly shuts down the conversation. You could say, “that’s a topic that doesn’t concern neither you nor I, so I’d rather not discuss it.” Or, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about other colleagues' preferences or personal lives.”

A final point to remember…

Coming out at work takes a huge amount of courage, but it’s vital for your overall happiness. We spend a lot of time at work, so it’s important you feel like your authentic self. By allowing yourself to be seen, you inspire others also, but most of all you’ll be an inspiration to yourself. And when it comes to being an ally; your trust is one of the reasons why this person is one step closer to being themselves, so step up in your role and do your best to support and protect them.

Note, if you ever feel unsafe or marginalised because of your sexual orientation, gender, preferences, or identity, then seek help immediately and remove yourself from the situation as much as you can. Everyone has a right to a safe workplace.

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