Coming out day 2020: a call for awareness and dialogue!

12 October 2020

Coming out is a pivotal moment and process for nearly everyone in our community. Whether you to choose to come out or not, this is a day to inspire you to think about the profound importance of being yourself.

For those that take this brave decision, it can bring out an authenticity and honesty to themselves, positively affecting potentially all aspects of life from the home to the workplace and beyond.

Workplace Pride is delighted to celebrate this years Coming Out Day with an excellent article written by Joris Hoekstra who currently works at Deloitte.

Coming Out Day 2020: a call for awareness and dialogue

I used to feel uncomfortable with Pride and Coming Out Day. Extravagant men in weird outfits on a boat. What image would that give us? And a special day to come out of the closet. Why on earth is that necessary? These days I see a tremendous value and necessity for events like these and with this message I would like to address the role we can play as employers and as individuals.

Joris Hoekstra

The bitter and absolute necessity

Previously I was insufficiently aware of the (sometimes lifelong) struggle that LGBT people in The Netherlands and other countries have to cope with. I was insufficiently aware of the fact that in The Netherlands it was since 1994 that  a General Equal Treatment Act was realized and that gay marriage was possible only since 2001. I was insufficiently aware of the internalized homophobia, shame, hyper-self-awareness and overcompensation to be loved and accepted (after learning that who you are is bad or at least deviant) that many gays and myself have to deal with. Let alone the higher rate of mental health problems, addiction and suicide among LGBT people.

In 2020 there’s been an increase in anti-gay violence in Amsterdam. With the tragic death of Saïd and the recent violent incident in my own city of Utrecht, the need to create awareness about LGBT acceptance and safety is now more than ever. Not to mention the countless international cases of discrimination, abuse, persecution or even killing of LGBT or their allies. Consider 27-year-old Russian Yulia Tsvetkova who is currently in prison for her support of LGBT families. (Sign the petition for her release!)

Fortunately, there are also positive developments such as the much greater extent to which schools educate their students and create awareness for inclusion and events like Coming Out Day. Not too long ago when I was in high school there was no education or guidance at all.  Employers are also increasingly taking their responsibility. I would like to elaborate on this.

Inclusive working environment

In my view, employers play a crucial role when it comes to creating inclusion. After all, most people spend most of their week on school or work. Studies show that a positive school or work climate contributes 82% to a feeling of belonging as a LGBT. Employers are increasingly doing their best to create a safe working environment regardless of cultural background, gender, religion and sexual preference. This often manifests itself in facilitating diversity networks, participating in events such like Pride and Coming Out Day to create visibility. Of course this has a positive effect on the employer brand and their ability to attract a diverse and high-performing workforce, but in my view it has an even bigger impact than simple window dressing. Not only do employers send a message to their employees that they value a safe and inclusive working environment, they also send a clear and important message to other organizations and governments (even internationally). In my view, the support of large international organizations is of unprecedented importance.

I am fortunate that both my previous employer Rabobank and my current employer Deloitte (as well as the client relationships I have worked for) make a strong effort to create and radiate an inclusive work environment. For example, two years ago I was on a Deloitte Pride boat and throughout the year I experienced that my employer really makes an effort to create an inclusive environment and enables us to be our authentic selves.

Daily challenges and dialogue

Nevertheless, I also want to reflect on the challenges that I and many others might have in daily life. In addition to social challenges (I am still very reluctant to show affection in public towards my boyfriend, often dream about incidents of discrimination and violence and I carefully choose my holiday destinations ) there are also challenges in the working environment. What do you do if you are offered an assignment in a country where your sexual orientation is against the law? Do you dare to be yourself in a boardroom setting (which often still consists of middle-aged white men)? Do you mention you have a boyfriend and would that influence your career? How do you deal with a quiz at a team event where all the questions focus on having a partner of the opposite sex, leaving you the only one who can’t participate? How do you deal with invitations or conversations assuming you have a girlfriend? Does your male colleague feel uncomfortable sharing a room with you? And can you be yourself towards international colleagues and client relations from countries where homosexuality is rejected or even illegal?

There are many more examples and they all have one thing in common: having a dialogue about it leads to more awareness, understanding and connection. I have experienced that discussing uncomfortable and challenging situations in the working environment always results in an open conversation, confirmation of the positive intentions of the other and deepening of the relationship. And ultimately increase the feeling of belonging, of inclusion. I encourage everyone to have a dialogue about this and in this way to take responsibility for a healthy, inclusive and above all a pleasant working environment.

Grateful call for dialogue

I myself am very grateful that my parents accepted me for who I am, that I have loving friends and colleagues, that I have a loving relationship in which vulnerability around this subject is possible, and that I live in a country that is relatively safe and inclusive for LGBT. At the same time I see many people in both The Netherlands and abroad struggle and suffer. I want to emphasize once again the importance of creating awareness. Every day in your life, in the workplace and on specific days like today.

In a time when having dialogues and celebrating special days are a little different from normal, I hope more than ever that this day will contribute to the safety and inclusion that we all deserve. Celebrate this day with me!

Happy Coming Out Day!