BY ZOE AMOS
In my last blog post, I wrote about the latest round of sports figures coming out. It’s not the easiest decision considering it may effect your livelihood. No matter your career, some will shy away from the added attention, the possibility for loss of income, potential harassment, and whatever else might come your way — good or bad. Instead of feeling empowerment, coming out may feel like you’ve been knocked out of bounds. Yes, it’s great to lead gays out of the darkness while heralding new freedoms for those to follow, but these are personal decisions each one of us make. Let me tell you how I came about mine.
Years ago I began a career in car sales. My friends and family thought I was nuts to go into this field, as I am a “touchy-feely” type, not the stereotypical unflattering image of the slightly-overweight guy in a plaid tie and poorly fitting sport coat who must be lying if his lips are moving. I felt welcome and comfortable at my first job, and came out within two months. I brought my then girlfriend on a company boat ride and never saw so much as a wayward glance.
The second job I accepted was a prestigious position with a financial boost. I thought it would be my dream job. Instead, I was on high alert as it soon became obvious coming out would be contrary to my objectives. My first hint that my coworkers had “issues” was the way they described a service writer as “that guy who has AIDS.” I was shocked to hear this phrase repeated by so many people. I did not want “the lesbian saleslady” added to my name. Also, a male coworker made trouble for me from the start, going out of his way to let me know how much he detested my presence. Extra sales personnel among super-competitive people can be seen as money coming out of your pocket. His attitude made me believe he was also a misogynist. I complained about his nasty comments, but nothing was done. No way was I going to come out at that job. Fortunately, before long a headhunter presented me with a wonderful opportunity elsewhere.
My third position was much better, and also a step up from sales to finance manager. I was brought in to make the dealership’s finance department profitable. This meant changing the way business was handled. Car salespeople typically want to do things their way and at first my presence was graciously tolerated. In short order I earned the respect of my coworkers and we became a friendly group. I liked my supervisor, too, but it was common knowledge he prayed at a Catholic church every morning before work. I didn’t want to assume his personal religious views were contrary to my being gay, but I wasn’t going to test it either.
My fourth and final position in automotive finance was at a dealership fondly referred to as “the countryclub.” My boss spoke lovingly and often about his gay brother. I came out within weeks. Sexist issues arose from time to time, the collision of immature attitudes toward women by a couple of male coworkers, and by the occasional customer who didn’t want to work with a woman, but nothing related to sexual orientation.
The automotive sales environment is slowly losing its bad name. I can tell you, it has miles to go. Women employees are woefully underrepresented and women customers still complain about being ignored and/or talked down to. And gays? I left the industry in 2007.
There you have it — an even split, two out and two private. As individuals, we are entitled to certain privacies and you may consider your sexual orientation private at your place of business. The HR department gets involved when benefits for partners/spouses are included, otherwise you are free to come out, or not, as you see fit. I enjoyed the freedom of being out and sharing my life with friendly coworkers without having to watch my pronouns. It felt natural. I could focus on my job and enjoy my work relationships without stressing about how the information might be used against me. In the process, I hope I changed a few attitudes for the better.
Now, as a consultant, I come into contact with diverse groups. My business interest is personal and professional development. Discussions rarely cross over into the area of sexual orientation unless I am speaking to an LGBT group or to someone who already knows I’m gay. Interestingly, last week, I was invited to an LGBT job fair. This will be a first — coming out before I’ve even applied.
Zoe Amos brings her lesbian point of view to articles and stories on diverse topics. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. Read her stories on Kindle and Nook. Check out her other life at: www.janetfwilliams.com.