Out at Work - National Coming Out Day
On National Coming Out Day, Saturday, October 11, we reflect on the courage it takes to come out to our friends and our families, and we celebrate the power of that act. For so many LGBT people, this is a pivotal moment in our lives, a moment when we finally shake off the burden of fear and start living our lives and pursuing happiness on our own terms. Coming out has a ripple effect because it changes the way individuals, and then communities and, ultimately, whole societies perceive us. Harvey Milk used to urge workers to come out, to “stand up and let the world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight,” he would say, “than anybody would imagine…. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights.”
I am a lesbian, and I work at the Department of Labor – and it’s no big deal. I work hard, my colleagues value my contributions, and I can share my experiences openly as a gay mom. Some days this means I bring a different perspective to the table, some days it doesn’t make much of a difference, but it’s always welcome.
I can be out at work because my employer, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, is a civil rights leader and champion of LGBT equality. He has sent a clear message from day one that “the Department of Labor is the Department of Opportunity for everyone – no matter who you love.” I can be out at work because of public policy: my employer, the federal government, has a policy of non-discrimination.
I can be out of work because some of my co-workers are out as well– and years ago, before any of us were here, Frank Kameny and countless others took risks to pave the way for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees in the federal workforce.
Every worker should be able to enjoy the freedoms I do. But, for too many LGBT Americans, that sense of security has been out of reach for too long. Too many of our fellow Americans have to worry about being passed over in hiring, being harassed, not getting a promotion and even losing their jobs if they are open about their sexual orientation or gender identity. They are taught and even conditioned to live in the shadows, to lie and to be afraid.
As part of the President’s “Year of Action,” it’s about to get better in thousands of workplaces all across our country.
On July 21, 2014, President Obama signed an Executive Order to protect LGBT workers against employment discrimination. His order will apply to the nearly one in four workers who are employed by or seek jobs with the United States Government and with companies that do business with the federal government. President Obama has spoken eloquently of justice and fairness for LGBT people. He has also noted that equality is good for business. Most Fortune 500 companies already have non-discrimination policies in place. That’s because those employers know it’s good for productivity and helps attract and retain talent.
At the Department of Labor, we work every day to protect the health, safety, wages and benefits of America’s workers. We build and train the workforce of tomorrow and make sure that workforce reflects the diversity of our great country. We also fight discrimination because we know that America is stronger and better when everyone gets a fair shot and a fair shake at a good job. Our opportunity agenda is for everyone – regardless of who you are, where you come from, what you look like, how you worship, what your disability or military service. Soon we will be able to add two more categories to that list: sexual orientation and gender identity.
This National Coming Out Day, let’s honor the leadership of forward-thinking employers, the power of public policy and the courage of everyday people, in years past and today, who make brave choices by coming out as LGBT or acting as allies to LGBT co-workers. We can and we aremaking more just and inclusive workplaces as we work to form a more perfect union.
This article was written by Mary Beth Maxwell, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor and a senior advisor to Secretary Perez.