Coming Out in the Workplace as Transgender

Some transgender people who wish to disclose this truth about themselves to others have reached a breaking point in their lives where it's too difficult to hide who they are any longer. Transgender people often feel compelled to share who they are in order to build stronger and more authentic relationships with those closest to them. This is particularly true at school and at work, where we consistently spend a majority of our waking lives with certain other people.

While there are benefits, there can also be serious risks and consequences involved. The decision is yours and yours alone.  It's important to weigh both risks and rewards before making a choice to tell others.

Some benefits of disclosure:

  • Living an authentic and whole life
  • Reducing the stress of hiding our identity
  • Being more productive at work
  • Developing closer, more genuine relationships with colleagues, customers and clients
  • Building self-esteem from being known for who we really are
  • Having authentic and open friendships with other transgender people
  • Becoming a role model for others

Some risks/consequences of coming out:

  • Not everyone will be understanding or accepting
  • Family, friends and co-workers may be shocked, confused or even hostile
  • Some relationships may permanently change
  • You may experience harassment, discrimination or violence
  • You may lose your job

Remember, there's no right or wrong way to disclose being transgender or to live openly.  It may not mean you have to be out at all times or in all places.  You have the right and the responsibility to decide how, where, when and even whether to share your identity with others, based on what's right for you.

It's important to take inventory of the risks involved with being out at work. Coming out on the job has the potential to affect your livelihood, since there is no federal law that protects you from being fired because of your gender identity. However, many states, cities and counties have laws or ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Additionally, a number of other states interpret their existing non-discrimination laws to protect transgender people. It's important to know the law in your city or state before coming out at work.

Additionally, more corporations and businesses in the private sector are beginning to cover gender identity and expression in their non-discrimination policies. A growing number of private sector employers include gender identity in their non-discrimination policies, including the majority of Fortune 100 companies.

"Most employers wouldn't knowingly create a hostile work environment for the employees in whom they have invested time and training," says Diego Sanchez, Director of Policy for PFLAG National. "Inclusive policies help a company retain valuable employees." If you are transgender, you may wish to discuss your personal situation with a trusted manager, supervisor or human resources professional before coming out to co-workers.

Disclosing Before, During or After Job Interviews

There is no "correct" way to approach disclosing your identity to a potential employer -- and, more importantly, you should not have to.

If you have already disclosed or transitioned at work or school, you may not have much choice about if or when to share your identity with a prospective employer. In addition to reference and background checks, employers increasingly use Internet searches to screen candidates, perhaps even in jurisdictions with legal protections against discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression or personal appearance.

Furthermore, employers may ask for your gender and/or sex as part of the application or onboarding process (for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reporting purposes), health insurance purposes and other government records before or shortly after your first day at work -- when many employees are considered on "probation" or "trial" periods and the employer reserves additional rights to dismiss the new employee.

If you are applying for jobs, use your best judgment and do your research to see whether the employer has protections against gender identity or expression discrimination - look on the internet, use your connections to find someone who works at the organization, or connect with the organization's LGBTQ employee group, if there is one.

If you feel compelled to disclose your identity with a new or potential employer, consider approaching a qualified HR representative that is HIPAA certified and preface your conversation that you are about to share confidential health information.