As a working professional who has only recently come out, I've often given consideration to how my life has changed and how people's perceptions of me may have shifted both professionally and personally. When I disclosed my sexuality to my parents their only concern was that my life would now be more difficult than it otherwise would have been. I could understand their perspective; being different would always make life a little harder, I thought. How would my friendships be affected? Would this make me less promotable?
I looked at both of them, right into their worried eyes, and told them, "Mum, Dad, everything will be OK". They seemed comforted by my confident demeanor. While I wanted to show them a strong front - doubt plagued me.
Their worry was not unfounded.
A friend once told me that 'coming out', or a self-disclosure of one’s sexuality does not free a person from their oppression, but it does however free one from shame and social stigma. 'You beauty!', I thought. Coming out is the solution to all my problems. Ha! Little did I realise that I was signing up for a journey that would take me through more ups and downs than the millennium force roller coaster at full speed. What I uncovered, was the deep shame that results from growing up in a world where I learnt explicitly that who I am as a person is unacceptable, perhaps even unlovable. The most interesting thing is that these feelings developed in my childhood quite unintentionally, having been raised in a loving and nurturing family.
My parents were right. Since coming out, I sadly have become used to experiencing discrimination in daily life. During the marriage equality debate, this discrimination increased markedly, and because I live in another state to my family, one of my only safe spaces I could turn to, to be truly free from discrimination, was work. Even so, during my daily commute I witnessed signs with terrible slogans written on them and was on the receiving end of revolting slurs.
Much like many other out men, this shame pushes us at times to overcompensate; to try to earn love and acceptance by being more: better, talented, entertaining, flamboyant, artistic, worldly - in short, to become something I believe will make me more acceptable and more loved. This concept may be familiar to some of you, as Alan Downs speaks about this journey of growing up in a straight man's world in The Velvet Rage.
The next phase of my life as an out man, was to come to terms with myself as a person, and in doing so, create a culture around me of friends, family and work which supports this journey. While life throws constant challenges towards us, 4 years later I feel this is a trial I have overcome.
So what does Pride mean to me now? Firstly, it is the celebration of all our community has achieved. From lifesaving medications for victims of AIDS, to decriminalising homosexuality, to the ability to marry the one we love; these are hard fought victories from which many still bear scars.
Secondly, it is recognising the work that still needs to be done, both here in Australia and around the world. For example, it deeply saddens me to read that LGBTIQ rights in the workplace are still being debated in America, as we speak.
I am however, extremely fortunate to work at a company like AbbVie, that not just tolerates diverse sexual orientations and expressions, but actively celebrates them. This of course forms part of our broader ED&I principles, where everyone is treated equally, with dignity and respect. Creating a culture where one can bring their whole self to work isn’t just a feel good venture, it makes good business sense. It promotes diversity of thought and inclusion, which creates a safe and trusting environment, and, in turn, allows employees to contribute more broadly and feel comfortable to constructively challenge the status quo.
AbbVie's active 'coming out' to support marriage equality is a true celebration of pride, and makes this operating principle come alive through real action. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge AbbVie as a community pivotal in my journey of self-acceptance.
While positive; my experience at AbbVie is not the norm. In Australia up to one-fifth of LGBTIQ people have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity when applying for jobs. Moreover, over half of LGBTIQ have experienced offensive jokes based on their sexual orientation. It's no wonder why LGBTIQ people are four times more likely to suffer from depression than their straight counterparts.
This is why this post, and our visibility is important. So, having read this far I'd like to end on my call to action for you, an ally. Especially with recent events and the goings on of the world; as with all forms of discrimination, it must be called out whenever and wherever we hear it. We cannot underestimate the power of standing up for a LGBTIQ colleague in the face of discrimination. With even what may be to you a small behaviour change, you contribute a large part to creating a safe space for all.
I can speak from personal experience that this kind of culture gives me the confidence to speak to my parents on the phone the next time they call and say, "Mum, Dad, everything will be OK", and this time really mean it.