“Coming Out Is An Act Of Activism.” Lesbian Reflects On Being Out In The Workplace.

by Charlotte Lewis

I’m Charlotte Lewis. I’m from Geneva, Switzerland.

The first time I had to come out was to my mother. I came out. I was 16 years old. We were in Geneva.

She said, “That’s great. But you’re still going to marry a man, right?”

So I came out to my friends. They said, “That’s great, but you’re still going to date guys, right?” I came out to my dad. You know, he was – he was wondering, am I going have children? It felt like every time I came out, that people were okay with it but there was always a but. So that kind of followed me for those first few years and I think it affected the way that I carried myself and the way that I felt comfortable really coming out to people or whether should I come out to people.

So I moved to San Francisco. I joined my current employer. I was about 22 at the time. So, one of my very first projects was in Houston. It was an oil and gas company. So we went to the client site over there. We were all in a conference room, which was our team room. The client walked in and the conversation turned to politics and he said something extremely homophobic. It was very hurtful to me. He didn’t realize that I was gay. My team didn’t realize that I was gay. But, you know, the team didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything.

It made me feel so guilty that I didn’t say anything. And, you know, I kind of had it in my head going in loops, like what I should have said and what I could have said. And so I promised myself right there that the next time that something like that would happen, that I would, you know, I would stand up for myself and I would correct him or I would go to my team and tell them that that made me feel really uncomfortable and ask them to to help correct that as well.

It was at that time that I actually had a friend that said, “Well, you know, you should you should join the the LGBT group at your company.” I thought yeah, why not? So I joined the the LGBT group. I remember the first time I joined, I actually went to a meeting and it was a bunch of people around the table that were from all walks of life, like all ages and genders. It was just really wonderful to find a group of people that not only were – could be friends and could be a network – but also I could look up to and could be a role model just for in life in general. And so that really changed my outlook.

I actually got quite a bit coaching around what I could do if the situation, you know, like Houston occurred again. You know, how I – like, what resources I had available to me. In general, it just made me feel much more comfortable that I could be myself. I could show up and be successful.

I did get my moment of – what’s the word? – got my moment to redeem myself, you know, after the Houston event, let’s call it. I was on a project and somebody who reported up to me came to me and said, “Hey, I feel a little bit uncomfortable because last night, this client said something really inappropriate to me. Something sexual.” Not that it changes anything but but this man was much older than her and she felt really uncomfortable.

She said, “But, you know, he’s really drunk. He was really drunk. I don’t want him to lose his job. I don’t think we should say anything.”

And I said, “No, we should absolutely say something, you know? Like, absolutely. That’s not appropriate. You know, this is a professional setting and you should stand up for yourself.” So we went to our mutual boss and she reacted instantly. We went to, you know, the top, like the leadership from the client. HR got involved and everything with dealt with within 24 hours. There wasn’t repercussions, you know, like weird retaliation or anything like that. It just was dealt with. I think it was really a lesson to say you can stand up for yourself even if it’s somebody that, you know, you’re not sure how it’s going to affect you in the future, and people are going to support you.

Today, I actually the lead the LGBT circle that I once joined, you know, 8 years ago. The reason I do that is because I had such a – it had such a strong impact on me. I want to be able to be that same role model for others and make sure that they stand up for themselves and they can be themselves.

You don’t just come out once. You have to come out every single day. And that’s actually incredibly powerful. Coming out is an act of activism, right? It’s your moral duty to come out and to tell people who you are and have those conversations and change hearts and minds.

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