Encountering Homophobia At A Networking Event: “I Wasn’t Going To Let People Devalue Me.”

by Marc Coleman

I am Marc Coleman. I’m from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

About 14 years ago, I started my business in what has become its current incarnation. And as in the course of running a business, there’s a lot of networking and relation-building you have to do. I remember being invited about 10 years ago to an evening kind of dinner networking event. Small, very select group of folks. And I was specifically asked to bring my wife and I was like, “Do I know these people enough to really live my authentic self with them? And I’m open at home and in my private life, but is that is going to translate to my business life?” At that moment, I was – I chose to, like, not correct them on the pronoun and ended up not going to the event because I was so conflicted about, you know, having – being able to be authentic in this space.

Fast forward to about, I’d say, six years later. I was feeling more comfortable. The business was becoming sustainable, somewhat successful. Another networking event. It was actually a casino night at the Camden Aquarium. Bunch of folks, some of whom I knew, probably about 200 or so people. I struck up a conversation with this one gentleman and it was going great. You know, we had a lot of places where our businesses overlapped. It seemed like they were synergy between our two organizations. It looked like we will be able to partner on a couple of events. And then again that pronoun issue came up.

And he said, “So we should get together. Bring your wife.” And I was like, well, and at that point, I was like, I don’t care, I thought.

I said, “No, it’s my husband, actually.”

There was a beat and he said, “Oh.”

The kind of realization came to his eyes that he was actually talking to a full grown gay person who was in a married committed relationship. And he actually turned his back on me and walked away in the middle of the conversation. In that moment when he turned away, it was like my entire existence was devalued and I was a lesser person because of who I was in love with and how I was wired. And that was dehumanizing. It was – in that brief quick second, he pulled a lot of my self esteem out of my body, all these years of building myself up, he had – I felt like I was torn down to being lesser than.

I couldn’t get out of this event quickly enough. I rushed home to my husband and he was like, “Well, you know, screw this guy. You know, he’s – it’s his loss.” And I know that on the surface but it took, even with the advice of my husband, a few more days do digest.

Then I was like, “Yeah. Fuck that dude. Let me – it’s his loss.” I decided in that moment that I wasn’t going to let people devalue me. And I was going to definitely be proactive about making sure they they knew where I was, where I stood. That I was gay and very proud of it. And that way I was bringing my entire authentic personhood and business self to every interaction. The rainbow pin was on at every single networking event. The pronouns were corrected. My husband is my husband, not my partner. So all these things were very specific steps that I made in these business networking situations to make sure that that didn’t happen again.

So I’ve been rewarded for that authenticity, for that actual being my true self. I don’t have to remember to lie. It’s also helps – not having to remember those lies, honestly, has helped us to build really good teaming arrangements with other businesses, and other businesses that are of like-mind and are authentic and open and empathetic. And we’ve been able to punch far above our weight and go after these giant contracts that companies our size generally don’t so. So I think that authenticity that kind of stems from me as a lead and throughout our organization has helped our conversation be very successful.

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