Being openly queer at work: Who does it benefit?

It’s Pride Month and I’ve been asked to write about what it means to me. 

Seemingly out of the blue, the text that follows has been running through my head for a week now. I realize that the subject is sensitive and complex. June comes at a time when my community’s right to exist is being challenged by increasingly vocal groups. In recent months, it has been terrifying to check the news and see what new bill has just been introduced in the United States. It’s even more terrifying when I see this type of discourse happening closer to home. As in an all-too-apt Paula Abdul song, I’ve ended up feeling that for every two steps we take forward, we take two steps back.

I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up in a town where the word pride could be attributed to people like me. As a young person, I learned to be careful about how I presented myself to the world to avoid having terrible days. I assumed a different character the whole time I lived there, which allowed me to get by. I had no one to tell me I had the right to be myself, so I imitated those around me.

All that changed when I met someone who wasn’t afraid to be himself. There he was: proud, visible and validated. It looked like fun to be him. After a year of hanging out together, I finally turned off the voice in my head that told me I couldn’t be happy if I presented myself the way I wanted to be seen.

I managed to adjust the way I presented myself in my private circles. After spending a lot of time and effort to unlearn old habits, I aligned my persona with the person I am. Then I entered the professional market.

The complex thing about work is that you can’t choose your colleagues like you can your friends. Even less so with your clients. You don’t have the luxury of surrounding yourself with people who share your vision and validate you. In past work experiences, I’ve been asked to tone down my personality, present myself more neutrally and put aside all the effort I’ve made to be comfortable and happy in my own skin. At times, I told myself it would be simpler to separate the two. There would be one Hugo at work and another Hugo in social contexts. I was prepared to make sure these two circles never crossed paths to avoid the mask coming off.

But then I decided to let that go. I decided to be visible, loud and proud. I left the places where I was asked to hide my true self and continued to present myself as I am, both at work and in my social circles. My experience finally proved to me that life is beautiful when you let yourself be real. Everywhere. I’ve had the privilege of finding a workplace where I’m allowed to do just that, and where people are ready to come to my defence at the first inappropriate comment. It takes a village and I’ve found it with my lovely Glassroom/Humanise gang.

For me, that’s what Pride Month is all about. It’s about being visible to people who aren’t yet ready to be visible. It’s about showing that I exist. That millions of people like me exist and that they have the right to occupy public space as they wish. At home and at work.

It’s June. It’s Pride Month. Time to celebrate and affirm who we are. You never know. There may be a young Hugo out there who needs it.

Hugo Tourigny, Analyst at Glassroom