Book Review: Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office

The cover to “Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office”

I was asked to review a copy of Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office awhile back.  At first, I didn’t understand why I was being contacted–was it because I run a blog that every so often touches upon LGBT issues? I certainly don’t spend a lot of time soapboxing on this blog; while I wholeheartedly believe in employer/government protections from sexual orientation discrimination, the fight for equal rights, etc., that’s not what this blog is about.  It’s about trying to find the funny and stupid in an marriage.

As I was reading through the first couple of testimonials in the book (the book is loaded with 5-10 page chapters, each from a different member of the LGBTQ and A community), it dawned on me why “Lance + Jeff” as a site would be a place somebody would bring this book.

Out & Equal at Work, the effort of the impressively large international organization Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, is essentially a collection of “It Gets Better” messages aimed not at teenagers struggling through the hells of emerging identities, but at professionals at all levels struggling with how to incorporate their personal identity in the business world.  For heterosexual people, the personal and professional often intersect unnoticed: watercooler discussions about what you did over the weekend, or your Valentine’s Day plans, or who to bring to the company picnic.  These seemingly innocuous, everyday conversations wreak havoc on somebody who does not fall into a normative identity: LGBT, religious and racial minorities, etc. (Though, for the purpose of this review and since I am a white boy who was raised Christian in America, I can’t much speak to the other identities with much authority).

I struggled with this issue myself at one time after getting my first real, full-time job.  I did that delicate disassociation between my personal and professional lives for several months.  Hiding this part of my life was not only a drain on my energy, constantly steering conversation away from personal matters and creating a separate and false narrative of my life to present at work, but lessened my ability to develop honest relationships my co-workers.

I stayed in the closet because I didn’t know how my co-workers would react, and only came out when I was forced to by a rather insistent and obnoxious co-worker who loved to pry.  Still, though I didn’t much care for her (we no longer work together), I do owe her for pulling me out of the closet at work.  It has made my life incredibly easier: my co-workers are very supportive, and I can be myself without trying to maintain some sort of ridiculous dual-identity.

So, to say that Out & Equal at Work is a bunch of “It Gets Better” testimonials is not to diminish its impact in any way.  If anything, the contributions from executives at Dell, Clorox, Wells Fargo, Disney Parks, Campbell’s and Accenture are more lengthy and in-depth than most of the Youtube videos of the same vein provide.  I saw this book as a useful resource for young professionals who may have already come out to family and friends, but struggle with how to incorporate their true identities into their workplace.  We often worry about threats to job security (many states, including Pennsylvania, do not consider “sexual orientation” a protected identity in job discrimination), job advancement, harassment at work, not to mention issues of benefits for partners.

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates works with employees and employers to create “safe and equitable workplaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”   This collection of testimonials is not only meant to provide hope to closeted professionals about the potential success they can achieve while still being honest about their identity, but it’s also an effort in normalizing equality in the workplace.  As a young gay man living in the most exciting, rapidly-changing period of the LGBTQ rights movement, it is very encouraging to read about companies who provide legal services to same-sex couples, or creating pride groups within their organizations, efforts they aren’t required to provide but go out of their way to anyway.  By showcasing examples of LGBT-friendly employers and featuring pieces by executives who are strong advocates for LGBTQ rights, Out & Equal at Work, broadens its scope beyond just being about LGBTQ leaders in business: the book’s purpose is to demonstrate the growing network of LGBTQA support in the business world.  By showcasing positive examples, Out & Equal at Work encourages current and potential allies and LGBTQ professionals to take a stand and push for inclusive policies in their workplace.

So, I don’t think I’ve quite answered why I responded so strongly to this anthology, and why I relate Lance + Jeff with it so well.  This blog, on the surface level, is not a rah-rah! gay rights blog.  It’s a humor blog that usually features two gay guys who happen to be married.  I don’t focus a lot on the “gay” aspect of it very often because that’s not how I, at least, identify myself most often.  I’m a shy, introverted geek first, second, and third most days of the week, and gay somewhere down in the list.  I hope that’s what this blog can provide to the much larger narrative of LGBTQ rights and inclusion: my marriage is just as loving and stupid and challenging and fun as anybody else’s; we laugh at the same stuff and cry when things are difficult and eat lots of ice cream and watch too much bad TV.

In a roundabout way, I hope Lance+Jeff helps, in its own (very) small way, to normalize the perception of gay marriage.  It’s really just a marriage.

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