Coming out at work can be advantageous, speaker says

Jennifer Suh

Coming out in the workplace can actually be advantageous, professionals from a variety of fields told Northwestern students Tuesday night.

Rainbow Alliance sponsored “Out at Work” as part of a series of programs in its annual “Rainbow Week.” This social and educational tradition raises student awareness of LGBTQQIA issues. Other events in the week cover subjects such as drag, HIV/AIDS, suicide and gay culture.

“[Out at Work”] shows what life is going to be like when [LGBT students] are out of the Northwestern bubble,” said Stephanie Letzler, co-president of Rainbow Alliance.

Four professionals from the fields of law, education and consulting participated in this event as panelists. Panelists considered being out at work either a non-factor or a benefit.

“Is that different from anything else at work?” said Matthew Staman, a panelist and consultant at Huron Consulting Group.

Jordan Heinz, an attorney at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, didn’t come out to his fraternity brothers while at school. But when he came out at his firm, it turned out to be an asset.

“It has helped me and my career,” said Heinz, SESP ‘02. “It has allowed me to become a leader at work.”

Heinz organized an LGBT discussion group in his firm, which he advertised to 1,600 colleagues via e-mail. Although he later received positive responses, he first had to deal with two angry replies. One read, “I don’t agree with what you do. How did you get my name?”

The other panelists also dealt with “gay slurs” and a myriad of challenges involved with coming out.

Adina Lord, a panelist and graduate student in Kellogg, described a “30-second stop,” or an awkward pause, that occurred as soon as she come out to others.

Although Heinz admitted he didn’t know how to deal with every challenge he faced at work, the panelists repeatedly offered positive messages.

“If you believe in diversity, be out,” said Pat Guizzetti, a panelist and art teacher at Walter Payton College Prep.

After the 90-minute event, Communication sophomore and Rainbow Alliance Publicity Chair Morgan Richardson left with a better idea about being out in the professional world.

“I have a lot of LGBT friends who don’t plan on being out in their jobs in the future,” she said. “I thought it was a really great event because a lot of the panelists said that it actually helped them to be out, so I think that was great message.”

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