M ASTER ’ S T HESIS
MS C C ORPORATE C OMMUNICATION
U NIVERSITY O F A MSTERDAM
“ T HE C ORPORATE C LOSET ” M ARK O’N EILL
J UNE 25
The Corporate Closet: Coming Out At Work
Workplace Communication And Identity Disclosure Of Queer Professionals
Mark O’Neill 11611421
Graduate School Of Communication University Of Amsterdam
Master’s Thesis: MSc Corporate Communication Supervisor: Dr Irina Lock
June 25 2021 7997 Words
With special thanks to Irina Lock, Anna Berbers, Michiel Baas, Linda Duits, Laurens Buijs, and Noon Abdulqadir for their advice, and Anna Wallis, Espen Meisfjord, Mathilde Bastiansen, Dalis Robinson, Freddy Rodriguez, Franka Wiegman, Krs Sahadew, and Sharmin Thapa for their feedback. With thanks to Mana for being my writing partner, Abigail for inspiring my ideas, and my family for supporting all my academic endeavours.
In memory of Maksym.
As employees, it is natural to share personal details at work. This aids relationship building, productivity, and job satisfaction. However, queer professionals face a double standard where their identity disclosure is seen as unprofessional, pointing at a tension between power, professionalism, and queerness in corporate workplaces. This impacts how they come out, or communicate about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, at work. Those living in the corporate closet face negative impacts on their wellbeing, yet coming out is neither an easy nor protected undertaking. In light of recent strides towards equality, it is essential to reconsider the significance that coming out at work has to queer professionals. Thus, an inductive, qualitative, grounded theory interview study with 15 queer professionals was carried out based on an interdisciplinary framework. Integrating cultural studies,
queer theory, and organisation psychology helps to explain how coming out is a unique form of communication. A heterogeneous sample was obtained through multiple strategies, lending insight to a variety of queer experiences. Of course, special attention was placed on ensuring this work was ethical since interviewees shared experiences of prejudice.
Interviewees talked at length about their experiences with coming out at work, approaches to workplace communication and identity disclosure, and thoughts on queerness. Typologies for methods and motivations associated with coming out at work were created after an iterative coding process. Queer professionals rely on formal, casual, and third-party strategies when coming out, where they adapt messages based on environmental and identity factors.
Ultimately, the decision to come out requires sufficient motivation, which can be personal, social, functional, or political, informing one’s contextual and ideological communication.
These typologies give shape to a new process model of communication. Upon rooting these findings in existing literature, it is clear that coming out at work remains a complex process, for which the corporate closet is a powerful metaphor.
Keywords: queer, LGBT, workplace communication, identity disclosure, coming out, corporate closet, presentations of self, cultural studies, grounded theory, process model, interviews
The Corporate Closet: Coming Out At Work
Workplace Communication And Identity Disclosure Of Queer Professionals
“ Every gay person must come out. … You must tell the people you work with. … Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all. And once you do, you will feel so much better. ” Harvey Milk
A radical assertion at the time, Harvey Milk delivered this famous ultimatum in 1978, urging gay people to come out of the closet at work and elsewhere. As one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States, Milk believed coming out was vital to advancing political agendas and promoting individual prosperity (Milk Foundation, 2021). Simply put, coming out is the practice whereby queer people disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (Guittar, 2011; Guittar, 2013).1 Here, disclosure is communication through which identity is revealed (Manning, 2015). The act of coming out of the closet serves as a metaphor to describe this type of disclosure, where those in the closet conceal their identity (Scott, 2018). Now, over four decades after Milk’s plea, it is essential to reconsider the significance that coming out at work has to queer professionals.
In their own time, queer people come out to their families, friends, teachers, doctors, and, crucially, their colleagues (Saguy, 2020). Queer professionals are finally breaking rainbow ceilings in their fields by being prominently out (NBC, 2021), but despite visibility, coming out at work is not an easy undertaking. Nearly half of all queer employees are not out at work in the US, citing ongoing risks including stereotyping, discomfort, and prejudice (Fidas & Cooper, 2018). One in five queer employees in the US and Europe experience hiring discrimination, inequitable compensation and promotion, and workplace harassment, even more among queer people of colour (Bachman & Gooch, 2018; EU, 2020; NPR, 2017).
Employment protections for sexual orientation and gender identity were only granted in the US in 2020 and the European Union in 2003 (EC, 2008; Liptak, 2020), although transgender employees were only included in Dutch law two years ago (Can, 2019). Queer professionals still face unique legal and social obstacles, making coming out at work potentially unsafe (see also Alpert, 2013; Wareham, 2020).2
1 Notwithstanding its historically pejorative context, “queer” is used by many today as a reclaimed umbrella label to describe those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender, as well as those with other marginalised sexual orientations and/or gender identities (i.e., LGBT+; APA, 2015).
2 For example, the infamous Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy made it illegal for employees of the US Armed Forces to come out at work before its repeal less than a decade ago (Bumiller, 2011).
Coming out carries tremendous historical, sociocultural, and personal relevance since it enables queer people to live authentically, to which they possess a fundamental human right (Coleman, 1982). Since the average person spends roughly a third of their life at work (Pryce-Jones, 2010), the potential impacts of being closeted on employee wellbeing strike at the core of what makes one human (Orzechowicz, 2016). Still, many non-queer employees believe discussing sexual orientation or gender identity at work is unprofessional or taboo (Fidas & Cooper, 2014). Considering the numerous ways employees disclose details about their personal lives—talking about children, sharing wedding pictures, bringing dates to special events, etcetera—authenticity is expected. When queer professionals do so, they may be condemned for “bringing their ‘personal lives’ to work” (Fidas & Cooper, 2014, p. 14), perpetuating a double standard where their disclosure is unprofessional. In fact, one in five queer employees in the US report being told by their counterparts that they should act less visibly queer in the workplace (Fidas & Cooper, 2018). Resultingly, queer professionals actively manage their presentation of self to balance corporate professional demands with individual authenticity needs to great extents (Orne, 2013).
Queer professionals who have come out describe it as liberating and affirming, but also as anxious and unsafe (Kravitz, 2021), striking at a unique tension between power,
professionalism, and authenticity. Thus, to understand how queer professionals are liberated from the corporate closet, research into workplace communication and identity disclosure will benefit from insights derived through an inductive, qualitative, grounded theory interview study with 15 queer professionals. In doing so, their direct accounts help answer:
RQ. How do queer professionals communicate and disclose their identity at work?
Following, a new perspective on corporate communication informs the methodology and analysis underscoring this work. Then, further discussion will situate findings into a new research programme for future studies on coming out at work and queer communication.
Because corporate communication shares historical roots with management studies, dominant frameworks often prioritise organisation-centric approaches (Hallahan et al., 2007).
A departure from canon is needed to focus on the unique experiences of individuals, through an interdisciplinary approach integrating knowledge from queer and feminist studies,
organisational psychology, sociology, linguistics, and anthropology, among other domains.
As such, the sensitising concepts outlined in this section aid in addressing the present research question through a critical perspective on queer communication science.
Queer themes have been historically excluded from mainstream social science research, in part due to a lack of queer researchers, unfamiliarity with queer theory, and inaccessibility of queer samples (Atay & Pensoneau-Conway, 2020). Existing corporate communication knowledge relies on research that largely centres around the prototypical employee, who is cisgender, heterosexual, and male (Cubrich, 2020). While diversity management literature regularly focuses on sex, discussions are often limited to the experiences of cisgender, heterosexual women (Bendl et al., 2008). Affirmative action research also shows that such policies have not historically benefited queer professionals (Nelson, 2012; Nicolas, 2015).
Thus, a novel approach is needed to reconstruct theory, address knowledge gaps, and
decolonise research by placing an overdue emphasis on sexual orientation and gender identity (see also Bendl et al., 2015; Wekker et al., 2016).
Queer Cultural Studies
Since employers spend over eight billion US dollars on diversity programmes annually (DBP, 2020), it is vital to study how diversity may be used simply as a buzzword, doing little to improve the wellbeing of marginalised employee groups (Kulik, 2014).3 Stuart Hall’s work on cultural studies provides a lens for uncovering ways in which communication influences hegemonic relationships between groups (Griffin, 2012). At work, labels like professional and unprofessional reinforce dominant culture, creating systemic barriers for those who threaten the status quo (Mizzi, 2016). While this perspective is common in mass media research, its emphasis on power helps explain how queerness is related to
professionalism (Cox, 2018). Proponents of cultural studies often use qualitative methods to introduce sociological research contexts, to “liberate people from an unknowing acquiescence to the dominant ideology of the culture” (Griffin, 2012, p. 345). This critical perspective is attributed in part to Foucault, who believed it was vital to not only study what was being said, but what was not being said and who was not able to speak (Spargo, 1999). At work and elsewhere, the latter has historically been queer people.
Butler (1990) builds upon this critical approach through queer and feminist theory, viewing sexuality and gender as social constructs, illuminating their relationships with power.
In this way, queerness can be seen as a performance rather than a discrete identity status (i.e., doing queer rather than being queer) and is expressed through communication acts (Butler, 2006). While being queer does not make a professional any less capable of
3 These investments pale in comparison to the costs of discrimination on the global economy, estimated to be over 12 trillion US dollars annually (Ferrant & Kolev, 2016).
conducting their work, doing queer upsets the status quo since it is deemed unprofessional (McDonald, 2015). Nonconformity can have negative impacts on wellbeing and safety, as queer employees report feeling more easily distracted, exhausted, and depressed, as well as witnessing more homophobic and transphobic remarks (Fidas & Cooper, 2018).
Kramarae (2005) elaborates on status quo in returning to a communicative framework via muted group theory, positing that some groups “are not as free or as able as men are to say what they wish, when and where they wish, because the words and the norms for their use have been formulated by the dominant group, men” (Griffin, 2012, p. 460). Given the lack of framework for discussing sexual orientation and gender identity professionally, coming out at work is a disadvantaged undertaking. This leads queer professionals to experience role conflicts (Lyons et al., 2010) and engage in self-censorship behaviours to emulate prototypically cis-hetero-male styles (Köllen, 2016; Willis, 2010). Attempts to assimilate are criticised by many who believe queerness should neither be minimised nor subsumed by dominant culture (Kelly et al., 2020; Robinson, 2012). Rather than appeasing professional norms, an approach known as homonormativity, queerness must coexist authentically and equally (Rich, 1982; Sycamore, 2008). How this coexistence is enacted raises a further question, requiring the consideration of how identity can be shaped at individual, social, and organisation levels (Cornelissen, 2016).
Queer Presentations Of Self
Goffman’s (1956) dramaturgical metaphor suggests identity is undergoing constant revision and performance through social behaviour, like a theatrical production. At work, one is essentially acting in an ongoing play, disclosing or concealing aspects of their identity to be well-received by audiences (e.g., colleagues). Communication provides the means for identity to be expressed, creating contextually desired public self-images (Griffin, 2012).
As a theatre, workplaces host one of the longest-running productions of life, where teams comprise the cast members, scripts outline acceptable dialogue, gossip takes place backstage, rules govern what costumes can be worn when and by whom, etcetera (Biehl-Missal, 2011).
Like onstage, archetypes exist within workplaces to acculturate new employees by outlining how they should act professionally (Foroudi et al., 2020). When coming out at work, one is essentially breaking professional character on the corporate stage.
While criticised for its positivism (see also Welsh, 1990), the dramaturgical metaphor proves a valuable tool for understanding workplace impression management since it
demonstrates how individual and social identity conflict with organisational roles
(Cornelissen, 2016).4 Coming out research relies on dramaturgical metaphors—chief among them the closet—to make sense of complex presentations of self needed to cope with social stigma, reinforce authenticity, and navigate stereotypes like professionalism (Orne, 2013).
Through coming out, queer professionals gain input in management decisions, are compensated and promoted more equitably, and improve their overall wellbeing and performance (Fidas & Cooper, 2018), yet doing so requires following an unwritten script.
Workplace Communication & Identity Disclosure
Workplace communication concerns that which takes place directly between colleagues (i.e., interpersonal communication) or among teams (i.e., small group communication), impacting how employees interact on a daily basis (Cornelissen, 2016). Essentially, an organisation is just a group of individuals that coordinate their communication, governed by social norms like professionalism which outline acceptable behaviour (Edgley et al., 2016).
These norms often exclude expressions of queerness, creating tension with authenticity needs (Connell, 2015). At an individual level, this points at potential impacts on career satisfaction, retention, organisational citizenship behaviours, and more (Badgett et al., 2013), while an institutional focus outlines consequences for new ways of working, including impacts of computer mediated communication and remote working as they pertain to queer professionals (see also Burchiellaro, 2020; Rumens et al., 2018; Wakeford, 2002).
As a form of identity disclosure, coming out at work demands a unique methodology to reconcile tensions between power, professionalism, and authenticity. The audience, message, timing, and setting for coming out can vary widely and are adapted to meet contextual needs (Guittar, 2013)—known linguistically as the pragmatics of coming out (Tarmini et al., 2020).
Organisational psychology lends that motivations for such disclosure at work may be intrinsic or extrinsic (Anderson & Croteau, 2013), and can be shaped by safety perceptions, policy sensemaking, role identification, and boundary spanning preferences (Baker & Lucas, 2017; Pullen et al., 2016). Existing research on coming out at work is often deductive, underpinned by traditional identity development models (see also Wax et al., 2017), while studies that focus on the role of communication are often set outside the workplace
4 Such metaphorical analyses are becoming more commonplace in corporate communication research to help explain “the construction of social reality” (Putnam & Boys, 2006, p. 542).
(see also Dilley, 2008), fuelling the need for an inductive consideration. Simply put, there is no single prescription for the best way to come out at work (Eames, 2020), nor a singular way to understand why queer professionals chose to do so, thus raising the subquestions:
SQ1. What methods do queer professionals use to come out at work?
SQ2. What motivations do queer professionals have for coming out at work?
Since this research is exploratory, its qualitative methodology allows for novel insight (Treadwell, 2017). The methods outlined in this section stem from a symbolic interactionist epistemology, explaining how social meanings are derived through communication action (Griffin, 2012). Thus, an inductive approach informs theory on coming out at work via the lived experiences of queer professionals. Through in-depth interview data, textual analysis aids the construction of meaning, grounded in original language (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
The researcher then imposes structure, informed by theory, through subjective reflection (Braun & Clarke, 2013). Coming out research in particular benefits from the critical and constructive affordances of such qualitative methods (Brown & Nash, 2016).
Sample & Recruitment
Engaging underrepresented samples presents major challenges (Braun & Clarke, 2013), requiring a creative approach (see also Brown & Nash, 2016). Initially, a purposive strategy was used to sample queer professionals. To be eligible, interviewees had to be queer, over 18, able to speak English, available for an interview between April 26 and May 16, and,
crucially, had to be presently or formerly employed as a professional, or white-collar worker, for at least one year.5 While some criteria were merely practical constraints, the decision to focus on professionals was vital to investigating the corporate closet.
Snowball recruiting was used to reach 16 queer professionals, four of whom were oversampled in the event of scheduling complications as suggested by Kalton (2009), but were not ultimately included. In doing so, a research invitation was sent to personal contacts of the principal investigator and later placed on social media. The message contained
information about the project along with a request to forward it to eligible contacts.
Prospective interviewees could then visit a custom website to sign up. Such an approach
5 It was made clear that anyone with a marginalised sexual orientation and/or gender identity was eligible, that they only needed to speak English conversationally, and that interviews could be scheduled independently of working hour and/or time zone constraints.
ensured most interviewees were screened for eligibility multiple times and did not have an existing relationship with the interviewer, limiting bias (see also Braun & Clarke, 2013).
Snowball techniques are commonplace in queer research since they utilise existing
connections within the community and help reach those who may be sceptical of academia (Brown & Nash, 2016; Martinez et al., 2014).
After completing a few interviews, a theoretical strategy guided remaining sampling based on emergent needs to include those who were not out and those who were transgender.
Kaan, who is not out at work, was reached via snowball sampling, while Sam and Sarah, who are transgender, were invited via convenience sampling through direct invitation. Special care was used in conducting the latter two interviews to ensure their existing relationships had minimal impact on the interview setting. In total, 15 interviews were conducted
(see Appendix A), constituting the moderately heterogeneous sample outlined in Table 1.
Given the implications of the topic, protecting the queer professionals who participated in this research is of chief concern. As such, extensive guidelines governing the safeguarding of interviewees and data were followed, including, but not limited to, digital collection and storage of participant data, use of an encrypted interview platform, pseudonymisation of transcripts, and secure exchange of files (see also EU, 2018; LGBT Foundation, 2021).
The emphasis on personal matters during interviews, including experiences with prejudice, was bound to be emotional, so due care was applied in debriefing and desensitising
interviewees and reassuring them of their voluntary participation and revokable consent (see also Arksey & Knight, 1999).
A semi-structured discussion guide was used during interviews (see Appendix B), allowing for flexibility in the structure and order of questions. This gave the interviewer leeway for probing and the interviewee a chance to elaborate on important topics via a conversational tone (McIntosh & Morse, 2015). While its intended structure was largely followed, some flexibility was needed to reorder and reshape questions during interviews.
Demographic data was collected in advance via an online form, upon submitting which it became possible to schedule an interview via an online calendar.6 Interviewee training involved a review of the LGBT Foundation’s (2021) Ethical Research guide.
6 Participants could also request they be contacted discretely if their email or phone was not private, in which case no explicit mention of queerness would be made. Webpages also included a quick escape button.
Demographic Characteristics Of Interviewees
Gay 7 47
Bisexual 3 20
Lesbian 3 20
Pansexual 2 13
Cisgender Male 9 60
Cisgender Female 3 20
Gender Non-Conforming 1 7
Transgender Female 1 7
Questioning (Cisgender Female) 1 7
Age A Min = 20
M = 32 SD = 12 Max = 63
Racial / Ethnic Background
Caucasian / White 10 67
Half-Caucasian / Half-Hispanic 2 13
Middle Eastern 2 13
Indo-Surinamese / Dutch 1 7
Netherlands 7 47
United States 4 27
Germany 1 7
Russian Federation 1 7
Turkey 1 7
United Kingdom 1 7
Netherlands 9 60
United States 3 20
Belgium 1 7
Norway 1 7
United Kingdom 1 7
Area Urban 11 73
Suburban 4 27
Relationship Status Single 13 87
Not Single 2 13
Living Situation Alone 9 60
Not Alone 6 40
Graduate / Doctorate / Professional Degree 7 47
Undergraduate / Technical Degree 5 33
Some Higher Education 2 13
High School Diploma / GED 1 7
Note. N = 15. Ordered by prominence, then alphabetically.
A John (53) and Thomas (63) are older than other interviewees. Excluding them, the remaining sample has an average age of 28 (SD = 6).
Demographic Characteristics Of Interviewees (cont.)
Senior-Level 2 13
Mid-Level 8 53
Entry-Level 5 33
Large [5001+ Employees] 8 53
Medium [151–5000 Employees] 5 33
Small [1–150 Employees] 2 13
Netherlands 6 40
United States 4 27
Belgium 1 7
Germany 1 7
Norway 1 7
Sweden 1 7
United Kingdom 1 7
Technology 4 25
Government 3 19
Academia 3 19
Consulting 1 6
Consumer Goods 1 6
Energy 1 6
Finance 1 6
Healthcare 1 6
Recruitment 1 6
Note. N = 15. Ordered by prominence, then alphabetically, except experience level (ordinally).
B N = 16. Ivy works two jobs, so she is counted under Academia and Consulting.
Interviews began by obtaining informed consent and providing technical instructions.
Interviewees were first asked if they were comfortable using queer as an identity label.
While there were no objections, Sarah and Thomas pointed out some discomfort regarding the term’s pejorative history. In an attempt to elicit rich descriptions of experiences, behaviours, and opinions, questions focused on explaining one’s coming out process, including the methods employed, motivations for doing so, reactions of others, reflections before, during, and after coming out, and implications for the future. While most questions required the interviewee speak from personal experience, some utilised hypothetical perspective taking to uncover hidden beliefs, as suggested by Hermanowicz (2002).
Probing questions followed when necessary to clarify (see also Braun & Clarke, 2013).7 Towards the end of the interview, interviewees were given the chance to elaborate on any remaining thoughts and asked to summarise their most meaningful contribution, followed by a conclusion consisting of additional technical instructions. The guide contained reminders about sensitising concepts for the interviewer, but was otherwise written in an accessible tone for queer professionals, evaluated by a review panel of five topical experts.
Interviews were conducted remotely via video conference between April 28 and May 9, audio recorded, and transcribed as provided in the Supplement.8 Transcripts were reviewed extensively to redact identifiable information and assign pseudonyms to colleagues
mentioned by name. While most frequently used in grounded theory analyses, clean verbatim transcriptions minimise paralinguistic features like tone and tempo to focus on textual data (Braun & Clarke, 2013). Interviews lasted 56 minutes on average (SD = 6, Σ = 846),
culminating in 213 pages of transcripts (M = 14, SD = 2), or just over 105,000 words of data (M = 7,027, SD = 1,167). Memos were originally included before and after transcripts to provide participant demographics, summarise key points, and reflect on potential findings, which proved useful when processing transcripts via computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software since it gave additional context (i.e., CAQDAS).
7 In some cases, emails were used to ask additional clarifying questions after the interview had terminated.
8 Peter and Sarah declined to enable their cameras, which could have negligibly impacted rapport. In doing so, visual feedback cues were not available in these cases, although visual data was not analytically considered (see also Broaders & Goldin-Meadow, 2010).
Consistent with the interpretive-constructivist approach outlined by Charmaz (2006), three stages of inductive coding were carried out, deriving theoretical insights grounded in textual data. First, segments of text within transcripts were described through open coding, where line-by-line and in-vivo codes were created through several iterations. While greater attention was given to data relating to the central research question, care was applied to remain open to other emerging themes as rich descriptions were outlined and refined. Next, three rounds of axial coding were used to combine redundant codes, define relationships between codes, and organise code groups by focusing on breadth of patterns and depth of meanings. This was guided by an iterative process of constant comparison between data and memos kept by the principal investigator, helping to contextualise findings and provide an initial structure. Finally, the central analytic categories methods and motivations were selected through a theoretical coding process in which relationships were visually modelled and analytic codes were applied. This stage also involved consideration of interviewee demographics in an attempt to outline potential relationships. Further elaboration on this process is provided in Appendix C.
Saturation & Reflexivity
Due care was paid to key requirements of grounded theory throughout the project:
saturation and reflexivity (Charmaz, 2006). The former refers to the extent that gathered data adequately informs theory, as assessed by sample composition and coding rigour. One benefit of having such a heterogeneous sample is that diverse experiences could emerge, although it was clear after the first few interviews that common themes were already being discussed.
Thus, a rudimentary theoretical saturation (see also Saunders et al., 2018) was reached after the first eight interviews, with the remaining interviews confirming and add depth to findings.
As suggested by Hennink and colleagues (2016), code analysis was used to monitor the development of code groups, which reached an inductive saturation point after two rounds of axial coding. Member checking also took place to ensure interviewees reviewed findings.
The second requirement, reflexivity, is elaborated on in Appendix D.
Interviewees talked at length about their experiences with coming out at work,
approaches to workplace communication and identity disclosure, and thoughts on queerness.
Their variety of experiences gives shape to the typologies outlined in this section, focused on the methods and motivations for coming out, as well as salient factors that influence both, ultimately impacting how queer professionals come out at work.
Methods For Coming Out
In total, queer professionals employed three main strategies to come out at work:
formal, casual, and third-party. These strategies and associated methods explain the pragmatics of identity disclosure through adaptive workplace communication, including specifications for the audience, message, timing, and setting associated with coming out.
In addition, several environmental and identity factors underscore method selection.
Surprisingly, few queer professionals opted to come out via a formal strategy, what Bram aptly named the talk. Through this method, coming out is a professional event where one explicitly mentions their sexual orientation or gender identity in a way that is proactive, vocal, and uses identity labels. Stating “I’m gay…” leaves little room for interpretation and empowers the speaker to come out on their own terms (William). However, careful planning is needed to build up to and execute the talk since it demands explicit vulnerability, thus requiring greater mental effort and activation energy. Farzad and Thomas, who have been out longer than others, are less keen to spend so much energy coming out formally than they were earlier in their careers, adding that the talk is a beginner’s approach to coming out.
Still, this is how Sarah came out to her entire team as transgender, since she only wanted to say it once while everyone was together, allowing her to field questions immediately:
“ … I think the topic came up naturally. And then I just pulled the trigger, again, I made like an executive decision to say it … I stepped up, I said, ‘I have an announcement to make, I have something to say for myself.’ And I told them, ‘I would really appreciate it if you guys would like, please talk to me in a different way.’ Obviously, that means pronouns. ”
A formal strategy is convenient for use during working hours, in the workplace, and to teams because it centres attention on the person coming out (Sam), is delivered with a professional tone to encourage equivalent reactions (Sarah), and unequivocally and
unpromptedly discloses identity (William). Although he is not out, Kaan suggested having a formal talk with his CEO would be the most professional way to do so in the future. It is important to Lotte and Sam that their colleagues, with whom they have a strong affinity, find out simultaneously, so nobody feels disrespected. And in disclosing that they are transgender, Sam and Sarah feel like the event warrants a more formal tone, as they anticipate their
colleagues being more unfamiliar or uncomfortable with discussing gender identity than sexual orientation. While Sam prefers using other strategies to disclose his sexual orientation, he wants to have the talk with his entire team to take advantage of these formal affordances:
“ Yeah, just before a normal meeting when everyone’s together. I think I will inform my team lead upfront—have a conversation with him. ‘Just so you know, I wanna share something personal. I’m born female and now I’m this. And I want to share that with the rest of the group at the meeting.’ And I will take a moment for that before we all start because I can tell everyone. And everyone can say, ‘I have so much respect for you’ and then we move on. ”
Strikingly more common, a majority of queer professionals preferred to come out via a casual strategy. Here, coming out is more informal, can be explicit or implicit, and does not demand the same proactive vocality that having the talk does. While Sam and Sarah spoke about coming out as a formally planned event, a majority talked about coming out more continuously and situationally via casual methods. Rohit and Thomas both reflected on metaphors like “throwing others a bone” or “dropping nuggets of information” to explain how they helped colleagues draw conclusions about their queerness, through what came to be known as the titbit. Peter described how he came out by subtly referencing his boyfriend, allowing his manager to come to her own realisation:
“ I think just after maybe a week or two I just mentioned, ‘Sorry, I need to leave on time today because I have dinner with my boyfriend.’ Probably just something like really kind of straightforward. And I think she was just like, ‘Oh!’ … ”
Rather than explicitly label himself as gay, Peter wanted to drop a hint since he was still trying to gauge how supportive his manager would be, only two weeks into the job.
It is a lot easier to use the titbit to come out interpersonally, making them commonplace in social settings like during lunch, around the watercooler, and at offsite events like drinks (Arthur, Farzad). Thomas was so accustomed to using titbits that he considers them a normal part of his daily speech, while William uses the method to come out consciously. Many stated that referencing their same-sex partners, same-sex attraction, or gender identity in passing were convenient ways to come out, like Annika and Thomas, who said it would be nearly impossible not to mention their spouses at work.9 Although it is also possible to not come out by being ambiguous (i.e., using “they” pronouns or “partner” instead; Ivy), most preferred using explicit pronouns to come out intentionally when sharing dating stories among colleagues, as Arthur explained:
“ It was not like a group thing … I think with most of my colleagues it just happened whilst in a normal conversation, when we were having a drink at the bar and talking about our exes, or whatever. And I used ‘he’ so those people knew it. ”
9 Annika added that it is customary in her workplace to share personal details when meeting new colleagues.
Her company asks that employees begin presentations with a slide outlining their personal details. For her, including a picture of her wife on this slide is a conscious way to come out casually.
For those who are single or prefer to be even less explicit, however, it is necessary to find other ways to come out casually besides referencing a partner. This was done mainly through association with or by proximity to queer symbols, like displaying a Pride flag, discussing queer culture, or using queer slang. In doing so, coming out messages require audience interpretation once again. Bram, Ivy, and Sarah mentioned wearing Pride pins to work so that new colleagues may know they are queer just by looking at them, while Annika has displayed Pride flags as her virtual background on Zoom. Of course, whether or not the message is received is another story, with Sarah adding she was once asked which country the pin on her blazer represented. She then took the opportunity to explain that it was the transgender Pride flag, thus coming out to her colleague, who was in disbelief but supportive.
Although she did not know this person very well, she felt safe enough to come out in that moment, as she noted that wearing the pin in the first place stems from being more confident and assertive in her identity.
Of course, symbols of queer association do not have to be physical objects; they can also be communicated verbally. Kaan, Rohit, Farzad, and Sam mentioned having open conversations with colleagues about queer topics like RuPaul’s Drag Race, Coming Out Day, Pride, clubbing, identity politics, and more. Of course, they only did so with those they felt safe around, even bringing up topics at times to make as assessment of safety based on reactions. Farzad added that he would avoid doing so in some cases because he wanted to be seen as more professional when executives were deciding who to promote, descripting how he had to put on “a costume” that was straight and male. However, some types of association are unavoidable, as Peter joked that it would be very hard to be in the closet whilst serving as the head of his company’s queer employee network. While these examples are not exclusive to queer people (e.g., allies display the Pride flag too; Annika), queer professionals talked about using them intentionally to signal their identity as a way of coming out, or simply being out, as Farzad surmised:
“ … if you have a gay identity which is relevant, it will come out because you will talk about the symbols or events that go with that identity. … it will out you indirectly, or it will at least bring up the topic. ”
Those who felt established in their careers or supported by their employers emphasised a refusal to self-censor as a method for expressing their identity, like by dressing in gender non-conforming ways (Ivy, Sam), using queer slang among colleagues when appropriate (Rohit, Farzad, Sam), and using GIFs and emojis regularly when emailing or messaging (Arthur, Rohit, Peter)—a behaviour which was described as too flamboyant or emotive to be considered traditionally professional.
A final prominent method whereby coming out takes place casually is through correcting heteronormative assumptions. Nearly all queer professionals indicated that it was normal and common to talk about their personal lives with colleagues at some point, including their relationship status, dating history, and even sexual encounters. William, Rohit, and Luna preferred to minimise this personal engagement while working, but a majority of people found it an effective way to bond as these conversations often took place in social contexts.
Here, many noted that colleagues would ask questions assuming they were in opposite-sex relationships by default, asking those who are male-presenting if they had a wife or girlfriend or those who are female-presenting if they had a husband or boyfriend. Being faced with such an assumption initiates a decision process where one must choose if and how they are going to come out in that very moment. Although everyone attributed this to well-intentioned yet ill-informed attempts by colleagues to socialise, it places a burden on queer professionals to have to come out unexpectedly, deflect, or lie. In this way, coming out is prompted by others rather than the queer professional themself, as Ivy explained:
“ … one of my colleagues was like ‘You look so nice today.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I have a date.’
And he was like, ‘Who’s the lucky guy?’ And I was like, ‘Well, actually, it’s a woman.’ … ”
Less prominently yet equally noteworthy, the locus of coming out in the third strategy is completely external, where identity is not actively disclosed. Coming out through omission is thus possible, as John outlined:
“ I’m in my mid-fifties, I’m single, and I don’t have kids, and I think people draw assumptions on that.
So, it’s like a puzzle. They put it together! Singe guy, middle-aged, doesn’t have kids, talks about his nephews and nieces. I don’t necessarily talk about who I’m dating, that kind of thing, so I think people put together the pieces. Like I said, no one’s ever asked, but I’m certain that everyone knows. ”
Paradoxically, even the lack of disclosure serves as a way to communicate identity, with or without consent. While John does not mind that his colleagues draw these conclusions, other queer professionals were more dived in how accepting they were of assumptions or gossip, the latter reflecting a related but distinct form of external disclosure known as outing, where third parties reveal identity. No one mentioned being outed maliciously, with Arthur, Rohit, and Sarah actually preferring that others help alleviate the burden of having to come out by doing it for them. On the other hand, Sam was particularly distressed when asked to image his colleagues finding out he was transgender from someone other than him, while Thomas shared that he inadvertently outed himself early in his career:
“ … A coworker was getting married and she—at some point or another I must have come out to her that I was gay. I wasn’t like, deeply trying to hide it, but I was not out at work. … And so, she insisted that I bring my partner to her wedding reception and all that, which I did, not even pre-thinking that the entire staff and everybody at work was going to be there. … I wasn’t thinking it was going to be that big of a deal, but it was. One of my managers came up to me afterwards and told me how brave I was. I was like, ‘Okay, thanks.’ I didn’t quite realise I was being brave. ” 10
While external coming out methods minimise the agency of queer professionals, they still represent alternative methods for those like John who chose to employ them strategically.
The typology outlined in Table 2 highlights distinctions between methods based on their adaptative communication properties. As mentioned, environmental and identity factors like audience relationship, safety, previous experiences, and confidence all impact the context with which strategies apply. Working contexts demanded more formality, a casual approach was better suited to social contexts. Regardless of strategy, nearly all queer professionals spoke about assessing safety before coming out, through what Ivy called vibe checking.
Here, diversity prevalence was judged as an approximation of workplace acceptance, with close attention paid to the presence of diverse colleagues (Sam), existence of inclusive workplace policies (Peter), and visibility of fellow queer employees as role models (Sarah).
If a workplace seemed to value diversity, it was deemed safer to come out. Kaan and Ivy noted that it was harder for small companies to have lots of diversity, because they had so few employees. Finally, there were also abstract mentions of feeling safer because of regional norms, with many describing their workplace as having an “Amsterdam vibe” (Kaan) or
“Silicon Valley bubble” (Thomas) that integrated social and political values association with the region—inclusion, acceptance, etcetera—at work.
Motivations For Coming Out
Method alone is not enough to enable one to come out, as all of the queer professionals indicated they had a wide range of motivations empowering them in different situations and at different stages of their careers. In analysing these motivations, four categories emerged:
personal, social, functional, and political. While some motivations were contextually derived, others were part of one’s personal philosophy on coming out.
10 Thomas’s example fits better as a titbit, yet he described this event as an outing, thus externalising intention.
Methods For Coming Out
Strategy Method Audience Message Timing Setting Example Quote
Formal The Talk Team Explicit Unprompted Work
“ Well, I think it’s very different to say that I’m gay. I think it’s a very different level of affirmation. It takes a different level of courage to say that as opposed to that I met this guy or something like that. I think the label is quite important. ” William
The Titbit Interpersonal Implicit Mixed Social “ … already during the interview process, I mentioned, ‘Hey, I’m actually married to a woman.’ You know? Like in a conversation not specifically, but to check their reaction … ” Annika
Association Observers Symbolic Ongoing Mixed
“ I kept saying ‘my partner’ and I said that I wanted to wear a suit at my wedding so it’s kind of—I didn’t actually say that I was gay and, again, there was no reaction, but I always gauge. I will wait to see how people will react … ” Luna
Correction Interpersonal Mixed Prompted Social “ If someone I don’t really know would ask me, ‘Hey, do you have a girlfriend?’ or ‘Hey, I saw you with a girl’ … I would correct them and say, ‘No, I’m actually I’m gay’ … ” Bram
Omission Observers None Ongoing Everywhere
“ … the feedback I got at that time in my life when I came out was the people around me saying, ‘Well, I kind of suspected, but the only reason I suspected was from omission. Not because of anything you were, but because you never talked about dating life. Because it’s like, you seem like somebody who should be dating. Then you don’t ever talk about that. That’s all tamped down.’ So, it’s like gay people sort of stand out after a time over what isn’t evident, rather than what they’re saying or they did at the time. ” Thomas
Outing Third-Party Unknown Unknown External “ I don’t mind. Well, yeah, also for me, that way I don’t have to do every, you know, toss those little nuggets to everybody. ” Rohit
Note. The specifications given represent the most frequently discussed experience, however, they are not exclusive. For example, while it is most common to have the talk with teams, it can also be interpersonal, and while casual strategies are used more in social settings, they can also take place during working hours. Additional differentiation could also be added to external strategies based on whether they are consensual or not.
First, personal motivations for coming out include mainly intrinsic justifications for why coming out is individually necessary or important. The majority of queer professionals agreed that coming out enabled them to be their most authentic selves, making them feel comfortable and happy at work, empowering experimentation with flamboyance and dress, and reducing inhibitions or self-censorship associated with the closet. Bram and Thomas agreed that there are not enough reasons to ever go back into the closet, Rohit enjoys being out because he no longer has to hold back so much of himself, and Farzad added:
“ For me to be able to be myself, to be transparent, and not to avoid certain aspects of myself. And if I’m comfortable, I’m empowered, and when I’m empowered, I perform. ”
Sam candidly admitted that he enjoys being the centre of attention and that coming out as transgender will allow him to be an authority figure on queer issues once again, emphasising that being out is about his own personal comfort and should therefore be inherently selfish.
Second, socialising with colleagues provides the bulk of motivation for coming out.
These justifications are intrinsic and extrinsic, including reciprocating the disclosure of other personal information shared by colleagues, being transparent, building working relationships, fostering friendships, and reducing uncertainty. Bram and Sam felt that it was wrong to lie to their colleagues, Rohit saw coming out as a natural way to bond, Arthur and Lotte came out to their closest colleagues because they viewed them as friends and were used to sharing personal details, and Kaan stated that he would come out if he started dating so he could openly share about his relationship. John surmised:
“ If there are people that I’m friends with, or acquaintances with, I want them to know who I am.
If we’re gonna be friends or whatever, that is a big part of who I am. Like I said before, it’s not all of who I am, but it certainly is a big aspect of who I am. ”
Arthur also wanted to spare colleagues from wondering about his queerness, with Thomas adding that colleagues would notice “the elephant in the room” eventually if he never talked about his relationship status, so it made more sense to tell them proactively.
Third, queer professionals spoke about functional, or purely extrinsic, reasons for coming out. Here, coming out is a means for achievement, like improving performance, finding workplace allies, joining queer employee networks, being more visible, and being hired or promoted. Annika and Farzad mentioned the business case for diversity to explain how coming out improved their work quality, allowing them to do better in their career and
serve their company (see also van Beek et al., 2016). Rohit, Lotte, Farzad, and John agree that it is hard to feel comfortable enough to perform when mental efforts are being used to stay closeted. William, Arthur, Annika, Ivy, and Sam all felt that being out allows them to speak openly about new ideas and perspectives at work, helping their team be more creative and their company excel, with Annika adding that she feels a sense of duty to be visibly out to help new queer employees and demonstrate that hiring diverse candidates pays off:
“ I want to support other people who may be a little bit worried to come out. … We want to attract talent no matter who they are. It doesn’t matter if they’re gay or not. So, I want to make sure that [Employer] doesn’t miss out on this talent because some people might think we are not [accepting]. ”
Queer professionals were divided when asked if they saw their identity as an asset for their future careers, with most being warry of tokenisation, or being valued only for their queerness, enabling the fulfilment of diversity quotas (see also Vertovec, 2014). Bram wants to be remembered for being more than just the “gay guy” at work, while Farzad and Sarah are glad they have been hired or promoted by being so visibly out.11 Some even chose to come out by association through the inclusion of queer volunteer work or community leadership in job applications (Farzad, Sam) or via the use of titbits during interviews (Lotte, Annika).
Finally, societal justifications were given for how coming out is also a political act.
Nearly all acknowledged that coming out has a normative emphasis within queer culture (see also Coleman, 1982), simply believing that queer people must come out. Others added that coming out allows them to serve as activists, educate colleagues, and promote an abstract
“gay agenda” at work, although the latter was not defined concretely. Lotte and Peter have led inclusive language initiatives, while Bram and Sarah believe that being out helps
normalise queerness and break stereotypes at work and in their fields. William and Ivy even try to include queer themes in their research or teaching, with Ivy noting:
“ To me my sexuality is personal, but it becomes political when it affects others. I want to make a safe space for others. If I see others being treated unfairly, I will step in because I’m also queer and I want to help them and protect them or whatever. ”
All things considered, it was more common that queer professionals cited a range of motivations for coming out, rather than a single one, as indicated in Figure 1. Thus, one was motivated to come out by a number of factors, some of which neatly related to context and informed method section, while others more closely resembled an individual ideology.
11 Farzad went so far as to add that he sees tokenisation as a form of reparations, where queer professionals are owed promotions to reclaim power from which they were historically excluded.
Motivations For Coming Out (Concept Indicator Model)
Note. Only the most commonly discussed indicators are reproduced.
For instance, Annika mentioned that she had a wife during her job interview, using the casual strategy of the titbit. She attributed this to a functional need to perform vibe checking, to see how interviewers reacted to queerness, thus giving her a proxy to estimate workplace culture.
While this context-specific need largely informed her choice of method, she also did so out of personal and political authenticity needs. Having worked in hostile environments before moving to the Netherlands, she was no longer willing to live in the corporate closet at her new job, thus underscoring her coming out ideology at all times.
When Ivy started dressing more masculine at work, a behaviour which she sees as a way to come out by association, it was based on a personal need to experiment with her gender presentation, a functional need to be more visibly queer for others, and political needs to promote change. Interestingly, these motivations to come out in her academic job did not carry into her consulting job—an environment that she described as less accepting of
diversity, hyper-masculine, and uncomfortable. Sarah, who came out at work to facilitate the beginning of her transition, took an opportunity to switch jobs as a clean slate. In doing so, she was female-presenting from day one, therefore personally motivating her not to come out, although she is politically motivated to educate others at her own discretion.
Coming Out Process Model Of Communication
It is possible to visualise these findings as a new process model of communication.
When there is potential for a communication act to take place, queer professionals have an opportunity to come out at work. In doing so, one starts by appraising their motivations, weighing context-specific factors against their overall philosophy. If enough activation energy is provided, one selects a salient method for coming out, aligning their strategy with motivations via a process that considers environmental and identity factors, as depicted in Figure 2. Queer professionals continuously manage their presentation of self in this way, impacting workplace communication even if one has been out for decades since new colleagues and clients come and go, team compositions change, and one moves to other departments, companies, or regions (Annika, Thomas). As a learned behaviour, previous coming out experiences inform future potential ones. Queer professionals indicated that coming out gets easier with experience, but executing this process still requires effort (Peter).
Following this model helps explain, albeit in an idealistically simplified way, how queer professionals communicate and disclose their identity in corporate workplaces.
Coming Out Process Model Of Communication
Note. Of course, the model can be extended in both directions to reflect transactional models of communication (see also Pierce, 2019).
It is clear that queer professionals are faced with a variety of decisions to make when coming out at work. Informed by an interdisciplinary cultural studies framework, the ways in which coming out function as an ongoing presentation of self were studied via in-depth interviews with 15 queer professionals. Grounded in their lived experiences, inductive typologies for the methods and motivations associated with workplace communication and identity disclosure were built, along with salient factors influencing a process model.
While coming out enables one to be more authentic at work, it demands careful balancing of professional norms against queerness, rooted in power structures that are enacted through communication. Queer professionals must adapt their coming out messages to meet contextual needs and environmental and identity demands through formal, casual, and third-party strategies. Strategies are also aligned with one’s motivations for coming out, be them personal, social, functional, or political. While motivations for coming out in a given instance are often linked to context, queer professionals also rely on their own ideological beliefs to guide coming out. Staying in the closet is one way to avoid this balancing act, but the benefits of coming out at work for individual wellbeing outweigh the risks.
Consistent with other research, coming out is far from a homogenous experience (Stambolis-Ruhstorfer & Saguy, 2014). Even the way queer professionals conceptualise coming out is influenced by their environment and identity, where those with more resources have an easier time coming out. Younger queer professionals who are just entering the workforce are beginning to develop their career paths, balancing the tensions between authenticity, professionalism, and power. For those with more experience being out at work, workplace communication and identity disclosure still require an active and ongoing
presentation of self. As queer professionals interact with new colleagues, become leaders, and witness social progress being embedded at work, there is more of an emphasis on being out through casual expressions, especially through the use of queer symbols and language, rather than on doing out as a singular, formal event (McDonald, 2015). Still, as long as discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity are deemed unprofessional, queer employees will have to utilise vibe checking and self-censorship to inform their workplace behaviours (Willis, 2010). At the moment, the status quo provides some space for queerness, but employees are still forced to navigate coming out independently (Mizzi, 2016).
The dramaturgical metaphor helps link symbolic meaning behind coming out to new communication theory, uncovering how one is liberated from the corporate closet.
Guittar and Rayburn (2015) take the metaphor one step further, suggesting that one manages queerness like a full-time job. They propose coming out will be a perpetual endeavour as long as queerness is marginalised. While this metaphor is quite deterministic, it supports the way queer professionals use several methods for coming out and come up with even more justifications for doing so. Managing two careers—one’s profession and one’s queerness—is bound to have impacts on wellbeing, especially since few rules govern the latter.
In any case, coming out messages are strategically designed with the audience in mind.
For instance, there is an underlying assumption that having the talk will encourage colleagues to react in a reciprocally formal way, tapping into what organisational psychologists call mirroring (Anderson & Croteau, 2013). However, there is less active control through other methods, or even the absence of intention altogether, as is the case with third-party strategies.
Here, Foucault’s emphasis on studying what is not being said is ever crucial (Spargo, 1999).
As queer professionals gain more visibility in corporate workplaces, the boundary between professionalism and queerness may shrink, but power struggles are notoriously hard to overcome (Baker & Lucas, 2017). In the case of corrections, power is embedded directly in professional language, as non-queer colleagues do not think twice about how they ask questions that undermine the authenticity of queer professionals. Perhaps the majority of queer professionals, therefore, employ casual methods to obfuscate some of this tension while infusing authenticity in acceptable social settings. However, the preference for social contexts suggests that queerness is still subjugated by dominant professional culture, forcing queer professionals to avoid bringing too much of themselves to work (Fidas & Cooper, 2014; Lyons et al., 2010). It is becoming more difficult to demarcate professional and social spaces due to new ways of working, where computer-mediated communication and remote working become the norm (Burchiellaro, 2020), potentially reshaping future coming out.
While methods like the talk may require more premeditation, others happen rapidly, like through correction, demanding an instantaneous assessment of net motivation to provide activation energy to come out. In assessing motivation, queer professionals use motivations as heuristics (see also Pearce & Pearce, 2000), using individual authenticity, social norms, functional mechanisms, and political beliefs to shape coming out decisions on the spot.
Although this study benefits from its critical perspective, qualitative methods are subject to certain limitations (see also Braun & Clarke, 2013). The heterogeneous sample obtained reflects a broad range of experiences, although geographic diversity is limited to the US and Europe. There is greater diversity among experience level, employer size, industry, and education level, yet findings lack an intersectional focus beyond sexual orientation and gender identity, with minor commentary on other features. Namely, greater consideration of differences in sex and racial background are also highly relevant. The intentional focus on professionals excludes similar power considerations among blue-collar workers. While a different framework would be needed to address their needs, this work can certainly serve as a starting point for future deductive approaches that may help confirm these findings.
Focusing on an individual level of analysis through workplace communication made it harder than anticipated to uncover structural factors impacting coming out. Since most interviewees were out, there is an overwhelming emphasis on disclosure throughout the data.
Reflecting on coming out in hindsight is different from speaking about it in a future tense, which is why insights from Sam were interesting as he was out about his sexual orientation but not his gender identity. Coming out can still be a very intimidating event, so it is natural to repress pragmatic details as a trauma response (Price, 2000). Thus, it would be interesting to see what a similar emphasis on concealment adds, as well as how coming out experiences can also be explained from an organisation-centric approach.
Consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic forced interviews to take place remotely, which has both positive and negative impacts on quality (Stewart & Shamdasani, 2017).
This ultimately enabled a much wider recruiting frame and gave interviewees the added comfort of discussing sensitive issues in their own homes, but the lack of physical presence also made it harder to connect. Additionally, insights on social motivations need to be
understood in context since most interviewees have not been working alongside colleagues in over a year and a half. While this has given them more time to reflect, it also threatens
ecological validity (Treadwell, 2017).
Insights derived through this research can help queer professionals make sense of their own coming out journeys through the experiences of others, thus contributing to the
community at large. These findings can also be adapted for employers in support of their efforts to foster inclusive workplaces that facilitate coming out, further alleviating burden and promoting safety (see also Baker & Lucas, 2017). Above all, further attention to employee diversity is lent through this work, via a critical application of queer theory to communication (see also Edgley et al., 2016).
The present methodology also extends social science research to historically
marginalised subjects (see also Braun & Clarke, 2013), demonstrating to other researchers that queer communication is no longer a taboo theme and, as such, demands urgent attention.
Future studies may benefit from replicating the unique sampling methods used to continue applying a cultural studies framework, generating novel corporate communication insights.
It would be useful to speak with more queer professionals in a focus group setting, to
understand how they collectively navigate coming out and professionalism norms, as well as take a deductive look into the proposed process model of coming out through surveys or qualitative content analysis, focusing more on pragmatics. Finally, an additional interview study should focus on the unique experiences of transgender professionals.
Moving forward, queer professionals must continue to push back against dominant professional norms in an effort to balance authenticity and power through coming out.
Things are getting better, as most interviewees noted, but there is still a long path to
liberation from the corporate closet. Just three weeks after urging more queer people to come out at work and elsewhere, Harvey Milk was assassinated in his office at City Hall
(Milk Foundation, 2021). He left one final piece of advice in his will…
“ If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door. ”
Sam reached out after our interview to share that he came out at work as planned.