Out and proud
I wanted the first line of my first blog to be brilliant. Something poetic that would linger after the final line had been read. But I have learned that life brings you lightning-like bursts of brilliance, and they are rarely lyrical. There is no other way to say it: I am out and proud and grateful that I had the courage to come out when I did.
Today, October 11, is National Coming Out Day. The day marks the importance of coming out, so every workplace, family, and social group knows that LGBTQ+ people are part of every corner of society. The intention and hope are that this public visibility diminishes fears and eliminates stereotypes. It’s a day for many people to share and reflect on their coming out experiences—positive and negative. As Candid’s vice president of finance and a member of the executive team, I wanted to take this opportunity to do just that: to share my story and create visibility for LGBTQ+ people in the workplace.
In the summer of 1992, I had just received my MBA from a graduate school in the U.S., directly after having completed my undergraduate degree in India. While I was still in the process of coming out, slowly progressing from not introducing my boyfriend as my “roommate” to friends and family, I started my first job at Polaroid in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As I navigated the ropes of my first position and became familiar with the company culture, I came across a flyer for various employee resource groups (ERGs). One group in particular caught my eye: The Gay & Lesbian Employee Network Group. At first, I couldn’t understand the need for such a group in the workplace. But as time went on and my social interactions with colleagues started to develop, it became apparent that I needed to come out at work. The Gay & Lesbian Employee Network Group not only facilitated social interactions with other queer people at work, but it also successfully made changes to company policies. In fact, Polaroid was one of the first companies in the U.S. to establish an AIDS education program and offer domestic partner benefits to employees in the mid-1990s. Visibility and representation matter!
The networking group that gave me the courage to come out at work was comprised primarily of white people born and brought up in the U.S. As I socialized with people at work and outside, I realized that my experience of coming out as a gay Indian immigrant man in America was different than that of most people I came in contact with. There was a place of belonging that I was still searching for. I needed to connect with other gay South Asians and people of color. I decided to join a business networking group for gays and lesbians, where I met and befriended other gay people of color. This encouraged me to try to connect with other gay South Asians.
I searched extensively—which was hard in the age of no internet—and finally got in touch with another gay South Asian man in Boston. Together, we founded MASALA (Massachusetts Area South Asian Lambda Association), a social networking group for queer people who identified as South Asian. This was a magical moment that connected me with LGBTQ+ folks who came from the same background as me and had felt the same sense of isolation. This connection gave me the confidence to become more visible and actively involved in other local grassroots queer organizations, such as Massachusetts Asian AIDS Prevention Project (MAAPP), Men of Color Against AIDS (MOCAA), and Multicultural AIDS Coalition (MAC), where I served as a volunteer and board member.
By this time, I was comfortable being out to family and friends and being my authentic self in most facets of life. But as I progressed up the career ladder, I found that I had to come out every day—whether it was during the interview process or to coworkers when I changed positions and organizations. This is because heterosexuality is assumed as “the norm.” Therefore, every time I start a new job or even start chatting with a coworker, I have to come out, daily.
Now 30 years later, we have made much progress in queer civil rights, but there is still much more work to be done. Coming out as LGBTQ+ still matters. Our stories can be powerful for each other. That’s why I’m so supportive of Candid’s Queer Diversity Resource Group (DRG) and its members, and I’m proud to work at an organization that fosters the value of inclusivity in the sector and beyond. After all, when people know someone who is LGBTQ+, they are far more likely to support equality under the law and create lasting impact on their community.
“Gay people do not fight for freedom to live in a lavender bubble, but in a more just society.” – Urvashi Vaid
I believe that being open about one’s identity to family, friends, and coworkers is important. It can be a wonderful occasion that is met with love and acceptance for many people. For others, however, it can still be a traumatic event that isolates them from family and community and brings with it real risks of job loss, abuse, or even criminal prosecution in some countries. Until nobody needs to come out, or the day when coming out carries no risk to anyone, we will keep telling our stories to celebrate and recognize National Coming Out Day!
“You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.” – James Baldwin