I am out loud and proud as Autistic, ADHD, non-binary and asexual pretty much everywhere including at work. It does not occur to me that disclosure / coming out is an option! When I started my public service career I had to provide a letter from my psychiatrist at the time about my schizophrenia so HR knew all about that and I disclosed my autism as well. Back then disclosure of my autism was mostly due to the fact I had published a book all about being autistic so figured should any HR practitioners google me they would find out anyway.
I have had almost 100 per cent positive and supportive responses to my disclosing. I do it now for similar reasons but also because I do not like to keep such important parts of my identity a secret. I also don’t think it should be a secret. It is not shameful or something I want to hide.
In terms of my Queer identities I am also open about those too for similar reasons. I always say that I don’t like closets – they are dark and scary and isolating. And I don’t think I should have to be in the closest about my gender and sexuality. Once again they are not things to be ashamed of. They are actually things to be celebrated in my opinion.
My being ‘out’ also gives others license to be out themselves which has to be a good thing.
However not everyone has had the positive response that I have. Disclosure of neurodivergence can result in a range of unpleasant issues including not getting jobs to being passed over for career advancement to outright prejudice,. And being out as a transgender or asexual person can result in a lot of bigotry and discrimination.
Disclosure and coming out are not decisions to take lightly. There can be some great consequences and some dreadful ones. I always suggest making a strategy around disclosure. Do you intend to disclose? What do you want to say? At what point in the recruitment process do you want to say it (e.g. on application, at interview, when you get offered the job, when you start or a while after you start)? Who do you want to tell (you manager, HR, your colleagues or all of these)? You might not always do what you plan but I find it helpful to have some guidance behind me before I actually do the disclosing. Also each workplace is different and within workplaces each team and manager is different so what works well in one setting my not work in another.
Disclosure is a difficult topic. There is no absolute right or absolute wrong answer. It is a decision requiring consideration. Also it can help to plan a contingency is disclosure goes awry. What will you do? Who will support you? Is the exclusionary behaviour against your employer’s code of conduct and if so will you take action? The worst outcome is that you are discriminated against and lose your job. Of course it is illegal to discriminate or terminate a person’s employment due to their neurotype, sexuality or gender but it can be very difficult to prove that is what happened.
It would be so nice if we lived in a world where we didn’t even have to consider issues with disclosure and coming out but sadly we do not – yet. I will continue to be out loud and proud. I remember a colleague many years ago coming up to me in the corridor and whispering ‘I have schizophrenia too but don’t tell anyone.’ This made me so sad. I have never kept my illness a secret but I completely understand why someone would because there is a lot of bigotry and ableism around the diagnosis.
I sometimes think I occupy a different world to others. Over decades of employment I have rarely encountered issues due to disclosing my autism and mental health issues or even my gender but I know others certainly do. I don’t know why I have largely escaped issues but I have and for that I am most grateful. I want a world where disclosure isn’t even a consideration – people just do it in the same way they provide an employer with other information such as their name, address or date of birth.