Jason Collins has become the first male professional athlete from a major professional sport to acknowledge, publicly, that he is gay. That he is the first, and it is 2013, speaks volumes of the apparent homophobia in professional sports.
But Collins' coming out is not an isolated event. It is part of a trend in which LGBT employees are increasingly open in their workplaces about who they are.
The salvo of recent states that recognize same sex marriages has accelerated the trend. Discussions of this public policy issue has led to workplace disclosures of what otherwise might have been private.
As one employee said in a diversity training program I facilitated, it is one thing to be silent about who you are. It is another to be silent if you feel your most important relationship is being debated.
At the same time, there are people who hold sincerely-held religious objections to homosexuality in general and same sex unions in particular, too. As more employees come out about their sexual orientation, we can expect more employees to come out about their religious views, too. I have observed this in training programs, too.
Of course, there is diversity among and within religious faiths. Indeed, some religious groups strongly favor same sex unions.
Regardless of one's personal or religious views, it is likely, if not inevitable, that a colleague will come out to you. Jason Collins has made that more likely.
Think now about what you will say so that you don't say the wrong thing, such as, “You don't look or act gay.” In other words, you don't conform to the stereotypic views I hold.
How about something simple like, "Thanks for letting me know" and stop there.
If the employee wants to tell you more, such as whether s/he has a partner, let her or him take the lead in doing so, but don't ask.
What if the employee goes farther than your comfort level? You can politely tell the employee that the conversation is getting a little too personal.
But consider whether what the employee is sharing would make you uncomfortable were it coming from a straight person. If someone simply says, “We’re driving up to visit my partner’s parents this weekend,” or something similarly non-controversial, then be careful of creating a double standard by shutting down the conversation.
On other hand, if the employee is discussing his or her sex life, shut down that conversation quickly. No employees should be talking about their sex lives at work, regardless of sexual orientation. But anecdotes about family generally should be welcomed, even if those families are a little different from one another.
Author’s Note: This Article should not be construed as legal advice or as pertaining to specific factual situations.