Confidant First, Ally Later: LGBTQ+ and Disclosures

While the world celebrates PRIDE month, we still have a long way to go before we see the light on the other side of the tunnel. We still live in a place where revealing one's sexual orientation is the most challenging decision. No surveys have so far determined the number of LGBTQ+ scientists in India. In an empirical investigation in 2021, 47 people surveyed in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in India from the LGBTQ+ community revealed that 38% had experienced mental health issues. Sexual and gender minority students find STEM less welcoming. There has been a sense of invisibility. Invisibility has a two-fold problem.

  1. Invisibility of the LGBTQ+ scientist
  2. Invisibility of the LGBTQ+ scientists’ work.

Both these scenarios tremendously impact the person's work and mental health.

Sexual orientation consists of 3 distinct measurements - Identity, Behavior and Attraction. An individual's sexual orientation identity is known to the observers. However, identity disclosure is an intrinsic and pivotal part of identity development and self-authenticity. As per research, disclosure is a paradoxical dilemma.

After a decision to share one's identity in a given situation is determined, the identity disclosure process takes place. As per the research by Derlega and Grzelak,1979 1, disclosure is a functional behaviour allowing it to pursue various personal goals, including self-expression, self-clarification, social validation, relationship development and social control. According to this perspective, people will disclose only when they believe it is an effective or indispensable tool to obtain the goal of interest. As per the study (Cain,1991) 2, sexual orientation has also highlighted the strategic use of disclosure to obtain symbolic and tangible assistance or to educate people about their identity. (Goldberg, 2007) 3.

The study by (Omarzu,2000) 4 suggests that people disclose information in depth or intimacy when they perceive that the subjective risk of doing so is low. They believe that the anticipated response from the confidant will be positive. Therefore, to create inclusion for LGBTQ+, there should be more of a confidant first, and an ally later within the workplace is imperative. Being a confidant is the stepping-stone to building an environment of psychological safety and strengthening the belief and confidence of LGBTQ+ in the workplace.

Research suggests that supportive heterosexual workers may help lessen the fears of disclosure and allow LGBTQ+ employees to bring up their identities. Disclosures are not easy for them as it involves risk-benefit calculation. Still, as per the Self Verification Theory 5, employees are internally driven to disclose invisible stigmas because of a primary and psychological need to create social identities that reinforce clear self-views and strengthen feelings of psychological coherence between public and private identity.

Several LGBTQ+ people experience gender dysphoria- psychological distress that results from incongruence between one's sex assigned at birth and one's gender identity. Moreover, disclosing their identity impacts their mental health at the workplace.

A 2018 Human Rights Campaign Foundation survey found that 46% of LGBTQ+ employees reported being secluded at work, and 20% reported searching for a different job because their workplace was unwelcoming to LGBTQ+ individuals. People who come out in the open to disclose their sexual orientation continue to be victims of hate crimes and verbal assault or ostracization.  

Impact of Self Disclosure 

The impact of self-disclosure can vary. The beneficial effect of disclosure on job outcomes can be greater job satisfaction and lower anxiety. However, one of the most significant elements in disclosure is the type of response elicited from the confidant. Research (Major et al., 1990, Cullman, 1996,2003) 6 shows that unsupportive reactions from a confidant on disclosure can harm psychological well-being, leading people to experience psychological distress. In several organizations, management assumes that there are no LGBTQ+ employees and do not have policies to help those who decide to disclose their gender identity.

Quantitative results reveal those co-workers' support positively impacts self-disclosure by LGBTQ+ employees. Furthermore, the fear of disclosure mediates the relationship between coworker support and self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is positively related to psychological well-being.

What does it take to become a Confidant

Accept: It takes much grit for an LGBTQ+ employee to share their identity with a confidant. They seek force outside who will reckon with their identity disclosure. They look for someone who does not judge them. They seek a confidant who accepts their individuality and authenticity to seek further strength to share their identity with more people at the workplace. The response of a confidant can make or break their confidence and conviction to disclose their identity. Therefore, as a confidant, it is essential to be accepting. Accepting LGBTQ+ employees for their sexual identity and responding positively towards their disclosure is a massive reinforcement for them.

Advocate: LGBTQ+ expect their confidant to be their advocate. Being an advocate does not only mean participating with them in PRIDE rallies but raising awareness throughout the year, respecting their contribution and the value they add towards organizational outcomes through their role. It is also about standing by them at the workplace and raising awareness about them and the community.

Anchor: The confidant must be a good listener and open to connecting with LGBTQ+ colleagues. They should be willing to learn and know more about their community. Confidant needs to be modest to understand LGBTQ+ colleagues in the workplace.

We can be influential allies if we are authentic confidants. They do not need us as a source of validation but as their strength and ambassador for the rest of the world.

Let us wait for the time when LGBTQ+ employees do not feel experience dissonance for their identity and heterosexual people take PRIDE in becoming a part of their lives.


  1. Derlega, VJ.; Grzelak, J. Appropriateness of self-disclosure. In: Chelune, GJ., editor. Self-disclosures:Origins, patterns and implications of openness in interpersonal relationships. Jossey-Bass; SanFrancisco, CA: 1979. p. 151-176.
  2. Cain R. Stigma management and gay identity development. Social Work 1991;36:67–73. [PubMed:1998131]
  3. Goldberg AE. Talking about family: Disclosure practices of adults raised by lesbian, gay, and bisexual Journal of Family Issues 2007; 28:100–131.
  4. Omarzu J. A disclosure decision model: Determining how and when individuals will self-disclose.Personality and Social Psychology Review 2000; 4:174–185.
  5. Swann, W. B., Jr. (2012). Self-verification theory. In P. A. M. Van Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology(pp. 23–42). 
  6. Major B, Cozzarelli C, Sciacchitano AM, Cooper ML, Testa M, Mueller PM. Perceived social support,self-efficacy, and adjustment to abortion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology1990; 59:452–463. [PubMed: 2231279]



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