Coming out and living on the other side of fear

December 05, 2016 | GET MORE : Life

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Ann Dyste will never forget her boss flipping through vacation photos and asking who she'd traveled with. For years she'd danced around the question. But not that day. At 29 years old, she'd finally come out at work.

My boss wanted to see pictures from my trip to Buenos Aires.

"Who was your travel companion?" she asked, looking down at a picture of my now-wife, Angela, and me posing in front of a fountain.

I was paralyzed. Although I'd lied so many times before, a feeling of courage swept over me. "That’s Angela, my partner."

And just like that, at 29 years old, I was out at work.

That was five years ago at a previous employer and when I look back at the earlier years of my career, I think of a quote by George Adair that I often recite today but wish I’d known then: Everything you ever wanted was on the other side of fear.

Fear is exactly what prevented me from coming out sooner. LGBT people are experts at dodging questions about their evening or weekend plans, or explaining away their "roommates" at home. I had become a pro at creatively using non-gender-specific pronouns. I traded "her" or "she" for words like "they" or "we" when telling stories. It was exhausting. Worse, I was ashamed of myself. 

Despite the progress LGBT individuals have realized in recent years, it's still common for members of the community to maintain dual identities: a work self and a true self. In fact, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reported that 53 percent of LGBT workers are still closeted at work. I get it. I've been there, too, living on the wrong side of fear. When I came out, however, I found my colleagues were able to engage with me in new and unexpected ways. And they still asked about my weekend plans, but finally with Angela in the context.

Now a decade into my career, I'm proud to work for a company that recognizes, stands behind and invests in the LGBT community. Today the HRC named U.S. Bank a “Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality” for the 10th consecutive year, giving the bank a perfect score in its 2017 Corporate Equality Index. The index is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to LGBT employees.

Consciously developing an inclusive and diverse workforce is more than just a social responsibility – it's a business imperative. A recent McKinsey study found that companies with diverse employees performed better than their industry average, and the HRC has reported that productivity is compromised when employees don’t bring their authentic selves to work. That was certainly the case for me. Now, I serve on the leadership committee for U.S. Bank's internal LGBT business resource group as well as on the HRC’s national board of governors – both of which have helped me comfortably marry my true and work selves.

My coming out story in 2011 was rooted in a desire to eliminate a lot of unhealthy stress and to honor the good things in my life despite the fear. Five years later, coming out is a daily occurrence when meeting new coworkers, going to the doctor, working out at the gym and even ordering coffee – all places where I've been asked about my personal life, weekend plans or significant other.

Someone once told me that coming out is an act of service, insisting that we owe it to ourselves and our communities to be who we are and live life with authenticity and truth. Coming out, however, takes more than an internal choice. It takes a welcoming community of friends, family and colleagues.

At U.S. Bank, we draw strength from diversity. I'm proud of our “Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality” recognition and our commitment to making sure all of our employees feel valued and welcome.

Ann Dyste is a Minneapolis-based assistant vice president and LGBT strategy manager for U.S. Bank.