My desk is stuffed with absolute nonsense. There is a picture of Bianca Del Rio, photos from Pride past, a Carrie Fisher prayer candle, a small Bea Arthur toy, and many other kitsch treasures. The desk is a magnet for people adding things that fit with the aesthetic such as bejeweled goblet full of confetti, a pair of clip-on bangs, and the occasional stuffed unicorn in my chair posed as if it is working. I play Sylvester songs when we’re having a collective break. This space is both a reflection of my authentic self, and the additions to the desk are encouragement and support of that self.
I am a big personality. I’m tall. I have very unruly hair (more so thanks to the pandemic). I am a queer, non-binary person, and I cannot and refuse to be anything but myself.
When a company says everyone is encouraged to bring their authentic selves to the workplace, it is a statement that is crucial to the LGBTQIA+ community as too many of us have had to fight for our authentic selves. We were not given the same opportunities at coming-of-age benchmarks as our straight friends, and that authenticity is something that we knew (and still know) could make us a target for harm.
When we have claimed the person we are proud of being, we should never be asked to shelve that person.
I grew up in conservative Indiana, and growing up queer often required a preservation of truest self to ensure survival because authenticity can quickly make you a target. I had supportive family and friends, but the world outside of those spaces was difficult to navigate. The consciousness of potential threat and very real danger can postpone the development of who we are as LGBTQIA+ people. We had to guard the cramped closet where we had the safety to explore ourselves to ultimately subdue ourselves until the time was right to come out, an act we have to perform for the rest of our lives.
We think of coming out as something LGBTQIA+ people do that bravely kicks the closet door down, but it is a nerve-wracking experience in which we are looking someone in the eye and saying, “This is my authentic self. I hope that you accept it.” LGBTQIA+ people come out the rest of their lives to family, friends, peers, and bosses, and there is always the fear that there will be negative repercussions that could result in abandonment, hostility, job loss, or violence. Giving people the freedom to be themselves and stating that you openly support them alleviates that anxiety.
A promise of an authentic workplace where our bodies, expression, and identities are safe is a promise to reduce and eliminate trauma.
When a workplace makes the promise of people being able to bring their true selves to work, it is a declaration that matters. When a workplace makes the promise of people being able to bring one’s true self to work, it is signaling that there will be no need to build a professional closet. The promise signals there will be no requirement to hide in “palatable” straight-passing or repressed behavior.
Allyship is appreciating the authentic self that LGBTQIA+ people bring to work, and it is about fighting for that person as hard as they have fought for themselves in the workplace and beyond.
I have been lucky in every sense of the word to work at Cheetah Digital where my authentic self has been accepted and encouraged, because the working world has not always been an easy or kind one. I am grateful for the managers I have worked with who are not only accepting but invested in my joy, my success, my struggles, and my journey. They have rooted their mentorship in their duty as allies to go beyond fostering my skill set and understand how my experiences as a queer person shape me as a whole, complex, underrepresented person in the workplace.
The gratitude I hold for that investment, space, camaraderie, and support can in no way be expressed fully in this post, and our goal should be to eliminate barriers and encourage that people bring their full selves, their joys, their love, and the people they have become so proud to be to every waking moment.
The more we can pull together and bring that investment and support to the workplace and beyond, the more we do not have to view this kindness and care as an anomaly in our offices.
Supporting members of the LGBTQIA+ people in your office, friend groups, and life is crucial as so many people in the community did not get the chance to survive to realize and love their full selves. We spend roughly one-third of our lives at work, and it should never be asked of people to spend that time living subdued, watered down, or in a convenient lie. We should never be required to bury the person we have fought for in order to maintain employment and survive.
When allies rally around that promise, when a company stands by supporting people’s true selves, we build a better workplace without fear and trauma. We build a world where future generations of LGBTQIA+ people are not required to fight so hard for themselves in and out of the workplace.
Sarah Yeazel is the Services Product Marketing Manager at Cheetah Digital. They have spent their career focused on the importance of storytelling in business, which now focuses on building a library of resources to showcase the talent and value of the Cheetah Digital Services teams. When they aren’t focused on communication, they can most likely be found writing or reading X-Men (and definitely eating candy).