Coming out at work guide

A guide to support staff identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and other identities (LGBT+) and their colleagues when choosing to come out at work.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

People perform better when they can be themselves.



Welcome to the Lincolnshire NHS Coming Out at Work Guide, developed by people who identify as LGBT+ working within the three NHS Trusts in Lincolnshire and Transposition.

The three NHS trusts are:

  • Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (LPFT)
  •  Lincolnshire Community Health Services NHS Trust (LCHS)
  • United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT).

Its purpose is to provide guidance to all in the work place, enabling LGBT+ people to have a good experience of coming out at work. LPFT, ULHT and LCHS have active LGBT+ staff networks and visible LGBT+ staff.

You can contact your trust’s network via your equality and diversity trust lead or by finding the network chair’s details on your trust’s intranet site. Visible LGBT+ staff in all the trusts are very happy to be contacted in order to support staff connecting to the LGBT+ staff networks.

What is coming out and what affects a person's decision to come out?

Coming out is a term used for LGBT+ people when they decide to tell others about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Coming out is not a one-off event. LGBT+ people have to make decisions about when to be open or ‘out’ about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in every setting, including in the workplace. This can cause a lot of stress to the individual, who will be weighing up the benefits of being ‘out’ versus the fears they may experience of possible harassment and discrimination.

Whether you have come to terms with your sexual orientation or gender identity, or you are still questioning, it can be difficult dealing with this on your own. You may get to a point where you want to talk about it with someone to get support, or simply get it off your chest. To hide your sexual orientation or gender identity from other people often means not being able to fully ‘be yourself’ at work.

My decision to come out would be vastly down to the assumed consequences of coming out. Will people be accepting of me, will I be supported in the workplace and by the organisation as a whole?

LGBT+ staff member


Assessing the risk - what might influence your decision to come out?

There are a number of ways to approach coming out (bearing in mind that it is not a one-off process) that have been tried and tested by LGBT+ staff. Not all will be right for you but some of these ideas may help you with the process:

  • Come out first to those people you think will be most supportive and accepting of you to build up a support network before disclosing to others. Don’t be put off if their reaction isn’t what you expect.
  • Consider how supported you feel to be ‘fully yourself’ in your workplace both by your colleagues and by the organisation.
  • Consider what the general culture of sharing personal information within your work place is like.
  • Test out tolerance levels by discussing current LGBT+ issues that are prevalent in the media or on TV with LGBT+ themes. Use the opportunity to gauge people’s reactions to issues such as LGBT+ adoption, surrogacy and parenting.
  • Talk about other cultural issues that are pertinent to LGBT+ communities.
  • Look for opportunities to bring it into the conversation in a routine way e.g. when someone asks you what you did at the weekend. Tell them you visited your boyfriend’s, girlfriend’s or partner’s parents or that you had a dinner party for a group of LGBT+ friends.

How to respond helpfully when someone ‘comes out’ to you

Rejection is usually the main fear of anyone who is coming out. Take the person seriously and reassure them that you will do all you can to support them. Be positive, listen; and check whether the person wants you to do anything specific to support them.

Don’t be tempted to give advice unless the person asks you for it. Coming to terms with one’s sexuality or gender identity is a very personal journey.

Thank the person for trusting you enough to come out to you, remembering it may have taken them a long time to get this far and is not a decision they are likely to have taken lightly.

Don’t make assumptions. For example, if someone comes out as trans don’t assume how they will choose to dress.

Don’t confuse gender identity with sexual orientation as they are separate things. For example, not all trans women are attracted to men and not all trans men are attracted to women.

Maintain and respect the person’s confidentiality, remembering that unless you have their explicit permission, this is private confidential information and should not be shared any wider.

Recent examples have been shared by LGBT+ staff working within Lincolnshire’s NHS trusts, of telling a single colleague about their sexual orientation or gender identity at work and this information being shared widely across their clinical teams without their consent.

Use the pronoun the person uses in their conversation to you. For example, if they use ‘she’ or ‘they’ then mirror this in your language back. If you don’t know which pronouns to use, it is okay to ask the person.

One non-binary person said: ‘If I meet someone for the first time and they ask me my pronouns, it makes me feel really at ease. Like the person respects me and knows what they’re doing’. If someone has newly come out to you, you may get their pronouns wrong occasionally through an honest mistake.

If you’ve known someone for many years as a different pronoun, it may be difficult to make that change instantly. Trans people understand this and may correct you if you slip, but are unlikely to be offended if the slip is a genuine mistake.

Don’t avoid the person or not talk to them out of fear you will offend them. After coming out it may be the time that person needs to feel most included and supported. Give them their own space, but do not isolate them.

Create an accepting environment. Putting up a rainbow flag is a positive step but this has to be backed up by positive attitudes in the workplace. For trans people, support needs may include things such as changing names on records and in computer systems. If you need any guidance or support in how to do this, please refer to your trust’s policy and contact your human resources (HR) department or your equality and diversity lead.

Past experiences of coming out to people can affect confidence, positively or negatively, and influence future decisions. Conversely for some, the workplace can be a safe space. Even in the teeth of rejection from friends or family, a supportive workplace can provide an environment for someone to be themselves.

If you decide to come out, what are your rights?

If you decide to come out, but are unsure how others might react, you could consider making contact with a supportive person or group first. There are helplines, community groups and agencies across the country that are able to provide support and advice.

For Lincolnshire, the LGBT+ Resource Directory can be found at

Each trust has equality and diversity leads who are able to signpost you to support. In addition each trust has a staff wellbeing service. To find contact details check your trust intranet or contact your HR department.

Fairness in the workplace is a vital part of a successful business or public body. It is supported by the law (Equality Act 2010) and also makes good business sense in running and developing an organisation. It is the responsibility of everyone:

  • employers
  • employees
  • colleagues
  • patients
  • the public.

Successful organisations are ones that reflect the richness of diversity that exists in society and will include people of different genders and sexual orientation.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate at work against nine protected characteristics, including:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership

Discrimination can come in the following forms:

  • Direct discrimination is when you are treated differently and worse than someone else for certain reasons.
  • Indirect discrimination is when you may be treated in the same way as everyone else, but it has a different and worse effect because of who you are.
  • Harassment is when someone behaves in a way which offends you or makes you feel distressed or intimidated. This could be abusive comments or jokes, graffiti or insulting gestures.
  • Victimisation is treating you unfairly because you have complained about discrimination or harassment.

This act applies to all aspects of employment, including training, recruitment, promotion, and dismissal. 

The NHS trusts of Lincolnshire are committed to this act, promoting equality, valuing diversity, and eliminating discrimination against the protected characteristics. If you think you have been unfairly discriminated against:

  • You should try and sort things out informally with your line manager or, if this is not possible, your trust’s freedom to speak up guardian.
  • You could use someone else to help mediate your discussions, for example mediation through HR / workforce or the equality and diversity lead. Y
  • ou could also choose to talk to a trade union representative for support and advice.