For most Harvard seniors, graduation will bring a whole slew of uncertainties associated with the "real world." For bisexual, gay and lesbian students, however, entering the workforce can pose additional concerns, said speakers yesterday at a panel organized by the Office of Career Services(OCS).
At the panel, titled "Being Out in the Office," and co-sponsored by the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters' Alliance, five Harvard graduates reassured students about being bisexual, gay and lesbian in the workplace.
"I was very guarded about exposing the fact that I was gay at [Harvard Business School] HBS," said Torrence N. Boone, an HBS alumnus.
"In the end, the reason I decided to be out was that it's so much easier...I didn't feel like managing all the issues involved with being in the closet," he added.
Boone was one of many speakers who explored the dynamics of coming out of the closet in a professional setting.
"My experience is that nobody really cares," said Mathew A Clark '81, a partner at Mercer Management Consulting. "[In the business world] it's not about you, it's about the job that you're doing."
All of the panelists emphasized that although they had ended up in businesses or organizations that provided supportive and open-minded working conditions, others might not be so fortunate.
"We've been privileged to be in really progressive environments, but that is a privilege," Boone said.
One audience member asked how students applying for jobs could inquire about a company's open-mindedness regarding bisexual, gay and lesbian employees "without sounding like you're radicalizing the issue."
The panelists said there isn't a clear cut answer.
"I don't think it should be your first question," said Clark, who added that there are specific times when it is more appropriate to come out.
Stacie H. Hagenbaugh, a graduate of the School of Education, told audience members they may have to negotiate some questions carefully.
"When people ask me if I'm married, it's awkward to say, 'No, I'm a lesbian, so I just say I'm not married," she said.
"We don't have a little purple thing on our heads like Tinky Winky," Clark said. "You're constantly coming out to people in a variety of ways...you end up having to find your way through a series of answers that are not lies, but are only half truth."
Boone encouraged students to come out eventually, however, and to be open about their sexual orientation. Boone said he believes the closeted nature of homosexuality may heighten homophobia.
"If you don't reveal the same sorts of things that other people do, they see you as odd," Boone said. "They need to connect with the normalcy of your existence. You need to appear as a whole person."
Paul A. Bohlman, director of fellowships at OCS, said he came up with the idea for the panel after discussions with gay students on campus indicated that there was a lot of interest in the topic.
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