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6 November, 2015

LGBT and the challenges of coming out at the office in Sweden


You’ve come all the way to Sweden. Now it’s time come out at the office. Just like in most countries, in Sweden it can be a tough decision as to when to come out as LGBT to your family, friends, classmates, and colleagues.

I came to Sweden as a student in my early 20s, and gradually came out to my new friends in my new country. I started by telling close friends and eventually most classmates. This coming out process went well for me, as a happy young student in my adopted country — for me a major reason to come here in the first place was to figure out who I was and to dare to start coming out to people around me.

But graduating from university and staying on in Sweden to work was a whole new ballgame. I started at a workplace dominated by straight colleagues, most of whom were older than me and already married with children. Although I was still out to all my friends and family, I was intimidated by the straight workplace around me, and put myself firmly into the closet at my new job.

My being closeted at work went on for several years — too long, looking back. In the end I realized that I could never really be my real and relaxed self at work if I wasn’t open with my colleagues.

It wasn’t that I was actively lying to them, it was more that there was this side of me that I could never show or talk about — I could never talk about the great gay bar I went to last night after work, about the weekend getaway with my gay friends, or especially about my new boyfriend.

I finally just told my colleagues. I started out by telling a couple of close colleagues, using the company chat system, so that I didn’t have to say it face to face. When that went well, I told others in person, and I eventually told my manager. No drama — it all went well, with only positive reactions and encouragement. Several years later I can also confirm it did not affect my career development in the slightest.

So with my personal “Oldbie” experience of coming out at work in Sweden, I’m trying to figure out what my advice is to you Newbies. Let me sum it up like this:

  • Dare to do it. Come on, one reason you moved to a new country is to push yourself to do new things, right? Especially if you came here wanting to be more open about being LGBT, coming out at work is a great step to take.

  • Start with your closest colleagues; test the waters and see what reactions you get.

  • Turn on your gaydar. Many Swedish workplaces have openly LGBT staff these days — speak with them for advice.

  • Check your company’s employee handbook — many Swedish companies openly and explicitly support LGBT rights and have clear policies to deal with discrimination and bullying.

  • Speak with a union or professional association. Most Swedish workplaces have a local union presence and the larger unions all have LGBT programmes promoting open and discrimination-free workplaces. They can give you advice about coming out at your specific company, and they’ll have your back if you do face problems.

  • Worst case? Change jobs. OK, maybe you moved to Sweden specifically because of your current job, but if you’re getting clearly bad vibes about coming out at this office, now you’re here in Sweden and can start checking the job market for Swedish companies that offer a better environment for LGBT employees.

What’s your take on being LGBT and out in the Swedish workplace? Have you come out recently, and what were your experiences? Help other Newbies by telling your story in the comments section and in the forums.

Helpful links to unions, associations and groups that actively support an open workplace:

Written by: Steven Muir

I am originally from Canada but after many years here, first as a student and now working for a Swedish company, I definitely see myself as a seasoned “Oldbie” here in Sweden, full of advice for Newbies! I blog about LGTB life here in Sweden. Probably not too much about the latest club or who’s gay on the latest docusåpa (look it up), but more about things I’ve learned about living in Sweden, where being gay is at least part of my identity.

My one piece of advice for all Newbies if you want to enjoy living here – gay, straight, or any flavour of the rainbow: Learn Swedish and do it now! It doesn’t have to be perfect, but just understanding what’s being said around you in the office, understanding a joke cracked at lunch, or being able to “harumph” properly in Swedish at the parent who just ran over your foot with the triple-wide pram on the bus — all this is so much easier and enjoyable when you understand this Swedish chef language we Newbies and Oldbies are immersed in here.

Let me know if there’s any Swedish LGBT Newbie questions you’re curious about!

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