Embracing LGBTQIA+ duality in a global workplace

B. is in a unique, but not altogether uncommon position. He is a LGBTQIA+ professional in a global workplace, which means he often must balance how he shares the two versions of himself.

“I have truly experienced what it means to ‘be yourself’, without fear. But I also experience what it feels like to hide your true identity away. While some countries offer legal protection and societal acceptance, others impose restrictions and stigma. As an LGBTQIA+ professional working and living in both the US and Asia, I know too well the challenges and triumphs of balancing personal openness in two vastly different environments. 

Navigating the intricacies of identity and self-expression is a complex task for everyone. For members of the LGBTQIA+ community, it can be vastly more confounding.

Finding My True Self

I was born and raised in South East Asia. I moved to the US to attend university at 19, and ended up staying in the country for almost 18 years. Identifying as a gay man, I found acceptance and inclusivity in the San Francisco Bay Area, something I had never experienced in my home country. That ability to live openly and confidently for the first time helped me discover the true meaning of ‘living my true self’ and ‘bringing my whole self to work’.

During my time in the US, I became an advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights, serving as the Treasurer and then the Co-Chair of an LGBTQIA+ employee resource group at Genentech. I contributed to the creation of a gender transition guide to support employees undergoing gender transition. The experience filled me with pride and gave me a sense of belonging in the organisation.

Returning to a different reality

Upon returning to South East Asia during the pandemic, I faced a strikingly different reality. With homosexuality outlawed in the country, I reverted to a more restricted existence. Despite the law, enforcement varies. Societal attitudes are slowly evolving.

Nevertheless, I have adopted a ‘don't ask, don't tell’ approach to navigating my personal and professional life. This meant making difficult decisions, such as not having children, and facing challenges in hospital visitation and legal paperwork.

Working in a global role for an international organisation in Asia provides me with a unique challenge: maintaining my connection to the LGBTQIA+ community while operating in a more restrictive environment. I feel comfortable being open about my identity with colleagues from Europe and Americas, for example mentioning my boyfriend in casual conversation just as my straight colleagues talked about their spouses. However, I have to avoid discussing my personal life with those from less LGBTQIA+ friendly countries.

The importance of allies and organisations

I believe that allies and organisations have a responsibility to advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and promote inclusive environments, both locally and globally. They can bring visibility to the advancement of LGBTQIA+ rights, celebrate milestones, and defend their commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion. And the support of allies is crucial in reinforcing the message that the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights is a fight for equality, not a zero-sum game.

In 2019, Genentech joined 205 other companies in filing an amicus brief in support of LGBTQIA+ workers in the US Supreme Court. This act fills my heart with pride and hope, and reinforces the importance of organisational support.

The future will be better

For LGBTQIA+ individuals living in countries where they’re not openly allowed to be themselves, building a support network is essential. I encourage them to seek out family, friends, mental health professionals, clubs, and online groups. By reaching out and sharing stories, people can recognise the shared human connections that unite us all. We're social animals by nature, and we don't thrive in isolation.

I hope that my own journey of balancing identity in a global workplace offers a window into the struggles and successes of LGBTQIA+ individuals across the world. By sharing our stories and fostering connections, we can find hope and support, even in the face of adversity. And allies and organisations have a crucial role to play in promoting acceptance, understanding, and empathy, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive and equitable world for all.”

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