Matt Singleton | June 10, 2019
In light of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall this year, I’ve been reflecting how the bravery and authenticity of the LGBTQIA+ community emerging from the Stonewall Riots set the foundation of the gay rights movement. It also served to make an easier path for me as a gay man and countless others.
I realize we still have a long way to go in giving young people the unabated confidence to believe in who they are, and to provide them with universally safe and accepting environments. I have always been fortunate enough to be surrounded by an accepting family and group of friends, and to have grown up in New York. Because of these things, I know how ‘easy’ I’ve had it. However, I also realize that self-acceptance and being truly comfortable and proud of who I was, created the single biggest headwind I’ve faced in my career.
When I first joined the workforce as a management consultant in 2004, I was not ‘out’ to my family and was very selective about the friends that I told. It of course then followed that I was very nervous about sharing who I was with my managers, peers, and clients at work. I was even given advice from my mentors outside of the office that I should be careful about who I come out to, as it could impact my promotion trajectory, project assignments, and general perception.
As such, I was very quick to make my own judgements about who would and wouldn’t be understanding, and I selectively built walls around myself and carefully selected to come out to those around me that I was certain would accept me for who I was. It was comforting to have this support, and it made my day-to-day seem less stressful because I wasn’t always trying to hide details of my life. I started to develop deeper and more meaningful friendships with my peers, but it was still difficult for me to truly connect with my full professional circle of clients and managers. It was consuming a good portion of my focus and energy into masking the real me in select audiences.
For the next six years, this was how I operated, working at two consulting firms, and even interning at an investment bank while I was at business school. I thought everything was fine, but in 2010, I was preparing to get married to my long-term partner, Josh. This was pretty difficult to hide from everyone around me, given how important this moment was.
I started to not have a choice but to be unapologetically open and honest in all my interactions with clients. To my surprise, nobody really thought differently of me after this. I realize I was very lucky and fortunate to be in this environment, but talking about taking off time for my wedding, or how excited I was about our honeymoon as something ‘normal’ and to not be ashamed of was a watershed moment in helping me to really feel at ease with who I was. I wouldn’t ever want to go back to hiding that. Contrary to what I had believed for years, I noticed my relationships with clients, managers, and peers improve, my general confidence in the job increase, and my success continue to accelerate.
More and more people entering into the workplace today begin their professional journey with the ability to be themselves authentically at work. I find it exciting and amazing that cultural change has come about so quickly in a number of professional circles, yet I am fully cognizant there are many industries, professions, and places where this is still very difficult.
However, as we continue on the path of cultural change, if there’s anything I learned and can share is that hiding who you are only distracts you from the best version of yourself. Many of the strides in gay rights starting with Stonewall 50 years ago, all the way through to the more recent NoH8 movement, have all been foundational building blocks that have allowed us to build on the courage of those before us to stand tall and proud of who we are.
Despite how far we’ve come, we owe it to future generations to continue to add to these foundations as our predecessors and build a better future for everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community. The first step we can all take in contributing to progress is being ourselves.