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National Coming Out Day 2020: Staff share their stories

National Coming Out Day 2020: Staff share their stories

For many, coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer (LGBTQ+) is a powerful way to be fully seen and heard. Whether it’s to family, friends, coworkers, or simply yourself, coming out is an ongoing process that takes self-acceptance and strength.

At EF Education First, we want our staff to bring their full selves to work each day because our people make EF a such a special place to work. National Coming Out Day, a day celebrating the act of ‘coming out’ or identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, is a reminder of the importance of visibility, representation, and the power of personal stories.

We asked staff from EF businesses and associated organizations to share their reflections on their own coming out experiences and how they found community at EF. Their words reflect each individual’s uniqueness and the vital role coming out has had on their lives.

Iván ‘I knew I’d finally been true to myself’

This is going to sound cliché, but my mom knew I was gay since the moment I watched Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and started to comb my hair with a fork while singing along with the catchy tunes. My “official” coming out was at 17 years old, however.

I had fallen in love with an Ecuadorian boy through social media, and he was going to visit me in Peru. I was so nervous! How could I meet with him and keep it a secret? I had been bullied my whole life and knew very well how to hide my sexuality. I had it all planned; I would spend the day with my boyfriend (skipping classes, obviously), return home at night, and sneak out the window when my parents were asleep. It was the perfect plan! But I needed money to get a cab and pick my boyfriend up from the airport, so I told my mom I needed $50 USD for my marketing class materials. To make the story short, she bought it and gave me the money. The day came that I had to pick my boyfriend from the airport and meet him for the very first time. Everything went according to plan, and we spent five amazing days together! I really thought I was a genius. Until my mom sends me a message saying, “I know you lied.”

My heart dropped to the floor. How could she know? I had been so careful about every lie and detail! It just happens that moms have a sixth sense — I don´t know how they do it! Later that day, when she arrived from the office, she asked me to sit down with her in the living room. I was sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat. My tongue was so dry I couldn’t even swallow saliva. She noticed I was nervous and carefully took my hands in hers and said, “My friend saw you with a young man at the movies yesterday while you were supposed to be in class. She also told me you were being… really friendly with him.” That snitch! Why doesn’t she mind her own business?” I thought while holding my tongue. My mom continued, “I don’t like that you lie to me. It’s ok, Tuku (her nickname for me)”. So, I knew she knew, but how much did she know that was the question. I had already been told my whole life that I was abnormal, a sin, a freak. I was terrified that my mom would think that of me. My whole body started shaking as I said, “I’m gay, and that boy is my boyfriend. I love him, mom.” My mom didn’t get a manual on how to raise a gay boy in a homophobic society. She always did her best to protect me and make sure I knew she loved me above all things. That night she just hugged me and said the words I was waiting to hear my whole life, “I love you just the way you are. Tell me all about this boyfriend!” And as we spent the rest of the night chatting away about how charming and handsome my boyfriend was. I knew I had finally been true to myself and would never again hide because I had my mom beside me, and that was enough.

Support from the EF community

I may feel uncomfortable or on guard in my daily life, but whenever I’m at the office I feel safe and loved. I can just be myself. In July of 2018, the Pride flag appeared as my screensaver on my corporate laptop while I was in the middle of a presentation. I was so taken aback I had to stop. Such a small detail to some, but for me it meant the whole world. It made me feel respected, acknowledged, and safe in my workplace. I was crying happy tears in front of my whole team and just thanked them for giving me a space where I could be comfortable. It moves me to this day. So many of my gay friends are still in the closet at their jobs because they are afraid of being fired, and I get to dress up as a unicorn and go to a company barbecue with my date just like the rest of my coworkers.

– Iván, Country Product Manager, EF International Language Campuses, Lima

Chanel ‘Take all the time you need and always do it your way’

My coming out story is rather unspectacular, which is actually awesome. After years of struggling with my identity and playing a character that wasn’t (fully) me, I decided it was finally time to come out. It started with a phone call with my mom, who has always been the most important person in my life. She expected the worst because I usually never call that early in the morning (and with a shaky voice for that matter), so she was actually relieved to hear that I’m only bisexual and not calling from a hospital bed! Next, I told my siblings. While my two younger sisters were the sweetest and showed nothing but support and love, my two older brothers were very…brotherly. They joked around and said things like, “I can’t blame you for being into women!” Oh, I love them.

Once I got this off my chest, I decided to come out on Facebook (back in the day when it still was a thing among students), so I wouldn’t have to deal with telling each and every one of my friends and acquaintances. The next morning at uni, people walked up to me and told me how brave I was and how proud of me they were. And I only heard this a couple of months after my coming out, but apparently, my Facebook post encouraged three or four people from my year to come out, as well!

So yeah, me struggling with my identity and being afraid of what people might think of me for so long was way worse than the actual outcome. Don’t be afraid to come out but take all the time you need and always do it your way. Happy Coming Out Day everyone!

– Chanel, Digital Content Coordinator, EF Academy, Zurich

SB ‘I have never been more wholly myself than I am now’

I never knew the term ‘non-binary’ until my freshman year roommate came out to me. They explained the definition to me, and as this explanation began to resonate within me, some unconscious part of me shut it down. I supported my friend as best I could, but I was not ready to admit to myself that I was not the gender I was assigned at birth. It took another two years before I came out to my closest friends and began using they/them/theirs pronouns. In June 2019, my first month of involvement with LGBTQ+ @ EF, I felt so supported by my coworkers that I finally came out to my family. Being non-binary, or any queer identity means that coming out is a never-ending process. I came out to professors, managers, coworkers, classmates, coaches, peers, every single person who has bothered to get to know me over the last few years. I don’t feel anxiety about sharing my pronouns, but I always brace myself for invasive questions and dismissive comments. As a queer person, I have a response prepared for any opposition that might face me. This level of preparation can be tiring, and having to articulate these responses is still exhausting. Regardless of the emotional labor, the criticism, the burnout, I have never been more wholly myself than I am now. It took years of gaining confidence and courage to get this far, and I know I’m better for it.

Support from the EF community

I’m not sure how much longer it would’ve taken me to come out to my family if it had not been for the support of LGBTQ+ @ EF. Before finding this group, I didn’t really know any other members of the LGBTQ+ community at EF. Pride Month of 2019 was a formative time for this affinity group, and the connections I made with my colleagues helped me feel a sense of belonging that I had not previously felt. I am also extremely grateful to the rest of the Shipping, Logistics, & Printing team, who all have worked very hard to be inclusive and supportive of me since I first came out to them. It’s refreshing to work with open-minded people who don’t shy away from difficult conversations.

– SB, Shipping & Logistics Coordinator, EF Education First, Boston

Felipe ‘The EF community inspired me to have a greater voice’

I came out at the age of 12. My experience was very calm. I wrote a letter, left it for my mother to read, and went to school. When I returned, she gave me a more welcoming hug than I could have asked for. Today, I look back, and I cannot imagine another life without coming out so young. I stop and think that I was just a child, but I was very mature, and I had a lot of self-confidence. Currently, my whole family knows and supports, welcomes, and protects me.

Support from the EF community

The EF community inspired me to have a greater voice when it comes to LGBTQ+ topics. The DEIB committee gives me a sense of security and a desire to talk more about diversity. I feel the need to speak up and take a stand. I see how much the committee woke this desire in me, and I am very grateful for that.

– Felipe, Training & Performance, EF English Live, São Paulo

Raphael ‘Every coming out story starts when you ‘come out’ to yourself’

I think that every coming out story starts when you ‘come out’ to yourself. I struggled with my sexuality for a long time and truly accepted myself in my late twenties. Growing up, there were no gay references in the media or around me that I could relate to, so I honestly didn’t consider myself gay for most of my life. Deeply I knew that something was different, but I didn’t have someone to share my thoughts with. I kept it to myself for a long time. Having access to more diversity on social media and TV shows made me realize that there were other people like me out there, and it helped me accept my true self. Also, having friends around to support me was essential in this process. After coming out, I also moved abroad in 2017. In 2018, I went to my first Pride and last year I marched with EF for the first time. For people reading this that may be struggling with their sexuality or coming out process: take your time. Everyone has a different story, and you will know when it’s the right time for you. When you are ready, there is a community ready to support and celebrate you.

Support from the EF community

I started working at EF right before Pride month celebrations, and it definitely made me feel welcome and supported to be who I am at my job. The LGBTQ+ @ EF group is a great resource not just to socialize with others but also to educate yourself on topics that affect the community.

– Raphael, Placement and Sales Manager, Cultural Care Au Pair, Boston

Eric ‘Coming out is a constant, never-ending process’

Coming out is a constant, never-ending process. The first time I came out was before my senior year of high school when I was 17. I lived in a conservative town where I had no ‘out’ role models to learn from, and differences were not received well. Coming out was a radical thing to do. The news surprised my parents, and they needed time to process it, but I knew they’d eventually come around to support me. The beginning of the process was difficult; I lost some friends, certain family members were not allowed to know, and I had to lie in professional contexts for fear of repercussions. Still, I was happier. I spent more time with people who supported me, and I felt that coming out freed me to focus on other things. Starting my coming out journey with these circumstances shaped me into who I am today; I increased my emotional intelligence, grew thicker skin, and committed myself to living an authentic and honest life. Nearly ten years on, and I continue to live as an open, proud gay man.

– Eric, Product Owner, Hult International Business School, London

Tyler ‘It has been absolutely freeing’

My parents and I were sitting on the back porch and talking about life and my plans, and I asked them, “Are you proud of me?” They answered, “Yes.” Then I asked them, “Do you love me?” And they said, “Yes.” And then I told them, “I’m gay.” And they were so happy!

Support from the EF community

EF is the first and only employer of mine where I have been out at work. It has been absolutely freeing, allowing me to take part in things that I would never have before, like organizing and marching in Boston Pride Parades, leading LGBTQ+ seminars and events at work, and even increased my ability to connect with customers. Bringing my full self to work allows my clients and customers to get to know me, build stronger B2B relationships, and win more deals. It also has created much tighter bonds with my teammates.

– Tyler, Account Manager, EF Corporate Solutions, Boston

Stuart ‘If someone comes out to you, they are trusting you’

I was about ten when I noticed something different about me. It would be another two years before I had a word for that difference and several more before I was comfortable to openly assign it to myself. I suffered horrific bullying in middle and high school, I’ve come out more times than I care to remember or count, and there hasn’t been a time where I haven’t considered the possibility someone may not like me based solely on my sexuality. I don’t like to share my first coming out story because it reminds me of an intensely painful time in my life.

The most important thing to remember when being an ally to someone from the LGBTQ+ community is coming out doesn’t happen once. Some are full of love, others pain, while many can be funny and create a mosaic of moments where you announce to the world who you are. If someone comes out to you, they are trusting you with something incredibly sensitive and important to them, so in that moment, stop, listen, and remember their coming out is not about you.

Support from the EF community

The EF community has supported me in various ways since starting in 2017. They’ve allowed me to run seminars on LGBTQ2S+ workshops and sensitivity training while also working with the various teams to help give our sales and traveler support teams the language to address the concerns of the community. With the start of the DEIB taskforce, this has allowed me to listen to the concerns of the wider LGBTQ2S+ and other underinvested communities to help start lasting initiatives to make EF more inclusive.

– Stuart, Shipping & Logistics Manager, EF Educational Tours, Toronto

Nic ‘I’ve learned about privilege, intersectionality, and the history of oppression’

I identify as a mixed-race, cisgender woman, and a big ol’ lesbian. I didn’t meet another gay person until an online chatroom when I was 18. My tiny, Wisconsin town was lacking diversity.

Sexism, racism and homophobia were not hard to find, and that, along with internalized homophobia, made my coming out process a drag. And not the good kind of drag!

I realized I was gay when I was 14 but didn’t tell anyone until I was 17. I have what the queer community calls ‘passing privilege.’ I don’t ‘look gay,’ which we all know is a silly phrase, and I also don’t look mixed-race, so I have white-passing privilege, as well. These privileges definitely impacted my story. My three years of being closeted were tough as I battled through beliefs I carried from my Catholic upbringing. Though I was closeted, I craved connection to the LGBTQ+ community. I drove the 45 minutes to the closest mall and found anything with a rainbow that I could easily hide—rings, necklaces, stickers. I read about gay history and kept up on politics regarding LGBTQ rights. I actually conned my mom into upgrading our cable package so I could get Logo TV— the “gay channel.” I didn’t know any other queer people, so my only connection to the community was through TV and books.

My senior year, I decided I was sick of being closeted and told three best friends first and then my mom. I had an overwhelmingly great reception and was incredibly lucky. After that, I decided I didn’t care who knew and told one other friend who immediately spilled the beans. The next day I came to school and was met with stares. My friends were accosted and asked, “If it was really true?” And that night, a boy texted me about how wrong I was for “choosing this path.” Other than stares and off-handed comments, I made it through high school without major bullying.

Fast forward, I met a girl online who lived three hours away, we started dating, and I brought her to prom. My teachers told me I was the first “out” gay lady in my school. Obviously, there were plenty before, but people stayed in the closet until leaving. I started university and volunteered in our Pride Center organizations, where I began developing my queer family. I eventually was hired to work for the Pride Center to help other people connect to our community. I met students with all types of coming out experiences, both great and horrific. Their stories helped drive my passion for sharing everything I’ve learned about privilege, intersectionality, and the history and current reality of oppression in the US with others.

2020 was my 10-year coming out anniversary, and today my girlfriend of six years and our dog are living our best little gay lives in Denver.

Support from the EF community

I’ve worked at EF Denver for five years, and in my second year, I was asked to help plan LGBTQ+ Pride events in the Denver office. The first year I helped plan an event with a colleague (shoutout Justin O.!) during which we would talk about the history of Pride and queer vocabulary. The whole week leading up to the presentation I couldn’t calm down. I was so nervous. I also was afraid people wouldn’t want to come.

On the day of the presentation, the room was packed. The next year, we had even more people and even more events. This year we had amazing turnout, and it was all virtual. People are always there ready to listen, ready to ask questions, and ready to show allyship. The fact that the people of EF show up—and continue to show up—is what inspires me.

– Nic, Senior Tour Consultant, EF Go Ahead Tours, Denver