Yes, I Am!

Nov 1, 2011 | 2011 Fall - Out in the Workplace, Articles

By Mandy Metzger

Out at work? Yes, I am! I’m proud of this fact, however, I am still very surprised that I came out at my interview.

My interview with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside was like many other interviews I had been on. “What is your definition of student development?” “What is your definition of learning style?” I responded with standard student focused answers.

“What is your definition of diversity?” This one has always been hard for me to answer, since I have been educating on diversity for over 10 years and different institutions define diversity in different ways. As I faced my interviewers, contemplating how I would word this answer, the research that I had done about UW-Parkside came back to me. This small, urban, four-year institution was very progressive and valued diversity. There were many out and proud administrators, staff and faculty, an LGBT Center and an LGBTQA student alliance. I formed my definition to include all people, no matter their ethnicity, culture or beliefs. I went on to explain that diversity isn’t always something you can see. Many people identify with diverse populations that we would never be able to know about if we didn’t ask and value their beliefs and identities. 

As I looked around the room, I was trying to gauge my audience. One of the academic advisors on the committee looked at me as though my answer was simultaneously strange and delightful. When the committee was done asking the canned questions, this advisor questioned me about my experience with LGBTQ students and also my involvement with Safe Zone Training programs. I answered truthfully, but not fully, and explained how I had fallen in love with teaching others about LGBTQ issues at my undergraduate institution. He then gave scenarios to see how I would respond to certain situations that he has had to deal with. I knew he was searching for something, but didn’t quite know what. He asked me again how I got involved with the LGBTQ community and it seemed like he was pushing so hard for me to say that I was in the community that I did.

Some people would have warned me against this, but I have been out since I was 18 and it was hard for me to imagine that an institution like Parkside, where diversity is a cornerstone of the institution, would discriminate against me because I was bisexual. I stated that I came out in college as bisexual and got very involved in making campus a safe place for all students. 

Well, it must have been okay, since I got the job and have been happily working at UW-Parkside since September of 2010. The first week I was here, I attended a big Coming Out Day celebration in our student union. At that point, the only people that I was out to on this new campus were those who had been present at my interview.

I sat there listening to students, staff, faculty and administration come out and tell their stories. I wanted to say something, but didn’t quite know how to say what I wanted to say or if I wanted to come out during my first week of work. I went up to the stage and took the microphone. I introduced myself and said something silly about working with the Alliance at my prior institution and being open and happy to help any student or staff who needed someone to talk to. 

I went to sit back down and felt a huge wave of sadness. I couldn’t believe that I was afraid to come out. I’ve been telling my coming out story to student groups for 10 years and now, at the institution that hired me after I had come out in my interview, I couldn’t even come out to the small population of people that were in that room?

After listening to someone come out for the first time and say out loud that she was gay and 45 years old, I decided that I had made a big mistake. If she could be that brave, so could I. I got back up, went to the stage when it was free and took the microphone. I explained what I had felt after sitting down and apologized for not coming out in front of a crowd of people that was so open and willing to listen and care for all people. I came out and felt relief. 

I now proudly display my pride flag in my office, along with some other LGBT memorabilia. I help the Rainbow Alliance on campus and also am a facilitator for the Safe Zone Training program here at UW-Parkside. 

Being out at work also allowed me to apply and be chosen to participate in the Class of 2013, National Academic Advising Association’s Emerging Leaders Program. This program is designed to build leadership for the national organization with academic advisors who identify with a diverse population. I am now providing Safe Zone Trainings and other programs to academic advisors at our regional and national conferences.

I am very happy at UW-Parkside. They have provided me with ways to tie together the different things I love to do – advising and teaching about LGBT issues – and have been very supportive of me and of my goals. I know that I am lucky to be able to talk about my identity at work and to be able to be out in my personal and professional life. I wish acceptance, love and empowerment to anyone struggling with the issue of coming out and hope that everyone can find a way to be their whole self if they choose.

Mandy is an academic advisor and a licensed health educator, an LGBT issues educator and advocate, and a youth sports coach. She loves being asked how she can still be bisexual after marriage and always explains with a smile on her face.

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