Embarrassed, humiliated, shocked and even shamed. Those are some of the emotions I felt when my jackass of a boss outed me many years ago.
I'm proud to say that I've been out of the closet for several years now, and feel no shame, but it was a long and sometimes painful road.
Back then there weren't many public figures that were out, and I feared if anyone found out about by sexuality, it could ruin my career in broadcasting.
In 2015, it's much easier to be out the closet. There's more acceptance, but make no mistake, there are still plenty of haters out there. In some states, members of the LGBT community can be fired based solely on their sexuality.
Years after the first outing incident, I was working in another city for another employer and was outed again. But this time, it was totally different.
I write about both experiences in my new book, The Perception Myth. Here's an excerpt:
I was working in a small town in Texas, and when the general manager of the radio station found out I was gay, our relationship took a big turn for the worse. He had listened in on my phone conversations with my friend, Tony. That's how he found out.
During a staff meeting about our new health plan, my boss announced that we had a million-dollar cap, adding, "That ought to cover AIDS, Brad." I was mortified. First, I wasn't out to the rest of the staff and second, what a horrible thing to say! He was an asshole -- you will encounter them in your lifetime. He thought I would quit, but I didn't. I didn't want to be without a job because that would have given him all the power. I waited until I was offered a good position elsewhere before I gave my notice. That was one of the most satisfying days of my life.
In Texas, and many other states, it's perfectly legal to fire someone because they're gay, or say such horrific things to homosexual people. You may not condone homosexuality. You may have religious beliefs that conflict with it, but everyone should support laws to prevent employers from making such remarks. And think about this: If you fire people because they're gay, they'll be collecting unemployment -- something you're helping fund anyway.
There was another "outing" that occurred at the office, with a far different outcome. I was hired as an anchor at Fox 25 TV in Oklahoma City, partly because I was a friend of the news director's wife. I'd like to think I was hired for my skills as well. Since she knew I was gay, and had introduced me to the gay executive producer years earlier, he also knew about my sexuality. The first day I arrived for work, Mike, the executive producer, told the staff that it was nice to have another gay man on the team, or something to that effect. I was stunned! This guy had just outed me in front of the staff. But it was also liberating. I had never really come out at any place of business before, but now everybody knew.
I didn't have to worry about being found out. Mike did me a favor. I was free to be me and live an authentic life. If someone asked me about a date, I didn't have to use generic pronouns to describe the guy I went out with the night before. I'm sure there were staff members who made fun of me behind my back, but they do that no matter who you are.
It's hard to describe the feeling of being absolutely authentic. When there are no lies, you don't have to worry about mixing up your story or having anxiety about a night out at a gay bar. This was one of the highlights of my career, and mostly for personal reasons. I made real connections with coworkers. They got to know the real me without the walls that I had built at previous jobs. It was refreshing, and true freedom.
I relay these two stories because they are opposite experiences. There's no telling how people will react if you tell them you're gay or they find out another way. Thank goodness society is changing and in many places it's not a big deal to have gay staff members. In fact, some places applaud it. But as I mentioned earlier, there are still areas of the country, namely the south, where you can be fired for being gay. That has to change. Nobody should be forced to hide their true identity in order to put food on the table.