They were the two most difficult words I’ve ever said to my parents. I was barely able to say them out loud as I was driving my family to lunch hours before I headed back to NYC. It was June 2011, and I had returned home that weekend to suburban Maryland with the sole purpose of coming out to my parents. However, I couldn’t bring myself to do it until just before I had to leave. When I was finally able to say those two words, I felt a huge weight off my chest. Initially, my parents did not receive the news very positively, but over time they have accepted me for me. What a difference five years makes.
Today is National Coming Out Day, which is why I wanted to take a few moments to talk about my own coming out story and why it was important for me to be out during my MBA. While some people choose to hide their sexuality during their MBA experience, I refused to go back into the closet after living as a proud out man in NYC. As an active founding member of the LGBT group at Bloomberg, I was proud to promote the visibility of our community and proud of the partnerships we created with Out in Tech and OPEN Finance.
In fact, one of the main reasons I chose Booth for my MBA was that Booth has a very accepting and welcoming culture. Admittedly, as someone who had only lived on the East Coast, I was nervous at first about attending a school in the Midwest. However, my fears were unfounded. The LGBT community in Chicago, and particularly at Booth, is strong and vibrant. The ally community in the student body is vocal and supportive.
I’ve been incredibly proud of everything OUTreach, the LGBT group at Booth, and I have been able to accomplish in the past year. Last winter, I was elected to the executive board for our student government, the Graduate Business Council (GBC). My closeted high school and college self could never have dreamed of such responsibility or visibility. Fortunately, at Booth, I have found another chance with classmates that not only accept but also celebrate who I am.
Since then, the strides we’ve made for LGBT progress at Booth have been extraordinary. Thanks to the efforts of the class of 2016, Booth installed its first gender-neutral bathroom in Harper Center. They also worked with Career Services to create a new initiative requiring all companies that recruit on campus to disclose their official company policy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. I think it’s a powerful statement of just how much Booth values our community.
But we haven’t stopped there. Considering that people can still be fired for being LGBT in 28 states in the US, I believed all business schools should adopt a policy similar to Booth’s. I volunteered to share Booth’s initiative with the top 50 business schools at the Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) LGBT MBA Leadership Conference in April. Additionally, during my first year, I worked with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and University of Chicago Medicine to streamline the process for U Chicago students to receive PrEP through Student Health Services. Most recently, I’ve been working with the Dean’s Marketing Advisory Committee (DMAC) on including preferred pronouns as an optional line on the official Chicago Booth email signature.
While OUTreach and I have made significant progress, there is still more work to be done. The reason it is so important to live openly in school is that it allows my classmates to associate a face and a name with an LGBT person in their life. I’m hoping that through their positive interactions with me, my classmates will support and promote LGBT initiatives after leaving Booth, whether as an important C-suite executive at a Fortune 100 company or as a small business owner. I hope that they will stand up for an LGBT co-worker should they ever witness discrimination.
I understand that some LGBT people still struggle with the career implications of coming out during their MBA. It is important to know that there are many opportunities available to support LGBT MBA students. Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) is a non-profit organization that connects LGBT MBA students and LGBT professionals. They provide year-round programming that raises awareness about LGBT issues in the business community, culminating in an annual conference with recruiting and networking opportunities. In fact, I just attended this year’s ROMBA conference this past weekend with 25 of my Booth classmates and had an amazing experience.
Overall, I am so thankful that Booth is such an accepting and open environment for me to be an almost “aggressively” out gay man. I’ve been able to pursue all of my passions, even those outside of the academic and recruiting setting, without fear of discrimination or marginalization. Additionally, I’m overwhelmed by how much support I have received from my classmates from the sold out crowd when I hosted Pink Party in May to the 50+ people who ventured all the way up to Boystown for my birthday drag show two weeks ago. By being out and open, I hope I’ve been able to shift the way some people see LGBT people for the better. Therefore, today, on National Coming Out Day, I hope that all students will “come out,” whether as LGBT or as LGBT allies and supporters.