From the Inside Out

I was in the closet. Here’s why I came out at UPS.

Who you are doesn’t fit with our company and our morals.

Those words washed over me while being fired early in my professional career. The reason for my dismissal? I was gay.

I was young. I had put so much effort into finding that job. Really, it was a godsend — or so I thought.

But there I was … without a job … not because of poor work effort or performance but simply because of who I was.

I was devastated, and the experience left an indelible mark on my professional journey.

So, when I started working at UPS in 2005, I went back into the closet.

Joe Rayburn (center) and fellow UPSers supporting Pride.

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Closeted LGBTQ workers are 73 percent more likely than open employees to leave their company in three years.

Living in the closet

I had been openly gay since the mid-90s when I was 16 and had always thought of my sexuality like my brown hair and hazel eyes — it was just part of who I was. Only now, it wasn’t.

Being in the closet is terrible. You have to play the pronoun game. You’re always hyper-aware of who you’re talking to and what you’re sharing. You have to actively hide half of who you are while trying to focus on your job. It’s an enormous mental and emotional drain.

In fact, Harvard Business Review found that closeted LGBTQ workers are 73 percent more likely than open employees to leave that company within three years.

I saw a potential future with UPS. It my first shot at a real career, and I hated living in the closet. But I didn’t want to put my job at risk.

Find out how UPS is standing with the LGBTQ+ community here:

Within a few months, I advanced to supervisor. I then learned that sexual orientation was included in UPS’s anti-discrimination policy — it had been for years.

Back out of the closet

So I came out again.

It wasn’t an easy decision, and it led to a few sleepless nights.

Words on paper were one thing. But I was putting my career on the line.

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Being in the closet is terrible. It’s an enormous mental and emotional drain.

I’ll never forget sitting across the desk from my sales manager with the unsettling combination of a dry mouth and sweaty palms, trying to make myself say the words. I can only imagine what my boss thought I was there to discuss.

So, I wanted to let you know that I’m gay and in a committed relationship, I blurted out, before falling silent and sitting back with an expulsion of breath to wait for the reply.

It was the best decision of my life. I would go on to learn that UPS has an amazing and inclusive culture. I was encouraged to bring my whole and authentic self to work.

That realization took a massive weight off my shoulders, and it deepened my connection with my UPS family. It also served as personal motivation to show UPS their investment in me wasn’t misplaced.

In other words, for UPS, it wasn’t just the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do for business.

Be yourself

When UPS announced the creation of Business Resource Groups, I felt a calling to start an LGBTQ and allies group to provide support for those like me.

Over the years, there’s been much hard work with some truly amazing and passionate people. We’ve spent thousands of volunteer hours raising tens of thousands of dollars for homeless youth. We’ve stuffed backpacks for low-income families. We’ve filled food pantries, painted shelters and delivered food to the sick.

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You don’t need a grand gesture of acceptance. The most transformative moments are often the little moments.

This happened because I work for a company that sees me and accepts me for who I am.

I’ve had many surprises along the way. Support has come from people of all colors, backgrounds and sexual orientations.

As somebody who lived in the closet, against the backdrop of Pride Month, I’d like to remind everybody to show an LGBTQ person they’re accepted. You don’t need a grand gesture. The most transformative moments are often the little moments.

For me, it was reading the UPS anti-discrimination policy, which gave me the courage to come out to my peers.

Joe Rayburn and UPSers volunteering.

So, in closing, be that person for someone else: Reach out, ask a question, wear a rainbow, stick an equality sticker on your door. Let that person know you stand with them.

By doing so, you’ll help them bring their whole authentic self to work each day. These small acts will lead to big changes.

After all, I’m living proof of the transformative power of authenticity.

Joe Rayburn is a Customer Applications Senior Manager at UPS. A 14-year UPSer, he works to ensure that everyone at the company is valued and encouraged to bring their whole authentic self to work.

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