Self-identity is central to what determines human behavior and provides individuals a ‘lens’ with which to view the external world. Often, when this lens is distinctly different from what has become accepted as ‘normal’ through social construction, this particular ‘socially deviant’ lens is then stigmatized to the point where individuals operating this lens face a dilemma. They can either allow themselves to be true to their distinct and unique identity or conceal it and attempt to go along with the status quo often to the detriment of organizational performance.
This dilemma is particularly pervasive for the lesbian, gay and bisexual community (LGB) within organizational contexts. More specifically within organizational contexts where the prevalent qualities and attributes desired vary greatly from that of the LGB’s socially defined stereotypical attributes. A clear example where this occurs is with gay police officers within the police force. Being ‘gay’ is considered socially deviant behavior on three planes: (i) officers are tasked with regulating social disorder, hence how can they regulate disorder when they themselves are ‘supposedly’ committing it? (ii) Police culture has been embedded with normative masculine characteristics; attributes that are not commonly associated with homosexuals (iii) police work and organisations are understood to represent conservative elements within society (Rumens, 2011). Sexuality, along with gender, race, age, all play a role in determining identity. Without sexuality, individuals can never fully establish identities; this may affect organizational performance and behavior in numerous ways. So why and how can these police officers disclose their true complete identity and manage this identity within a culture that stereotypically has no room for such deviance?
Coming out to another person is a form of self-disclosure, which is defined here as the communication by one individual to another of information about him or herself that is otherwise not directly observable (Herek, 1996). By this definition, revealing one’s height, weight, gender, or eye color does not usually constitute self-disclosure because such characteristics are apparent to the casual observer in most circumstances. In contrast, revelations about one’s political beliefs, religious affiliation, personal income, family background, or sexual orientation would usually be classified as self- disclosure. With this definition in mind, what motivates – maintaining the police force context – officers to disclose their concealed element of their identity: sexuality?
The first reason and probably most compelling is for the development of personal integrity. Officers are tasked with maintaining social justice and upholding this trust for society. It would hypocritical for officers to be in pursuit of this goal but yet not be honest and true to one self. Willingness to self-disclose is generally beneficial to one’s social life and friendships, whereas patterns of consistent nondisclosure are linked to loneliness and social isolation (Davis; Franzoi, 1986). Thus, when an individual actively conceals his or her sexual orientation from another, the two cannot have an honest discussion of such matters. As a result, spontaneity and personal disclosure are necessarily limited, which inevitably impoverishes the relationship, possibly leading to negative effects on workplace productivity. It should be reasonable to claim then – borrowing from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs - without full disclosure individuals will never meet their social and self esteem needs entirely, and hence can never fully self-actualize.
Disclosure presents a platform to form dyadic relationships (Rumens, 2011) with colleagues, an especially desirable relationship within the police force as a significant proportion of time is spent in pairs due to the violent nature of police fieldwork. Disclosure acts as a sign of honesty, giving the entrusted the view...
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