From the Editor: Pride is all about being your authentic self, always

This article was originally posted on the San Francisco Business Times

“Are you married?”

It was a simple question, not unlike any other casual ice breaker you might ask or get asked when meeting with a client or business contact.
Still, I froze. 

I was having lunch with Shalom Baranes, one of the leading architects in Washington, D.C., at the time. It was about 2005, and I had been with my partner for five years, give or take. I was out at work. I was out socially. I was out.

Still, I froze.

Thoughts raced through my mind: Do I tell him? How will he react? Will he think differently of me? Will it change the profile of him I’m writing? 

He’s probably OK with it, I think. After all, he’s an architect. He’s worldly. This is socially liberal D.C., for goodness sake. What’s he going to do? Throw his sandwich down and storm off? 

The pause grew, though what seemed like an eternity was probably only a few milliseconds. 

“No,” I said, awkwardly changing the subject.

I’m not sure why, but the incident — yes, that’s a good word for it — is seared in my memory. I’ve regretted the 10-second exchange for the last 17 years. That was the last time I ever demurred when asked about my personal life in a business setting.

I was reminded of the encounter recently when interviewing Craig Zodikoff, a managing partner for Cresa and one of our Outstanding Voices honorees. After he decided to come out at work, he told me, he had to make what proved to be an even tougher decision: Do I come out to my clients?

“You spend more times with your colleagues, so you really have a sense of them as people,” he told me. “With clients, there are a lot of new introductions.”

That’s something nearly everyone in business can relate to. You meet someone new at lunch or a networking event, maybe pitch a service or a product. You try to establish a relationship. You take note of where someone lives, how old their kids are, where they went on vacation, all in hopes of sealing the next deal. It’s the way we operate, the human touch.

But for many LGBTQ people, those situations can be just as terror-inducing as the first time you step into a gay bar.

“I told myself that the service I provide with a client has nothing to do with who I am as a person beyond being a service provider,” Zodikoff told me. “I was wrong about that.”

Almost everyone in the LGBTQ community knows what it’s like to lug around a hidden burden; it can be emotionally exhausting and downright debilitating. Keeping a secret is hard. 

Zodikoff  put it this way: “When you hold back something so important about yourself to anybody — whether it’s to a colleague or a client — whether you intend to or not, you’re sending the message that there’s something that’s not trustworthy about you. Or maybe that you’re sending the message that maybe you don’t trust them. Even though that’s not true, the other person can feel that there’s something between you — something that you’re holding back. Maybe they know what it is, maybe they don’t know what it is. But they feel it.”

Zodikoff’s words really resonated with me, because it’s about being your authentic self in every part of your life, something we celebrate with our annual Business of Pride issue. We’ve been doing this for eight years now, and the stories we feature in this issue are as endearing, heartwarming — and important — as ever. Everyone deserves to be who they really are.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go email a copy of this column to Shalom Baranes. It’s never too late to be your authentic self.