Speaking “Out” Loud
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Representation is a beautiful thing to behold. Feeling you are not the only one like you in the world is magical.
Confession: I’ve spent too many hours doom-scrolling on social media over the last two years. But early this year, I shifted gears as I became absolutely obsessed with watching wide-eyed tiny humans see someone like themselves on screens when watching recent hits like Red Panda and Encanto. It’s the power of representation.
Many of the worst experiences I have had as a gay person have happened in the workplace. I have had coworkers loudly and proudly declare their opinions about their religious beliefs and my “lifestyle.”. I once sat in a diversity and inclusion workshop where my coworker informed the whole class that they didn’t believe LGBTQ+ folks should be a protected class and the facilitator agreed. Work hasn’t always been a safe place and knowing this, I kept parts of my whole self tucked away from work.
My journey of “speaking out loud” started as a personal journey. It was the small act of outing myself in interviews to ‘read the room’ and ensure I could bring my whole, authentic self to work. I’d casually mention my “girlfriend” or “wife and kids” instead of my family. It was easy to find where I could belong.
But as my career evolved, I began to feel the responsibility of representation on a professional level. As a female executive in tech I’m no stranger to often being the only one or of only a few female-identifying leaders in a meeting. But when you add gay female tech exec, the list gets even smaller. As I thought through my career I realized I had exactly zero openly gay leaders in my life.
Something needed to change. My “speaking out loud” moved to mentioning my wife or just sharing my journey of feeling accepted as openly gay during employee orientations, meetings, etc. It’s not a big, skywriting plane above our all-company summits but quiet, mundane reminders to my LGBTQ+ peers that they weren’t alone. For underrepresented folks, there’s this moment when you see someone like you where your little heart goes aflutter. Your whole being perks up when you realize “I’m not the only one!” I have email after email and Slack after Slack from employees thanking me for the transparency to give them that moment.
The last iteration of “speaking out loud” at work is the one I’ve struggled with the most: progress. There are times when I’ve had to challenge my peers on what inclusion and allyship look like for the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve coached, guided, and used stories from my life and other queer folks to open the minds and hearts of many around me. This requires vulnerability, patience and even bearing some pain in meeting people at different places in their journeys. I’ve spent moments (okay, maybe hours or days) angry that I’m carrying the burden of having to educate or support folks on their allyship journey. But the truth is I’m tired of waiting. And I also know that my (temporary) discomfort has caused people who would never have had their views challenged to not only change their perspectives but more importantly their attitudes and behavior.
As I reflect on my journey, I realize there are more stops along the way. I have no idea if the next step will start with the letter P, but I’m excited to see where it goes. So whether you are a member of the queer community, an ally, or somewhere else on your journey, take time this Pride month to think about how to lift up the voices of folks who are different from you. The more voices, the more shared experiences, the more representation…the better.