If you told me 20 years ago that part of my day job would be helping to amplify LGBTQ+ voices in large corporations, I would not have believed you. Though I was already out of the closet myself at that time, a future where society, let alone corporate America, would embrace the LGBTQ+ community seemed like a sweet but all too idealistic fantasy.
As Pride Month 2021 draws to a close, it feels like a good moment to reflect on how far we’ve come. At UKG, we have seen a Black transwoman as a guest speaker, a drag bingo happy hour, philanthropy supporting LGBTQ+ families, and a video of support featuring some of our company’s most senior leaders. Talk about progress.
I caught up with a few members of the U Krew to hear their perspectives on Pride and progress so far, and what they’re hoping to see in the future as Pride marches on. Here’s what they had to say.
"It took me over 25 years to say that I’m bisexual. When I first came out, in my early 20’s, I quickly learned that the community was not too welcoming of the 'B' in LGBTQ+. Told by many to 'make a decision!' I traded in my 'B' for an 'L' and grew attached to that identity.
"Fast-forward 25 years, a relationship was ending, and I thought about how I denied a part of myself for the sake of acceptance. I no longer cared about fitting in and was open to love regardless of gender. That’s when I met an amazing fit for me in my current partner, Dave.
"I have learned that Pride evolves just like we do. That the LGBTQIA+ community has become more accepting, even within its own ranks. I’ve learned that being bisexual is not the negative, shameful thing I once thought it was. It’s normal and beautiful and is now celebrated within the community today. I am so grateful for progress in all its many forms."
Rachelle Caruso, Service Planning Product Manager
"Growing up, I identified myself as part of the LGBTQ+ community although it was something, I mostly kept to myself. It was not until two years ago that I attended my first Pride Parade and I remember thinking, 'This will be fun. I’ll get to be myself, without shame.' From the outfits I saw, to the people I met, and hugs I received, it was one of the most fun and freeing experiences I’d had. I left there more fulfilled and accepting of myself. I had never experienced such a beautiful, loving, and understanding environment (especially from strangers!) I felt so safe being myself.
"I wish for Pride to continue growing. Pride shines a light on the reality that we are people with feelings, goals, and dreams. Pride is hope for those who feel alone, hopeless, or confused. Pride is a warm hug that says our differences are to be celebrated, so let's do just that!"
Mariana Villamil, Summer Intern
"In high school there was a club for gay and lesbian people, but I was afraid to get involved for fear of being judged by others. Add to that, my lived experience as a deaf person. I felt vulnerable and defenseless at times.
"When I was 19 years old. I went to a gay club for the first time and I found my identity. However, coming out as gay to my deaf community was met with confusion. After some years, I became friends with the right people in my community, and everything changed. We advocated together and taught deaf communities to be more open minded.
"Historically, deaf communities have had limited resources to connect with the outside world. That affected how information was received, including information about LGBTQ+ people. Today, there are a lot of different organizations who provide for deaf people and deaf LBGTQ+ people. The community now allows for the inclusion of deaf LBGTQ+ individuals on a much greater scale."
Rolando Gutierrez, Summer Intern
"My daughter, who identifies as pansexual, and I visited colleges recently. It was very evident to us which universities had a vibrant culture of acceptance. They had well established student groups with flags and signs proudly displayed throughout the campus, even though much of the student population was home for summer. My daughter felt like she belonged.
"It was important to me as a parent, and an ally, to know that she was going to be supported and safe as she explores the next phase of her education and self-development. I like knowing that she will be able to focus her efforts and energy on being the best person she can be — not fitting into a pre-defined mold that others expect of her.
"While some communities do not yet fully embrace all aspects of uniqueness, we are starting to see real progress. I hope it doesn’t take a generation, but I know one day it will be more 'normal' to have a greater sense of belonging for all."
Steve Lensing, VP Total Rewards
A very special Thank You goes to everyone who shared their stories here. These perspectives also got me thinking about what I hoped the future of Pride and progress would look like.
My dream would be for allies like Steve to know that supportive spaces were the rule, not the exception. I would want the next generation to find safe spaces everywhere to be themselves. I would hope that anyone whose identity falls within the LGBTQ+ letters would not have to wait any number of years to feel the type of belonging that Rachelle enjoys today. And I trust that these perspectives will continue to be heard and celebrated — at work and beyond — so that people will be at the center of everything.
There are days when that all seems a bit improbable, but the last 20 years have made me a believer in progress. Let’s see what the next 20 have in store.