Pride Month holds a special place in my heart— a time when those of us in the LGBTQ+ community can come together to celebrate who we are, reflect on how far we’ve come, and focus on the progress we still need to make.
I find myself awash with gratitude every year around this time. How lucky am I to be on the other side of my coming out journey? To not worry about my or my partner’s safety when we walk down most streets? To proudly bring my full self to work – to display an impromptu leg raise at our Dallas offsite, or share the full spectrum of my interest: from Golden Girls and Muay Thai Boxing to ice plunges and Celine Dion power ballads (ask me later how they’re all related).
I don’t take these privileges for granted. I grew up in a conservative 2000-person town in Ohio (loved hanging at our local McDonald’s and running through large fields, didn’t love the homophobia). I vividly remember being humiliated in front of my classmates by the popular upperclassmen, being slapped and bullied on the school bus, and hearing classmates mumble the f-word under their breath as I passed them in the hallway (the other f-word, which still puts a pit in my stomach to this day).
Every LGTBQ+ person has had their own unique journey and struggles; a journey I continue to navigate to this day. I remember the feeling of being closeted—like a 20-pound weight sitting on my chest—and the excruciating process of coming out in college. I lost 30 pounds. I stopped going to class. I was so depressed I could barely eat (which for anyone who’s seen me at In-N-Out is saying something). I was terrified that people would think I was inauthentic, or that I’d been lying about other aspects of my life. I thought I’d lose all my straight male friends, and was deeply embarrassed about sharing something so deeply intimate and personal.
But I also remember finding peace, and the weight on my chest slowly lifting. After coming out (first to myself, and then, the world), I had more conviction about who I was, who I wanted to be, and the work I wanted to throw myself into, which eventually led me to the work we are doing today.
Every day at Merit America, I am honored to work with people I respect and admire focused on an inspiring, audacious cause – a cause that, at the end of the day, is about helping others live their lives with security and meaning. And I get to do this work with such talented, ambitious people making real changes in the lives of our learners, who I know will embrace my full, out-and-proud self.
As the leader of a non-profit organization dedicated to closing the skills gap and creating pathways to economic mobility, I know that many LGBTQ+ individuals still face significant barriers in the workforce. Intersectionality (of race, gender identity, geography and socio-economic status) matters: systemic barriers mean that opportunity is not equally available. What would my career look like if I had been born in a different zip code, with a different gender identity, or of a different race?
Merit America is reaching tens of thousands of talented working adults (many of them LGBTQ+) across the country. And with this scale and reach comes tremendous opportunity and responsibility to ensure that our program welcomes, and serves those who need us most. In addition to the programmatic work we’re doing (gender-inclusive surveys and forms, outreach to LGBTQ+ potential learners, learner and staff affinity groups, and more), I encourage everyone to work this month to practice and cultivate deeper levels of welcome and understanding: learn our history, build your skills, and raise your voice in support
Thanks to everyone for striving for that ever brighter, more loving future.
Happy Pride, everybody.