Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
- October 11, 2021
I stand on the shoulders of giants. This is an old saying with many, many applications, but I want to stress a clear distinction for this article. I had the good fortune (well, only in some respects) of being born in the 1980s. Although it was the beginning of an era where sexuality, especially homosexuality, was no longer strictly in the shadows, very few people were actually ‘out’ in their personal lives, much less in the workplace. My formative years were spent near the frontlines of the AIDS epidemic and the infamous “I’m Gay” declaration by Ellen DeGeneres. There was still fear and anxiety about being outed, but with a slight hint in the air of tolerance, dare we say acceptance. Societal change moves slowly until the end. Then it’s an avalanche of change, with people first and then the courts, first with Lawrence v. Texas (which struck down sodomy laws) and through Obergefell v. Hodges (which affirmed the right of same-sex partners to marry). In pockets of the country (and the world, really), it was still taboo for me to be my authentic self growing up, but there was a steady foundation to stand on for strength and inspiration to be an out and proud lesbian as I grew older.
For years, people had lived separate lives — one in their personal realm and one at work. I was again fortunate to start my professional career in 2010. By that time, I had been out of “the closet” for six years, and there was no way that I was going back in. But I was single at the time, so my sexual orientation never came up in conversation. I fell in love with a beautiful, intelligent woman named Amy very soon into my career. Now I had a decision to make — I could include her name and proclaim that she was my girlfriend and worry about the reactions that would garner from my co-workers. Or I could conveniently leave her out, call her a friend. Because of the bravery and grit that I had been exposed to all my life by those giants before and around me, I decided just to be myself and trust in my colleagues that my happiness and authenticity would stifle any negative reaction. With my fingers crossed but willing to accept the consequences, I started talking about my relationship. Never a formal ‘coming out’ declaration — rather organically talking about Amy in day-to-day conversations.
My story is quite anti-climactic regarding coming out at work. I was blessed with the most amazing, supportive co-workers throughout my career at Perot Systems, Dell, and NTT DATA. I’m sure there are people I’ve worked with who were uncomfortable with LGBTQ+ people, but they never let that affect our working relationship. I couldn’t tell you of a single one, but statistically speaking, I’m sure there have been. I think it’s a testament to the types of people attracted to our company — honest, kind, empathetic people who see each other as equals and support each other in our collective goals for the company. When Amy and I got married, my co-workers showered us with congratulations and gifts. When we had our first daughter, they again wrapped us in love and supported me so I could be with Amy at the delivery and for the first weeks of our daughter’s life. And every subsequent child (we have three daughters now!) has been the same. NTT DATA even has a paid parental leave policy in the United States now that includes same-sex parents! I have worked on different teams and with many different people, but I have always experienced the same kindness and support.
My story would have been very different had it happened 20, 30, or 40+ years ago. So many LGBTQ+ individuals and families have had to hide their joy from their families, friends, and co-workers. It’s one of the reasons we call other LGBTQ+ members ‘in the family’ — in so many instances, and we had to create our own families out of members of the community who were banished from ‘normal society.’ My generation fought and achieved what so many before us had fought for. A safe place in the world. A safe place at work. And for those reasons, I humbly stand grateful and blessed on those shoulders of giants.