Natalie L. Smith

Identity: Lesbian

Current Job: Assistant Professor, Sport & Recreation Management

What does your identity mean to you?

It means I love my wife, and I have a responsibility to make the world a more inclusive place. My sexual orientation is only one aspect of my identity, and being gay as an aspect of my identity has ebbed and flowed in importance throughout my twenties and thirties.

Earlier in my life, I relied heavily on a strong queer network to reconcile my conservative upbringing with my sexual orientation. Now as I’m more comfortable with who I am, I have a more diverse set of communities. Each of those communities fulfill different aspects of my identity as a person.

What has been your experience as an out professional?

I think things have improved substantially. In the beginning of my career, I came out gradually, person by person, because I had heard some off-hand negative comments about the LGBTQ here and there. Everyone has been pretty supportive, although earlier in my career some encouraged me to downplay my sexuality.

For my role as assistant professor at ETSU, I mentioned a female partner as it came up naturally in the conversation during my interview. I didn’t want to work for a place that didn’t accept me for me. Sport is a more conservative industry, but everyone has been incredibly accepting. My spouse truly is treated the same as everyone else’s.

I do try every so often to mention the issues we still deal with legally, so my coworkers know that life is different for us, even if it isn’t apparent in the day to day. I hope that provides awareness for how they can help us stay in this wonderful place we’re glad to call home.

What type of support have you experienced with your identity?

At work, for me personally, a profound moment was preparing for my wedding. Even my most religious co-workers went above and beyond to help us make it a beautiful day. This kind of support doesn’t always happen, but people can surprise you. Don’t judge them the same way others might have judged you.

Often times, organizations have queer friendly programming, such as SafeZone for ETSU. If your organization doesn’t have it, start one. A friend actually started a queer networking group at her corporation, the organization leadership was supportive, and she built a great community for those in teams that weren’t as supportive within the organization.

Outside of work, queer community groups are great for immediately acceptance of your identity. I joined a gay basketball league (I’m awful at basketball) and met some wonderful people. However, all the community groups I’m a part of now fully accept my identity; it’s normalized yet not ignored; it’s normalized. We’ve come a long way in that regard.

What advice do you have for queer youth?

Find your people. My gay friends from my first job are still some of my closest friends. Your people don’t have to be queer too, but they should be people who will listen if you do face rejection or struggles, people who will truly celebrate you for you. Whether that be a formal group or a few co-workers, it can help you navigate any discrimination you might face.

Beyond my immediate co-workers, my incoming cohort of professors have been such a resource of support. Local organizations found through meetup or facebook can be helpful, too. If things don’t go well at a job, find something else, no job is worth the mental and emotional strain of staying in the closet.