Current Job: Operations Director of the ETSU Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment
What does your identity mean to you?
My identity is a complex web of past and present, internal feelings and external experience. I identify as a farm girl, an Appalachian, a mother, a partner, a professional, and a student.
I also identify as a lesbian. My sexual orientation has evolved over time, but today, the term lesbian feels right.
What has been your experience as an out professional?
My experience being “out”in the workplace has been overwhelmingly positive.
I came out a decade ago when I was working in the non-profit sector. My co-workers were family to me, and while they struggled with what was a very abrupt change in my lifestyle, they were supportive.
I accepted a position at ETSU 6 years ago and many advised me to keep my sexual orientation secret. Some even said that I could be fired for being gay at East Tennessee State University.
While I knew this was not legal, I still tried to keep my personal life secret at first. Within a few weeks, colleagues began to invite me to family-oriented events. I had a choice to make, and I was not willing to hide my life or my partner.
I came out first to my boss. He was so very supportive and genuinely interested in my family.
I have never experienced overt discrimination as a working professional, although I do sometimes get a vibe or a cold shoulder from some people when they meet or hear about my partner.
Overall, I feel accepted and proud to be out in my professional life.
What type of support have you experienced with your identity?
At first, I expected rejection and discrimination when I came out to someone new. I found myself being defensive with each new introduction.
I have learned, however, that most people are kind and thoughtful, and while they may be curious or surprised, very few are openly hostile or rude. I have learned be less defensive and more open to expecting the best from others.
What advice do you have for queer youth?
You are not alone. Stand tall and be proud. Talk about your feelings and find your tribe.
When things get dark, and they might, do not be afraid to reach out for professional help. The darkness is temporary and the struggle is real, but it is so worth it when you are free to be you.