Identity: Human – and comfortable as a HIV+ Gay Man and Father
Current Job: Doc Student
What does your identity mean to you?
I have always identified as gay and been “out” for the most part, at least since high school (1979 – Wooddale, Memphis, TN).
I have been HIV+ since the mid 90’s and have never seen either of these issues as barriers to life.
My partner (at the time) and I adopted a 1.5 year old in 1997.
What has been your experience as an out professional?
In 1997, I was working for Commonwealth Edison when my job was outsourced. I was given the choice to stay with ComEd or move to IBM. I chose IBM due to the increased professional opportunities as well as knowing IBM was at the forefront of inclusion for gay employees.
IBM was one of the few companies with inclusion policies and domestic partner benefits. As a first line manager at IBM, I had to go to “New Manager School”, a week long program in NY.
During the class, Ted Childs, the IBM VP of Diversity, talked about the controversial Same Sex Domestic Partner Policy. He told us it was the right thing to do, but it was also the right business policy. He told us that all diversity programs drive business, profits, and a skilled workforce.
After this great training, I was invited to the first ever Leadership training for Gay and Lesbian employees. This purposeful training was to empower Gay and Lesbian employees in IBM.
There were two impactful panels during the training. The first one had “Out” Senior VP’s at IBM talking about their experiences with the company.
Each one said that without fail their careers took a steep trajectory upward once they “came out.” They attributed this to the stress it removed from the workplace, not only for them, but also for the people around them.
The second one reinforced the same lesson. In this one, a professional trainer talked to us about the workplace and shared with us the amazing thing about being out at work – it ended the water cooler conversations.
What are water cooler conversations? The gossip at the water cooler, in the break-room, or hallway. When you are out, there is no power in that gossip.
If someone says to Joe, “I think Chris is queer!” and Joe’s response is “What – you didn’t know? I saw him with his boyfriend/husband last week at the grocery store” or “Haven’t you seen his boyfriend’s picture on his desk?” – then the gossip has no power. In fact, it makes the person starting the gossip look “silly” at best.
What type of support have you experienced with your identity?
If someone does not accept me as I am, it is their issue, not mine. I do not apologize for my life or life experiences. I have had rejection, but the experience is much greater than the rejection.
At ETSU, I have been extremely up-front about both my sexuality and HIV, and I cannot say that I have ever felt anything but support.
What advice do you have for queer youth?
Enjoy life, try things, talk about it if you need to, find queer friends.