In early summer, Net Health held a virtual LGBTQ+ Fireside Chat that allowed all employees to join in the conversation about pride, gender and sexuality in a meaningful, well-embraced and respectful manner. More than 70 employees attended this call where they got to hear from a panel of several Net Health co-workers about their “coming out” experiences, their journeys navigating stereotypes, how to support others in the community at work, and more.
Speaking and Coming Out
To kick off the conversation, Adam Schmidt, Director of P&E Development, shared that he realized that he had a particular liking for guys when he turned 17. At the time, he was living in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the first person he decided to share his sexuality with was his best friend. While the response from his best friend was positive, his parents had a hard time accepting him.
“Coming out is an act of bravery and trust because you might get hurt, and you’re trusting that the person isn’t going to hurt you,” he said. “So if someone is coming out to you, remember they’re being brave enough to tell you who they are and they’re trusting you not to hurt them for it. Give a little bit of grace.”
Another speaker, Cathy de Verteuil who is Senior Vice President of Account Management, noted that, all things considered, her childhood was pretty “normal.” Differences were a part of her life. While as an adult, she got married to a man, during this time she also had a best friend that she “loved like a sister.” After the divorce was finalized, she realized her feelings for her female friend were actually even deeper.
“I realized I loved her like a wife,” she said. And that’s where everything changed. The couple has now been together for 26 years and married for four, and Cathy couldn’t be happier with where she is today.
“I’m blessed for my experience,” she reflected. “I’m also really blessed to work in a place that has allowed me to just be able to be me.”
The Murky Waters of Stereotypes
During the evening chat, the conversation also steered towards the fact that certain stereotypes can hinder the LGBTQ+ community. Rocky Gettel, Software Architect III for Net Health, explained that it can be frustrating when someone who knows that you are gay then expects you to act in a certain way.
“A lot of times people may not understand that they have insidious stereotypes in their brains that can be working against them,” he said.
Along the lines of negative stereotypes, the panelists also shared how HIV is a particular negative stereotype that continues to often surround the gay community. From how HIV is contracted to how many people in the community have it, there are many people who are not fully educated and well-versed on the topic.
Living as an HIV-positive man for a decade, over the years, Adam has learned that he can continue to live a rich and fulfilling life with an illness that is now undetectable in his body, thanks to the right medication concoction that he takes on a day-to-day basis.
HIV is no longer considered a “death sentence,” he said, as it may have once been in the 1980s and 1990s. As a matter of fact, the life expectancy is the same as anyone else. It’s important to note that when the virus is undetectable, it cannot be transmitted. With time, Adam believes “we can slow and eventually stop the transmission of the virus.”
That is the objective he said. For all of us.
In the Realm of Gender Fluidity
For some people, knowing your sexuality can be crystal clear from the start, for others, they may better identify with being somewhere in between the colorful LGBTQ+ spectrum. Eddie Stahl, a consultant for Net Health, explained that growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, it wasn’t okay to be gay. There was a time when he believed he was a “stereotypical sissy gay boy,” but after college, he met a woman, got married and started a family.
“However, at some point, then my gender came up for question. Some days I felt male and some days I felt female,” he explained. “To ease my confusion and try to find my happy place I started doing drag and this was where I was at the happiest that I had been in my life.” Eddie also considered transitioning to become a female for a bit. “Yet, I still didn’t feel satisfied with that,” he added.
It was only when he started doing some research on the transition and talking to others that a “light” went off in his head and he discovered his true, authentic self. “I’m a gender fluid pansexual,” he proudly revealed to everyone in the chat. “I’m fine with being unique and not being so stressed to fit the mold of a stereotype.”
Removing Assumptions in the Workplace
Living in a world where many people may best identify themselves with different genders, or no gender at all, it is even more paramount that as society we are careful to not categorize people based on assumptions, whether it is a co-worker, colleague, friend, or partner.
The panel of Pride speakers also offered a couple of suggestions for the workplace. For example, instead of asking a co-worker, “What’s your wife’s name?” it is recommended to ask instead, “What’s your partner’s name?” to make the question more general and inviting. Doing so allows the person to then reveal whatever they feel comfortable sharing and removes the possibility of awkward silences and/or conversations.
Finding Freedom in Who You Are
One thing our entire group of speakers agreed on was that they feel happy they can share and be who they truly are in the present day. There is freedom that comes in tearing down your walls, putting down your masks and stepping into the light and beauty of all that is you. It is a message they hope others will see and hear and connect with.
Being your authentic self not only allows you to live the life you’ve always wanted, but it also provides a great opportunity to educate others who can learn so much from the sharing of stories and find their own voice in it as well. Net Health is a safe environment that encourages our employees to do just that.