Community Spotlight: Pride Month

Your stories have power. They bring ideas to life and can shape how others see the world, and here at Hearts, we use stories to build community. 

This is one of many posts in our Community Spotlight Series, where we feature Hearts who identify with a group and have important conversations about how we can support one another. 

Throughout the series, we will work closely with these individuals to create an experience where they can share their culture with fellow Hearts. We’ll hear directly from them about their lives, the safe spaces they’ve created to live their truth, and how we can be better allies. 

And then we listen. 

Because more than ever, stories that celebrate our differences need to be heard.

Defining self in the face of adversity

In 1867, German lawyer ​​Karl Heinrich Ulrichs became the first person to publicly declare himself gay and campaign for freedom. In shocking contrast, in recent news, the Ugandan president just enacted an anti-gay law that’s being called “the harshest in the world.”

This Pride, let’s acknowledge the ongoing struggles of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Let’s honor the strength of individuals and communities as they continue to forge the path toward equality and human rights.

Here’s what we’re doing to recognize Pride Month at Hearts & Science:

  • Drag Story Hour NYC (Thursday, June 15, 2023, at 3:00 PM ET )
    Join us for an unforgettable event as we celebrate Pride Month with Drag Story Hour NYC! Experience the enchantment of storytelling and the celebration of diversity as the talented drag artists bring inspiring picture books to life. Immerse yourself in the captivating tales that explore themes of self-expression and inclusivity.After the reading, engage in a thought-provoking Q&A session, gaining insights into the remarkable experiences of the performers as drag artists and storytellers. With an emphasis on creating a safe and inclusive environment for all attendees, this event promises to be a fabulous celebration of gender diversity and empowerment. Don’t miss out on this magical opportunity to celebrate Pride Month with us!
  • Pride Pop Culture Interactive Learning Event (Thursday, June 29, 2023, at 3:00 PM ET)
    Get ready to join a fabulous and collaborative virtual celebration for Pride 2023! In this American pop culture-themed gaming experience, you will explore the colorful history of the LGBTQIA+ movement. Focus will be on important topics such as influential LGBTQIA+ icons, the power of inclusive language, and how to build a supportive and welcoming workplace community. Come ready to play, learn, connect, and celebrate Pride with us!

Safe spaces to share

Jonai steps courageously into his identity

From a young age, Jonai knew he felt differently about love and relationships than the people around him.

Homegrown in Atlanta, Georgia, Jonai grew up taking in all of the natural beauty and culture around the city. He describes himself as a big hiker, loves painting, and often portrays the trees and walkways he envisions from trails in his art.

In middle school, peers started to question Jonai’s identity by using words he hadn’t heard before. So he set out to find out what they meant with the help of his smartphone. He uncovered new perspectives of queer experiences that he was able to not only relate to but see the beauty in. By age 13, Jonai was able to fully understand and accept how he was different and who he loved.

“I always knew I was different. I just didn’t have a way to label it until I was 13.”

Today, Jonai’s friends sometimes refer to him as a “radical queer.” He doesn’t believe many societal stereotypes or in the coming out process. He believes he organically came into his identity through conversations with friends. 

He would hear things like, “We never see you bring a girl around,” so Jonai felt like his sexuality was pretty well known without needing to broadcast it.

“If straight people don’t have to tell me they’re straight, I don’t have to walk around with a sign that I’m queer.”

In his freshman year at Georgia College, Jonai began volunteering with a nonprofit organization called Lost-n-Found Youth Center. The center helps LGBTQIA2S+ youth who’ve been displaced from their homes. At the center’s thrift store, Jonai was finally able to create a wardrobe for himself that made him feel like him.

Growing up in a low-income household, he didn’t always have the opportunity to dress himself how he wanted. While he has always felt comfortable in his own skin, the Lost-n-Found Youth Center allowed him to pivot and provided a safe space to fully experiment with self-expression through fashion.

Jonai donates clothing quarterly to give back and offer youth the same opportunity for self-expression that he was given. 

Today, Jonai is among fellow Hearts helping to launch the OPEN Pride Atlanta chapter, an LGBTQIA2S+ ERG group, with a donation drive for the Lost-n-Found Youth Center. The donation drive provides youth with various needs—clothing, food, monetary donations, transportation cards, and services like rides to job interviews.

Jonai is currently a senior associate, media strategist at Hearts & Science. When asked about his experience at work, he shares,

“My queerness has been an advantage for myself in my career. It has always given me a different perspective. It has done nothing but push me forward.”

Pro tip: “If I could give advice I wish I’d had when I first graduated college, it would be to show up as yourself and understand that your individuality is your strength. It will get you where you need to go. Just be yourself and everyone else will have to adjust.”

How Sam became the author of his own life

Sam grew up in a predominantly Christian community in Alabama. The pastor would often talk about secrets—and Sam thought his was being gay. Kids would bully him and pigeonhole him into their perception of who he was. He couldn’t seem to shake the feeling of being “other than.”

As he grew up, he eventually found his tribe and people he could trust. But after hiding who he really was from the world for his 21 years, he describes his coming out experience in college as a “journey.”

“It was emotional and scary and very hard to do. But I’m really glad that it happened.”

“Over time, I was able to challenge the ideas I grew up with and come out on my own terms. It hasn’t been an overnight process, and I’m continually working towards being the person I want to be without shame, embarrassment, or negative feelings.”

Today, Sam enjoys trekking around the city and finding different coffee shops to work from. He and his partner have two golden retrievers—Beau and Goose—that they love to take hiking and camping. 

When Sam first moved to Atlanta for college, he stumbled across a PRIDE kickball community. He now plays on the team every Monday, and he considers the community around the sport his safe space.

For him, it’s not just about competing; the community offers him a sense of belonging, shared stories, and fun. He gets to be his authentic self there.

“Who you are and who you love shouldn’t be your deep dark secret.”

He encourages others in the LGBTQIA2S+ community to seek out their safe spaces. “Find the places where you’re accepted and loved, find that community. And not just in your personal life, but also in your work.” As a supervisor on the marketing science team at Hearts, Sam is grateful that he feels truly comfortable bringing his full self to work. People at Hearts are kind, empathic, and understanding.

“I feel comfortable because it’s in the micro-moments that I can tell people genuinely care and accept me for who I am. We listen to each other versus listening to respond.”

Pro tip: Sam offers a snippet of wisdom he has learned through his life: “Move towards the things that bring you joy, bring you warmth, bring you happiness. You’re the author of your own story.”

How Kristopher connects through drag

Kristopher, aka “Miss Krissy” on the stage, grew up just outside of Chicago. He feels he has always had a strong sense of confidence—that he just is who he is. 

He came out in high school before enrolling in a small university in central Indiana. In the new space at the university, there wasn’t a large queer community. In a sense, this was disappointing, as he had expected to find more people like him. Instead, he found that he was still filtering himself, almost blending into the straight crowd.

“I felt like I assimilated a little bit without fully expressing myself.”

It wasn’t until Kristopher finished college and moved to Chicago that he was able to connect more deeply with like-minded people and come into his authentic self. Getting on the stage in drag, he felt he could express parts of himself that he didn’t even know were there. The queer and drag community became a safe space for him.

He began to experiment more with changes in his appearance. He shares,

“Now I don’t care if people think I look too crazy.”

Kristopher enjoys a variety of sports, including tennis and beach volleyball, and he’s a big board gamer (Mario Kart is as far as he goes with video games). He likes exploring the culinary scene in Chicago with his partner, who helps push him to be a little more adventurous. 

While he’s less physically active in drag performing than he used to be, he still loves being a part of the community and supporting other performers in their art. Feelings of understanding and empathy permeate through the community and are what make him feel safe and able to be his true self.

Kristopher is the associate director of media operations at Hearts & Science. Here, he participates on the OPEN Pride committee, organized by the Business Resource Group, which holds space for marginalized communities to be seen and have their voices heard. 

Pro tip: Kristopher reminds others in the queer community to be present as their authentic self, for better or worse. Put another way, “Don’t give a f*** because sometimes, nobody cares as much as you do. Care about being a good person, but not about societal standards.”

Work should be a safe space too

Hearts & Science is dedicated to building a space where its employees are recognized and feel seen. There are many ways we are supporting inclusion efforts.

Here’s what’s in the works:

  1. Inclusive language. As a company, Hearts & Science is committed to making everyone feel safe and included, right down to the words they use. We are currently auditing our internal and external communications so that we never use words that might alienate or diminish another, even casually.
  2. Employee Resource Groups and Business Resource Groups. Hearts & Science participates in Omnicom’s ERGs and OMG’s BRGs with employees as co-chairs and members. OPEN Pride walked in the AIDS Walk New York this year. It’s a great way to learn and show support, even as an ally. Ask HR at your company if you can get involved or start a group of your own.
  3. Custom Pride email signatures. Our Hearts requested custom Pride email signatures, and many now use them. It’s one small gesture you can make to colleagues and partners to support and celebrate the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

What individuals can do:

  1. Challenge assumptions. We can’t look at someone and know their gender identity and sexual identity. Try using non-gendered language in place of assumptions (i.e., “Is your partner here?” instead of “Is your wife here?”).
  2. Speak up. If someone is using homophobic language, call them out on it. A simple “that’s not appropriate” or “we accept everyone here” can be an effective show of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community and make it clear that slurs will not be tolerated.
  3. Pronouns. Add your pronouns to your signature. It invites others to do the same and opens a space for conversation and understanding.

Andriena Coleman, associate director of DE&I at Hearts & Science, shares, 

“Hearts is a workplace where new ideas can flourish. Together, this community of amazing individuals changes and grows through unique experiences and perspectives. Our differences are celebrated and truly invaluable to our organization.”

While we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year, let’s be thoughtful about the amazing journeys of authenticity within LGBTQIA2S+ communities and continue to offer allyship to our fellow human beings. Cultivate safe spaces for everyone to be themselves and honor the beautiful perspectives that come along with diversity.