Community Spotlight: LGBTQ+

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.

A(nother) challenging time for the LGBTQ+ community

As the legality and availability of abortions are once again under threat in the United States, it’s a startling reminder of the fragility of social justice and progress. There is speculation that LGBTQ+ rights such as gay marriage will soon be challenged as well, and it’s anticipated that another hard fight awaits the community and their allies. Acceptance and justice for the LGBTQ+ community have come a long way since the Stonewall Riots of 1969, but there is still much more to be done.

Every year, Pride celebrates authenticity, safety and love and acknowledges the hard-fought wins. This year, we also need to consider how each of us will stand up for our values as members of the LGBTQ+ community or as allies who stand in solidarity. LGBTQ+ rights are human rights, and we all have a role to play in protecting them.

Events coming up at Hearts:

  • Thought Leadership Panel: Letting Others In with Hearts x Meta – June 9, 2022, 3pm EDT
  • Roundtable Discussion: Storytelling with Color Bloq – June 15, 2022, 3 pm EDT
  • Drag Bingo with Queens of the Castro – June 28, 2022, 3 pm EDT
  • Stonewall National Museum and Archives – June 30, 2022, 3 pm EDT

Safe spaces to share

How Yolanda found her way to herself

Yolanda Richardson always felt an attraction to women all the way back to a crush in Grade 3, but she didn’t fully come out until after she was a mother of three children who are now grown up. She has lived happily with her partner for 15 years, but her path to that partnership has not been traditional or easy. Now, she finds herself in a place of self-love and gratitude.

“I fully accepted my lesbianism at the age of 40. With my family, they’ve always been extremely supportive. My kids have always known about me because I’m an open book at home. My mother, my sibling, and my partner’s family have been nothing but supportive. I couldn’t have asked for more. We are a community.
Outside of the love and support of her family, Yolanda has seen a shift in how safe she feels in public.

“People just don’t know how to let people be.”

​​“Before the pandemic, it wasn’t so odd for my partner and I to hold hands or hug each other while walking down the street. Since the pandemic, we are much more careful, or if at all, with when and where we do due to the heightened hate we are faced with as of lately in our society. We just never know if we’ll be attacked because someone doesn’t agree with our lifestyle. However, in our own way, we still demonstrate some sort of public affection towards each other. It just looks different than it did two and a half years ago.”

Though dealing with the reality of shifting attitudes in society, Yolanda’s faith helps her create safe spaces where she can be her authentic self.
“My safe space is anywhere I make it because of my tremendously increased faith in God. I feel protected, cared for and nurtured. Wherever I am, if I don’t feel comfortable about something, in the moment, I can stop, pray about it, ask God to remove it and be okay thereafter. So, my safe space is wherever I am and create it to be.”

One space that brings Yolanda joy is her own living room, adorned with her beloved collection of hats and albums. She owns over 30 hats and recently changed her wall display from winter to summer. With a love of music, she’s passionate about singing and listening to a range of genres from R&B and gospel to rock.

“Life is promised to no one, so I’m holding true to being present, seeing or calling the people that I care about and love.”

Pro Tip: Yolanda believes strongly in having at least one person in your life that you trust to confide in. “You can’t just talk to anybody and everybody because not everyone has your best interests at heart. But having that one person, don’t be afraid to open up and share yourself because 9 times out of 10, they’re not going to judge you.”

How Brian leaped into his true self in midlife

Like Yolanda, Brian is a parent who didn’t come out until later in his life. “I grew up in a largely heteronormative world where my path didn’t seem very clear to me. Sexuality is a spectrum, and at different times in my life, I have felt on different ends of that spectrum. I was in a loving relationship and married a woman; we had two children together. I’ve worked in corporate America for a long time. And then, just before the pandemic, I kind of figured myself out a little bit late. I came out, got divorced and now I’m a single parent with two kids. It’s not been an easy journey for sure, but I am proud to be living a more authentic life.”

While privately he struggled with internalized confusion and shame much of his life, externally, he presented as a straight, cisgender male. “I’ve existed in a world where everybody kind of assumed that I was one thing . . . I went to an all-boys school, and I was there for all the jokes and the stigma and the homophobia. You feel like you’re in between two different worlds. And you’re not quite sure who you are. And it’s a very lonely place to be.”

Once he came out in his mid-40s, he saw a shift in how others treated him and what they would say and do in his presence. “This year is my first time really understanding the Pride Celebration. I’ve watched previous Pride in years from a different perspective. Now I think I have a deeper appreciation for it. It’s a celebration about who we are but also tinged with a heavy nod to the trauma and shame and difficulties that we have all faced in one way or another. And I also think a celebration of the better people that that struggle has helped us to become. Deeper empathy for others, richer internal lives, greater compassion for the world around you.”

“It’s taught me a lot about empathy and the need for understanding other people’s perspectives.”

When it comes to safe spaces, the combination of all the changes in his life and the social disruption created by the pandemic has left Brian uncertain about where his safe space is right now. After his marriage ended, he reassessed what he needed in his life as a person and a parent. He moved back to Brooklyn in pursuit of a new community that would accept him and his truth. “You don’t just land in a place where you feel accepted. You actually have to fight for it. I’ve had to fight for community. I’ve had to be very tenacious to find the community I felt comfortable and accepted in.”

“I have a lot of pride for the changes that I made in my life because it’s very difficult to make change, particularly at an advanced age. Once you get out of these preconceived norms, there is tremendous creativity in the way that you can live your life.”

Pro Tip: Brian is a strong advocate for creating authenticity in your life, being brave and making changes regardless of your age and what has been your reality to date. “Sometimes you just have to follow your own internal compass, even when you’re walking down this road that does not feel paved at all and it’s very hard to find people who can relate to you. It’s a journey, and it takes years.”

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:

  • 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, even casually, that might alienate or diminish another.
  • 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 New York Aids Walk 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.

What individuals can do:

  • Challenge assumptions. We can’t look at someone and know their gender identity and sexual identity. Try using nongendered language in place of assumptions (i.e., “Is your partner here?” instead of “Is your wife here?”).
  • 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.
  • Show your support. 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 LGBTQ+ community.
  • 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.”

In the spirit of Pride, explore how you can be an engaged ally throughout the year. Provide the members of the LGBTQ+ community in your life who want to share their experiences with the psychological and physical safety to do so. Make your love and support clear and unconditional. Explore how you can support LGBTQ+ rights and push back against efforts to restrict them.

Together, we can fight to maintain the rights that exist today and increase acceptance even more.