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 the third post 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.

Making open conversation the norm

Amidst numerous Pride events last month, some impactful experiences stood out. On the lighthearted side, Drag Queen Bingo was a huge hit to kick things off with the team.

Drag Queen Bingo was our way of maintaining the lively energy of previous years, like when we had Aja from RuPaul’s Drag Race perform in 2019. It was something we could do to bring remote teams together under the limitations of COVID-19 while still maintaining an energetic celebration.

On a more introspective note, we facilitated a series of panels that spoke to important conversations about Pride. Walker Smith, associate director of digital at Hearts & Science and Yolanda Richardson, senior media reconciliation specialist, guest from OMG, had the opportunity to share their stories on a panel about what Pride means to them.

Another panel explored the theme of diversity in advertising. Yolanda attended and saw them discuss the importance of authenticity and how initiatives need to actually speak to the community they want to support.

Her main takeaway?

“It’s not enough to throw a rainbow on something. We need to mean it.”

This is why Hearts & Science always tries to incorporate fun into heritage and identity programming. There should always be a real element of celebration for cultures and individualities. The parties shouldn’t distract from the purpose—they should support it.

Each virtual panel had its own theme and explored important topics. It was a unique opportunity to gather a cross-section of the company and share common ground, regardless of position or title.

Safe spaces to share

How Walker found pride in his truth

At the time, growing up in the south provided multiple challenges for a closeted person that Walker dealt with on a daily basis. He had to learn tools to deal with the ever-evolving issue of acceptance and openness that many young LGBTQ+ individuals face every day.

Thankfully, he eventually found an incredibly supportive group of friends who helped him grow to accept himself. He also came across shows like Will & Grace that became safe spaces for him. 

“These shows gave me a glimpse of what living as an open LGBTQ+ individual could look like.”

Source: CNN

With his friends’ support, he also attended his first pride parade. Watching the small group of men and women walk down the street with rainbow flags echoed the strength he saw in LGBTQ+ TV shows. It reinforced the idea that one day, he too could be an out-and-proud member of the gay community.

“My entire life up until that point I had lived in fear of who I was. Watching those men and women march with rainbow flags made me realize that maybe there would be a future where I, and others, wouldn’t live in the shadows.”

Fortunately, society has become more accepting since then. Walker now lives happily in LA with his partner and English bulldog. He still watches those shows that gave him hope today.

Walker’s Pro tip:Remember that who you are is okay. It does get better. There are a bunch of people who are going to fight until everyone has a seat at the table.”

How Yolanda learned to be unapologetically herself

For much of her life, Yolanda lived as what she thought society expected her to. She was always attracted to women, even as a young child, but never really explored it. She didn’t fully come out until she was 40.

Her family was always incredibly supportive, but there was still an adjustment period where she learned to dig deep and become comfortable with who she was.

A combination of therapy, music and helping others became her safe space where she learned to be unafraid, honest and truthful. There are always steppingstones in life, and these spaces helped her learn to be okay in her own skin.

“Music in particular is powerful. It’s the one thing that brings everyone and everybody together.”

She also values her time spent sitting at her kitchen table where she meditates, writes or simply enjoys quiet time in her safe space.

Yolanda is now going strong with her partner of 12 years. She describes herself as an open book and is intentional about being herself, unapologetically.

Yolanda’s Pro tip: Support each other. “There’s so much negativity that we encounter, even within the community, that we need to be there for each other.”

“While every story is different, our hurt and pain are one and the same.”

Work should be a safe space too

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

  1. Attend Allyship in the Workplace workshops. Hearts & Science will soon be offering a series of workshops to employees around concepts of diversity and inclusion and the critical role they play in the workplace and beyond. The workshops will include a refresher on unconscious bias and guided discussions on allyship and various specific real-life scenarios. The format will incorporate a combination of facilitator-presented content, break-out and one-on-one activities, and group discussions. Keep an eye out for more information!
  2. 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.
  3. Inclusive management training. Hearts & Science has long made an effort to hire people who are dedicated to inclusivity across their company. Now we are taking another step forward and intentionally training management to facilitate inclusivity around them.
  4. Show your support. Our Hearts requested custom Black Lives Matter and Pride email signatures, and many now use them. It’s one small gesture you can make to colleagues and partners to show your support for the Black Lives Matter movement and celebrate solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

Change can start at a company, but it’s not enough. Real change requires your individual support too.

  1. Attend supportive LGBTQ+ events. Look up local events in your community that welcome allies and attend. It’s one tangible way you can show your support and help your LGBTQ+ friends know that you stand by them. Many of these events extend beyond Pride month in June, so keep an eye out for year-round advocacy and support.
  2. Use the right pronouns. When you meet someone, considering offering what pronouns you’d like to be referred to as (e.g., she/her, he/him, or they/them). Then ask what their pronouns are. This is one simple way of helping those who do not identify with their assigned gender feel validated and understood.
  3. Be kind. Never underestimate the impact of a “Thank You” or “Hello.” A simple nod or phrase could make someone’s day in the moment.

Christofer Peterson, senior director of talent & engagement, shares,

“When our employees talk to their loved ones, I hope they say, ‘The best part of working at Hearts & Science is that I get to be myself. That I’m a proud card-carrying member of this community and I am a pivotal part of celebrating my personal identity here.’”

It’s not easy to embrace your sexuality in a society with established prejudices, but we can support each other along this difficult journey and give our LGBTQ+ friends a space to share their experiences.