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Connecting Our LGBTQ+ Community Starts from Within: 3 Things We Must Consider

Michelle Wheeler
June 23, 2021

This Pride Month, I write this to reach out to those in the LGBTQ+ community who have doubts about their ability to have a career and full life. This month is about our history and the possibilities of encouraging the acceptance that we strive to have today in society. It is about the spaces we’re building as a whole to foster courage and safety, to use the right pronouns, to be our truest selves, and advocate our mission of building a cross-community atmosphere. 

Our role, and the impact that we can have in a business environment as an LGBTQ+ community is to include our colleagues in who we are, and encourage the acceptance that grants us authenticity in our careers. We have to take the risk to include our straight colleagues and give them the room to learn and empathize with the struggles we face.  I have, and today, I can say that I live authentically.  

 

Photo by T.L. Litt - Boston Pride


INCLUSION

Throughout the years, my openness and my keen desire to be authentic hasn’t always been embraced but at least I lived my truth. I took the risk and felt complete regardless of the outcome.

In our LGBTQ+ community, those before us gave us so much with their bravery and even lives, in order to support us in the ongoing battle for inclusion in paving a path for equality and allyship. Just like any other community, we have heroes that have fought and faced great adversity to help move us forward. These people were willing to share themselves and have a voice with those around them, facing adversity head-on. In some cases, they were able to gain acceptance and be a part of the conversation. In other cases, they weren't; but, in all cases, they can say they lived authentically in their lives.   

      Photo by The Washington Post, October 12, 1987


I have been in the fight for inclusion since the early 80’s marching on Washington, in the streets of Boston, Chicago, and NY,  in the workplace, featured in news pieces, and countless other forums to fight for equality. Did I have fear?  Of course. Particularly when my face showed up on the front page of the Washington Post after a march.  Would the people in my life make out my face?  However small the image, it sent a surge through me.  In a time where people were only beginning to open their minds and views, I was fearful and asked myself who would see that picture and what would their reaction be?  I was, after all, still in the military.  So were there risks?  Absolutely, but I did this to carry forward the work of so many before me that paved the way for me to do my part for those to come. I wanted to be a trailblazer, to make a difference like people such as:

  • The everyday woman turned marriage equality rights fighter Edith Windsor
  • Gay health rights leader Bayron Rusto
  • Political superstar Harvey Milk
  • Sports heroes Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King
  • AND a more contemporary and crucial business figure, Tim Cook. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also recognize my colleagues at Prove, who are also my heroes, for being authentic as part of our Prove family.  Prove’s culture creates room for the most inclusive workplace I have ever experienced in my 35+ year business career.

Did you know?

72% of full-time employees said they would leave an organization for one they thought was more inclusive. (uschamberfoundation.org)

ACCEPTANCE

My wife and I at the 2018 Miami Gala - Equality Florida 

As we work to achieve acceptance outside of our communities, we should start thinking like innovators on how to promote understanding.  We, as an LGBTQ+ community, often look through the lens of others needing to include us.  In my opinion, as gay business professionals, we have the responsibility to present the possibility of inclusion and acceptance. As we speak up and participate in the “water cooler” conversations, we are giving our colleagues the opportunity to know us, accept us and allow us to be authentic. If we don’t, we're selling ourselves and colleagues short. 

Much has changed from the days I began my career.  Business environments have evolved and the acceptance of LGBTQ+ people has risen worldwide.  From “as long as you don’t make me see or hear about it” to “why not keep it to yourself” to “don’t ask, don't tell” to us being able to choose what work environment allows us to be our authentic selves. 


Interesting Fact

In the U.S., the percentage of respondents accepting of homosexuality rose to 72% in 2019 from 60% in an earlier survey in 2013. - Bloomberg (Pew Research, 2020)


AUTHENTICITY

Following in the footsteps of my father and two older sisters, I joined the military in the early 80s.  Back then, there was no option to be authentic. There was no “don’t ask, don't tell” even.  There was absolute expulsion, and there was court-martial if exposed.  On the day I signed the papers, I remember I had to check off and attest to the fact that I was not a homosexual nor had I ever taken part in any activities related to THAT community. To this day, it was the biggest betrayal I have committed against myself. It was six years of silence, six years of fearing that my secret would be discovered, and six years of using the wrong pronouns.

  

Military Wheelers minus 1 - Regina Wheeler - Air Force (Me, LTC Elise Wheeler & Commander Jerry Wheeler)


When I got out, I was determined to live my life with truth and to only interact with people and organizations who would accept me as an entire being. Perhaps some of you are working for companies where you feel you have to compromise who you are. Be who you are. You don’t need permission to be your authentic self, nor do you have to be part of an organization that does not embrace you. Your community will be there regardless of the outcome. 

Did you know?

More than 53 percent of LGBTQ workers hide their identity at the workplace, often citing a persistent feeling of being unwelcome. This identity struggle has detrimental impacts on their health, happiness, and productivity, in addition to businesses’ talent retention and leadership development. (Everfi 2021)

This statistic clearly needs to change and we can move the needle.

Where I Found All Three: Inclusion, Acceptance, and Authenticity

Four years ago, Prove and I found each other. Although I have never been “in the closet” or allowed myself to be anything but authentic, at Prove these things have never been a concern.  My colleagues are genuinely interested in my life. They want to know what my wife and I did this past weekend, are fully supportive of our marriage, and truly embrace all that I am, at work and outside of work, because no one is just one dimension.  I am able to be myself at work.

I have a home at Prove. I truly believe it is in large part because I included my colleagues in who I am, they accepted me and I can be my authentic self.  I encourage you, either gay or straight, to begin including your colleagues in who you are.  If they are gay, it may give them the courage to do the same.  If they are straight, it will allow room for those around you to accept you and enable you to live your most authentic lives.  Trust me, it’s worth it!

My history, our history, is filled with important details that have brought us to today.  It was filled with pain and triumph, risk and embraces. Our personal stories make us who we are, and they are important to share. I’m happy to share mine this month and that’s why I feel so strongly about our role as members of the LGBTQ+ community to start from within. 

Photo by T.L. Litt - Boston Pride

I wish you all a Happy Pride filled with Inclusion, Acceptance, and Authenticity but most importantly LOVE.


------------------------------------- REGISTER FOR OUR POWER HOUR ------------------------------------- 


Don't forget to register for our Prove Power Hour during Pride Month with Sandra McNeill, Chief People Officer on how you can "Celebrate Pride All Year Long with Active and Intersectional Allyship" with LGBTQ+ leaders and panelists. Register today! https://bit.ly/35OAUfP

  • Shiva Raichandani, Artist : Britain, India & France's Got Talent Netflix | TEDx | Cannes Lions
  • Matt Hurwitz, Head of Communications for Commercial Banking, Wells Fargo
  • Michelle Wheeler, Senior Vice President, Prove



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