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Coming Out Day: What it takes to feel safe to do so

  • Posted on October 11, 2021
  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes
Coming out day 2021

Coming out in the LGBTQ+ community and refers to a moment when each of us takes a stand and proclaims who we are. Two Avanade employees took a moment to reflect on how living authentically has impacted their lives.

Mike Nelson, London, U.K., Europe Business Manager

In October 2016, Outsports released a piece, “174 LGBT athletes from Power Five Conference schools have come out publicly,” that stated, “No athletes have come out from Iowa and Michigan State.” Having been a publicly gay athlete at the University of Iowa who had an overall great, welcoming experience after coming out to my team in 2013, I naturally had an issue with the potential idea that Iowa could be perceived as anything other than a welcoming place for any and all student-athletes. Thus, I decided to reach out to Outsports and ask that they correct the article since I had been an “out athlete” at Iowa.

In response, Outsports asked me to share my experience as a four-year letter winner on Iowa’s Men’s Swim & Dive team. Initially, I was hesitant about writing my editorial for Outsports because I still had not come out to my extended family yet. With support from my family, past Iowa Swim & Dive teammates, and new friends from my PhD program, I decided to take the leap and write about my experiences as a gay student-athlete at the University of Iowa. After the editorial went live, I was met with nothing but kind words, praise, and support from my family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike. I think my favourite responses were from all the Iowa alum that reached out to thank me for presenting Iowa as the incredible, inclusive place it had also been for them during their time as students.

Last August, Iowa’s President and Athletic Director announced that Iowa would, “discontinue four of our sports programs at the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year: men’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and men’s tennis.” I was shocked to put it lightly. Beyond the program’s legitimacy, I was personally devastated because of what it meant for other LGBTQ+ student-athletes. As discussed in my editorial, “I think what truly hurts me the most by this decision is that present and future swimmers and divers are losing a place that became a sanctuary when I came out during my college years.”

Like Iowa’s Swim & Dive teams, Avanade has been another sanctuary that creates a psychologically safe environment that celebrates everything that makes me, me. It has been inspiring to see our company’s investment and dedication to Inclusion & Diversity by bolstering the capabilities of our Employee Networks, enhancing the interlock between People Analytics and Inclusion & Diversity by expanding demographic data to identify areas in which to focus our I&D initiatives, and evolving company policies around the world to better meet each employee’s personal and professional needs.

Avanade is continuing to challenge itself to not only be a supporter, but rather a leader in the I&D space. We are showing that to be the leading digital innovator, we need to keep providing our people with unique experiences, which can be best achieved through creating spaces where we celebrate diverse individuals with diverse backgrounds.

Madison Crater, Chicago, U.S., Software Developer Consultant

I spent a lot of time trying to talk myself out of coming out at first. Spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that it was better for everybody if I kept these feelings locked away. I had no idea how my friends, family, or even my partner felt about transgender people. Hiding who I really was felt like trying to hide an anchor in your backpack. People started to notice I was isolating myself, but I felt like it was worth it to avoid change. It was at this point where I found a new ethos to live my life by: “Fear is a silly reason not to do something that will make you happy.” I didn’t have any other reason to hide other than being afraid. To be honest, I don’t think I even knew what I was really afraid of. I started making little changes at first: wearing gender-neutral clothes in my personal life and, eventually, my professional life along with growing out my hair. I had an excuse for each just in case someone asked; I wasn’t ready to make the plunge yet.

The breaking point was when I went on a small vacation to Europe with a group of friends and I realized that I had a whole week where I could be whoever I wanted. It didn’t matter if anybody judged me because I would leave them and their judgments behind when I came home. I got new clothes, nothing gender-neutral about them. I painted my nails. I even tried doing my makeup; I was terrible at it but it didn’t matter – I felt happy. I knew this was what I needed to do to be happy and I wasn’t going to let my fear stop me anymore.

Once the emotional journey was officially underway, it was time to start the logistical one. I had started to see my true self, now I just had to figure out how to get the rest of my life to see it too. I started the legal process for changing my name and gender. I met with Avanade so that I could start to be myself both at home and at work.

The whole process was difficult and fraught with technical issues and headaches. The internal systems were only built to be able to change somebody’s last name, not their first. However, I soon came to understand that this was something that I could do to help future people at Avanade make this transition. I started working with Avanade’s LGBTQ+ group, Prism, to expand their transgender knowledge sessions, policies, and visibility.

Coming out was an amazing change in my life. Terrifying and difficult, but I can’t think of a better reward for my troubles than being able to be my true self and go through life without the weight of hiding anchoring me down.

Chris Olson

Thank you so much for sharing your stories! Very powerful and a good reminder that we are always coming out, but it is so much easier to be authentic than be hidden.

November 5, 2021

Samantha George

Thank you so much for sharing this. It is so powerful for me personally to hear your stories and your stories matter.

October 13, 2021

Sue Weisman

Thank you for sharing!

October 13, 2021

Pam Greenstein

Thank you Mike and Madison for sharing, and for being "you."

October 13, 2021

Sarah Kane

Kudos to you both for sharing your stories.  Coming out is not a "one and done" event and you have both demonstrated incredible strength of character when faced with continuing emotional and logistical hurdles.  Thanks for being you.

October 13, 2021

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