I didn’t expect it. I am still in a bit of shock. The Supreme Court ruled that you can’t be disciplined, fired or turned down for a job based on your sexual orientation. My twenty year old daughter heard me talk about it and she said “Really, they could do that? You could get fired for being gay?” That is when I decided it was important to write about my experience before today.
I grew up in WV and moved to Ohio after college. I came out to my family and friends at 25 in 1994. (For perspective, Ellen came out on national TV in 1997.) I did not come out at work. I knew I could be fired for being gay. I couldn’t risk it. Maybe nothing would have happened but I couldn’t get past that it could, and what would I do? I hid who I was at work for many years. I know it impacted relationships both good and bad. I know it felt awful to not be telling my whole truth. Honesty was my core value and yet I wasn’t living up to it.
I moved across country with my partner for my next career stop in 2000. We moved to Portland, Oregon for my job. Portland had laws in place to protect LGBTQ workers. It took me time to feel safe to tell my first co-worker. I finally did and she was extremely supportive. She is one of my best friends and I know it is because our friendship was based on me being my true self. I eventually would tell my boss. I was extremely anxious about telling her but I did and she was very supportive. I felt so much better. I wasn’t constantly worrying about it. I could be my authentic self.
We moved back to Ohio in 2003. We were buying a home together. I was so nervous about being fired for being gay that I insisted we put the house only in my name after I found out the local paper published the names of the people buying each property in the Sunday paper. It feels so ridiculous even writing this right now. But it was real. The fear was real. I worked for the company for over 3 years before coming out finally because we were adopting. I wasn’t going to let anyone think I could do that alone. I know my relationships with my co-workers were better because I was sharing my authentic self. I think I was even a better worker because I didn’t have all that added stress anymore.
I joined Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center in 2008. I didn’t tell my boss during the interview that I was gay. (Again, I thought that might keep me from getting the job.) I did finally tell her a month or so in. She was wonderful and hated that I hadn’t told her before. I would tell some co-workers, but for others it either didn’t come up or I avoided the topic. It was hard to overcome almost 15 years of not being able to just be me.
I will never forget one moment in my career that still makes me tear up even as I write this. I was participating in a walk for our heart program. I somehow ended up walking with Pete Geier, our CEO. Pete was an incredible leader. He was approachable, authentic, transparent, humble and so many more great qualities. He was the kind of leader you would bust through a concrete wall for. It was just the two of us and we were just talking during our walk and Pete said, Lori, you and your partner have two girls right?
I responded yes, we do and told him the story of us adopting our girls.
He listened and you could tell he really cared about our family story. He asked what the girls call us. Pete was vulnerable in that moment. I could tell he didn’t want to offend me by asking.
I told him I am Mommy and Aimee is Mama.
He said, “I love that.”
I couldn’t believe it. Here I was with our CEO and he was supporting me and my family. I cried on the way home. It was such an emotional moment. I couldn’t believe that I could just be me. I didn’t have to worry anymore.
Everyone should be able to come to work and be their authentic self, do their job and not be afraid of losing it because they are LGBTQ. And everyone should be lucky enough to have a leader like Pete willing to be vulnerable and care. Employees and companies benefit. The Supreme Court made the right decision. I think my daughter gets it now.