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LGBTQ and Allies Coming Out in the Workplace Panel

To celebrate Pride Month, the Equity Office held a panel discussion for MDCR staff, "LGBTQ and Allies Coming Out in the Workplace."  Cynthia Thornton, the MDCR LGBTQ liaison, facilitated the panel, and Amanda Bradley, Valerie Barkley, Kimberly Hall, Alfredo Hernandez, JJ Johnson, Melissa Kiesewetter, Alicia Powers and Todd Walker were the panelists. Director Johnson opened the discussion by stating his pronouns and thanking the audience for attending.

Melissa read a poignant acknowledgement of the land being stolen from Native Americans. She then explained what a two-spirit person is in Native American culture. Historically, two-spirit indigenous people are male, female, and sometimes intersex individuals who combine activities of both men and women with traits unique to their status as two-spirit people. In most tribes, they are considered neither men nor women but occupy a distinct, alternative gender status. While two-spirit people may be associated with native people who identify as LGBTQ, it is more of a term related to traditional beliefs and while the two may have parallels and intersections, they are not the same.

After Melissa, Amanda shared a story of having to dispel her co-worker's misconceptions about gay people in the military. Todd talked about when he worked for Child Protection Services and a father approached him, saying 'You have to meet my son. He's like you.' Todd said, 'Like me? You mean gay?' An awkward beginning turned into a wonderful encounter when Todd met the child and became his role model. 

Alfredo recalled having to confront accusations that he was trying to make his children LGBTQ after choosing a transgender man to be their godfather. The man taught Alfredo about gender identity and sexual orientation, and Alfredo realized that love is love. He has deliberately affirmed that philosophy with his children.

Each speaker opened up and shared moving personal stories. JJ Johnson on her panel experience: "I think everyone left with a renewed sense of commitment and understanding that while we have come far, we still have work to do on educating ourselves and supporting our LGBTQ colleagues and customers. I am optimistic about improving equity here at MDCR."