Reflections from DevOps Professionals on National Coming Out Day

On this episode of The DroidDevCast, Esper Content Marketing Manager Rin Oliver is joined by Buzzfeed Staff Software Engineer Liz Frost, Sysdig Chief Open Source Officer Kris Nova, Zillow Engineering Manager Joe Engel, and Esper Enterprise Account Executive Oscar Leon to discuss National Coming Out Day, how today’s businesses can support their LGBTQIAP+ employees, and much more.

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Please note, the experiences and viewpoints shared in this video are individual perspectives, and they may not be representative of the panelist’s employers.

Coming Out: A Journey of Self Discovery

“National Coming Out day is mostly about being visible,” says Nova. “I see it as an opportunity to make coming out something that feels real as opposed to just some abstract concept.”

“There was a point in my life where every morning I woke up and I wasn’t myself and then I came out and it changed my life,” says Engal. Coming out was “like the first day of my new life. And…I sit and reflect every year and just think about what it was like before [I came out] and what it’s like now that I’ve made it through.”

“I’ve used Coming Out Day to go through more than a few gender transitions,” says Oliver. “I originally came out when I was like 12 and I’m 35 now, so that’s been a while…but gender is ongoing.”

In the panelists’ experience, navigating the tech industry with a LGBTQIAP+ identity is also an ongoing experience. “You don’t wake up one morning and somebody hands you like a letter and says, Hey, you’re gay,” highlights Nova. No one says “welcome to the party …here’s your commemorative CD and your package and enjoy everything.”

Why You Shouldn’t Bring Your Whole Self to Work

Picture of multi-colored bubbles with a rainbow color gradient.

“I don’t think people want to bring their whole selves to work,” says Frost. “They don’t even want that for the cis people…There are aspects of my lived experience that are wholly inappropriate for any work environment.”

And, Frost asks, “should the person who doesn’t believe that trans rights or human rights get to bring their whole self to work? I don’t think they should be at work at all, but I don’t get to control that.”

“So, no,” says Frost. “I don’t want to bring my whole self to work. I really would like to hear is who you are as a person and things that are out of your control, like being queer or trans.”

Frost says she wishes she could bring her whole identity to work “and not have those moments of my life impact my career. That’s all I’m asking for here.”

“I’m trans and I don’t need to show up to work and talk about what happens in the bathroom or surgeries or my love life” says Frost.

Creating an Equitable, Inclusive Workplace for LGBTQIAP+ People

“To us, it goes beyond decorating the office for Pride month, or marching in the (pride) parade every year,” says Leon. “This identity is part of our everyday lives and a part of our life’s story.”

“I personally haven’t had a lot of involvement in LGBTQIA+ groups at previous companies where I have worked, so this was a really amazing experience for me. I was more than happy to share,” said Leon.

Companies need to ask themselves if they actually want to cultivate an inclusive culture, says Frost, or “if they just want all of the ally cookies that goes along with that.”

“If you actually want to cultivate a culture of inclusivity it’s going to take more than an [employee resource group] with a $500 budget,” says Frost. In Frost’s experience, a genuinely inclusive culture can mean “not doing business with a lot of companies that have very deep pockets,” and “firing people who are good engineers but just garbage human beings.”

Genuine progress means “not hiring as fast as you want to because that’s going to lead to a monoculture,” Frost continues. It means “not speaking at every single conference because some of those conferences are going to be filled with people who have terrible opinions.”

Inclusion means “being supportive when your employees come to you about trying to unionize,” continues Frost, “because you can’t extract being queer and being LGBT from economic privilege,” and “you can’t extricate it from racial justice.”

Organizations need to prepare for the fact dismantling monoculture is really, really hard work, believes Frost.

Insights from Esper’s LGBTQIAP Team Members

Esper Enterprise Account Executive Leon shared his thoughts on the panel with Oliver, stating that, “This is a very personal topic to any member of the LGBTQIAP+ community, and I applaud the bravery that each of our guest speakers had to be able to share these experiences in such a public forum.

“I feel very fortunate to have heard from our panelists about their lives before and after coming out to their friends, family and co-workers. Some of us had some similar experiences and others were unique, but at the end of the day, being part of the Tech/Dev and the LGBTQIAP+ community means more brings us together than separates us,” continues Leon.

Oliver also added that for them, their gender identity intersects massively with the fact that they are autistic, and that people often struggle more with accepting their neurodivergence, rather than their gender identity. “I did a few gender updates over the years, but for the most part, my family has been great. My wife’s been great. I’m really lucky in that sense. My wife’s just like, ‘Hmm, you’re changing your gender again. Okay. That’s fun.’ My mom gets the name fine and (so do) other family members.”

“What I found was the most interesting was being autistic and being nonbinary,” says Oliver. “People have a harder time with the autism than they do with the gender. And that’s been interesting.”

“It’s just such a facet of who I am being nonbinary and being autistic that it’s like, it always baffles me when people struggle more with accepting the fact that I’m autistic more than the fact that I’m nonbinary, which is, which is an interesting thing to have happened.”

H4: In this Episode of The DroidDevCast:

01:55 – Why National Coming Out Day matters – and what it means.
04:38 – Coming out stories from tech industry panelists
22:04 – What it means to bring your whole self to work
35:01 – How organizations can cultivate a culture of inclusivity and equity.

You can access the full transcript of this podcast on Simplecast. Stay tuned, because we’ll be releasing another episode of The DroidDev Cast on Friday, October 16th, 2020. Also, the author Oscar Leon would like to acknowledge inputs from his colleagues and collaborators Rin Oliver and Jasmine Henry.

Be sure to like, subscribe, and listen to The DroidDevCast wherever you get your podcasts. Here’s a link to last week’s episode: The DroidDev Cast Episode 4: Why Accessible Design is Universal
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