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Recognizing a Couple’s Journey During LGBTQ+ History Month

October 19, 2021      By Amy Coons, Olivia Carney
LGBTQ inclusion graphic.

Have you ever edited yourself? Maybe you’re at a family dinner, and you suddenly realize you have vastly different beliefs than everyone else at the table. You sit in silence and politely pass the mashed potatoes. The entire car ride home, you feel disconnected, disheartened, and disappointed in yourself.

Or maybe you received feedback that you ask too many questions. So before going into a meeting, you remind yourself to limit the questions you ask and tone down your volume. You spend the entire session bouncing your leg under the table, holding back your curiosity and passion, and leave feeling dismissed and disengaged.

Or perhaps you hold the unpopular belief that Dolly Parton isn’t an American treasure. She’s just too much sunshine for your heavy metal soul. So, you double down and blast Metallica as you drive past a flood of Dolly fans heading to her sold-out concert.

Whatever the scenario (at home or work, coerced or voluntary), over time, self-editing can have a damaging effect on your wellbeing. This can be especially true for people who are minorities because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical and mental abilities, gender identity, religion or spiritual beliefs, and/or veteran status.

Self-Editing Experts

My wife, Amy, and I were experts at self-editing. Our livelihood depended on it. In 2010, we owned a graphic design business in Indiana with a clientele that was not supportive or accepting of our relationship. So, we referred to each other as “business partners” and made every effort to be as vague as possible about our relationship and lives. For example, if asked what I did over the weekend, I would say things like, “I binge-watched Downton Abbey.” Never, “we binge-watched Downton Abbey and are obsessed!” This may seem like a small sacrifice to make for the success of our business, but over time, it felt inauthentic and diminished our sense of belonging in the world.

A Change of Mind and Heart

In 2013, when Amy and I sold our business and moved to North Carolina, we promised each other that our days of editing ourselves and our relationship were over. Without much of a plan, we simply decided that going forward we would be honest about who we are regardless of the circumstances and let the chips fall where they may.

When Amy started working for RS&H in September 2013, it changed our lives. Within Amy’s first week, we learned that I could receive insurance benefits as her domestic partner. It was validation that RS&H acknowledged and respected our relationship. Soon after, when Amy was asked during a meeting what she did over the weekend, and no one batted an eye when she replied that she unpacked moving boxes with her girlfriend, our sense of belonging at the company strengthened significantly.

Three years after that, in 2015, when the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, several of Amy’s RS&H colleagues celebrated our wedding with us. These relationships fostered a connection that everyone benefits from, and that still endures today.

Everyone Benefits

Fast forward eight years, and I, too, call RS&H my employer of choice. From the long and sometimes painful journey that led us to present day, we’ve learned that when you work for a company with employees who accept you completely as you are, you can fully dial into your job rather than spending that time and energy editing yourself. For me, this sense of freedom helped my creativity flow more naturally. And, for Amy, it helped build her confidence and strengthened her sense of belonging.

Courage Is Contagious

Showing up unedited is critical to activating change within society, companies, and ourselves. In celebration of National LGBTQ+ History Month, I am reminded of the trailblazers who courageously shared their authentic selves with the world and the impact they have made.

People like Edith S. (Edie) Windsor who worked at IBM for 16 years, starting as a mainframe programmer and later rising to the company’s highest technical rank, Senior Systems Programmer. Edie later became an LGBTQ+ rights activist whose 2013 landmark victory over the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) set the stage for marriage equality for all. And Bayard Rustin, an advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who posthumously won the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his activism across several civil rights initiatives, including the instrumental role he played in the March on Washington.

While not all LGBTQ+ historical leaders and activists were out and free to live unedited, every contribution made (and still being made)—big and small, individual and collective—nudged the pendulum towards inclusivity and equality.

Amy and I hope that by sharing our unedited story, in words and art, others will join us in being courageously authentic too. In doing so, we open ourselves up to deeper connections that foster a greater sense of belonging and improve our overall wellbeing.

And, finally, while we respect other people’s preferences in music and entertainment, our truth is that Dolly Parton is, indeed, a National Treasure.

Top graphic: Original artwork by Amy Coons

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