This is Amy.
- She’s worked in financial services for 15 years.
- She has a musical theater degree and performs around Birmingham, Alabama.
- She’s a member of a local church.
- She does a lot of volunteer work.
- She has a dog that’s “a nightmare,” she says, half-jokingly.
This is Bob.
- He’s worked in financial services for 37 years.
- He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.
- Two of his favorite activities: traveling and sailing.
- He was married for 25 years and has two daughters.
- He adopted a vegan diet about eight years ago.
This is Kirk.
- He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
- He works in financial services, too – specifically, the Human Resources side.
- He has two children – a son who’s 17 and a daughter who’s about to turn 14.
- Kirk jokes that, unlike Bob, he’s a carnivore.
There’s a lot to get to know about Amy, Bob and Kirk. They’ve traveled different paths. They have different areas of expertise. But they all work for Regions. And they all recently made a courageous decision.
They shared an aspect of their private lives that they have in common. Each is either a member of – or has a deeply personal connection to – the LGBTQ+ community.
Amy, Bob and Kirk joined Clara Green, Regions’ head of Diversity and Inclusion, for an open, honest discussion that was streamed to Regions offices throughout the Southeast, Midwest and Texas.
Through sharing their experiences, Amy, Bob and Kirk are helping Regions associates continue an ongoing journey toward two goals: Greater awareness of the diverse backgrounds people bring to the workplace. And greater inclusivity of those whose experiences are different than others.
Here’s a little more about Amy’s story: She identifies as bisexual. For years, people she worked with didn’t know. She was very familiar with the practice called “covering.” That’s when someone tones down their personal identify to fit into the mainstream. People often cover because they fear they might not be accepted if others know about their sexual identity.
“It is a very uncomfortable place to live,” Amy shared with colleagues. “It’s something that feels very unsafe.”
Amy’s concerns were well-founded. Several years ago, she was outed by a former coworker. She immediately saw a change in how some people treated her.
Since then, Amy has moved into her current role in Regions’ Corporate Marketing department. There, she had the chance to come out at the time of her choosing. She talked about the day it happened – when a female colleague was inviting people to a party.
“It was this moment of, ‘This is your chance to be brave and to step forward and be honest about it,’” Amy said. “She asked me specifically, ‘Are you going to bring your boyfriend?’ I said, ‘No, but I’ll bring my girlfriend.’ And that’s a coming out moment. That was the point where I stopped hiding it. That was the point where I stopped changing the pronouns and changing the names. It was just part of who I was.”
It took courage. And Amy is grateful for the support she has received.
“I have grown to know – and to be known – and to be loved by lots of people on my teams and people I work with directly,” Amy said.
Bob’s story is different. He and his wife had been married for 25 years. Colleagues knew about their two daughters, who had grown up while Bob’s career advanced.
But there came a time to address a reality. Bob came out to his family as gay. It was a difficult chapter, with his marriage coming to an end. At the same time, his family was supportive.
Coming out to colleagues, though, was another challenge.
“Were they still going to like me when they knew I was gay? Was it going to change how they view me overall?” he wondered.
He was relieved when he found acceptance, even if many people were surprised. “I had a resoundingly positive experience with everybody I told at Regions,” he added.
Kirk’s story is different, too. He does not identify as LGBTQ+. Rather, about two years ago, his son, then 15, asked his dad if they could go to dinner. There, during the conversation, Kirk’s son came out as gay.
“Overwhelmingly, I was thrilled and proud and loved him so much for being able to come to a place where he could feel comfortable coming out,” Kirk said. Even so, Kirk also felt concerned, because despite a society that is more accepting, “I knew deep down he was going to get differential treatment.”
It’s that differential treatment that discussions like this one seek to prevent.
“We are doing this to build the bridge to inclusion,” Clara Green told the audience. “This conversation is really about belonging – and how we can foster a sense of belonging for our colleagues who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Green called on Maigen Sullivan of the Invisible Histories Project to share perspectives designed to help people who are not LGBTQ+ become more aware of issues faced by their LGBTQ+ friends, family and colleagues. One of the main points: words matter.
“It can get really confusing with language,” Sullivan explained. “People don’t want to say anything because they don’t want to say the wrong thing.”
So Sullivan offered guidance on terminology.
“A word that you probably hear a lot is ‘homosexual.’ That word has almost completely died out,” she said. “That word was used as a way to describe an illness or as something incorrect about someone. So you’ll want to use ‘LGBT,’ ‘LGBTQ,’ ‘gay,’ or words like that, instead of ‘homosexual.’”
Further, “The word ‘lifestyle,’ such as ‘gay lifestyle’ and phrases like that, were used as a way to be flippant about who we are,” she said. “It implies it’s something simple – a choice that you could change if you wanted to. I don’t hear ‘lifestyle’ very much anymore. But it is something to avoid.”
Sullivan added, “Another one that you might hear is ‘transsexual.’ Again, that is a word that has died out.” Rather, “trans” or “transgender” are more appropriate for referencing someone who is gender-nonconforming, Sullivan said.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that a person’s sexual orientation is only part of who they are.
“There are so many other ways you could describe me beyond the person that I date,” Amy said. “It’s the difference between saying, ‘This is Amy, my bisexual friend,’ versus, ‘This is my friend, Amy. She’s an actor. She’s a sister. She’s a daughter. She’s a really cool aunt.”
“I’m a lot more than my sexuality,” added Bob. “I didn’t change when I came out. I’m still the person I am and just getting people to realize that, I think, is important for everybody.”
One more word to mention: ally.
“‘Ally’ is something people call themselves when they’re trying to say, ‘Hey, I am an okay space. I am safe for you to talk to,” Sullivan said to Bob’s, Amy’s and Kirk’s colleagues. Beyond being an ally to LGBTQ+ coworkers, Sullivan encouraged people to serve as an advocate. “This is somebody who is not just going to say, ‘Hey, you can come tell me things.’ This is someone who will also say, ‘I’ll help you figure this out. We’ll work together. We’re a team. We’re a family.’”
The discussion was the latest in an ongoing series of conversations Regions is organizing among associates. Each month, Green is bringing together people from different backgrounds to share their experiences with coworkers and foster a greater understanding among each other.
“We hope that people come away from these discussions feeling more knowledgeable,” Green concluded. “And recognizing that each associate here at Regions can help us continue to build a culture of belonging.”