LGBTQ+ employees share their stories for National Coming Out Day event

From left: Cmdr. Alyce Grillet, Mark Hoursey, Jiyati Verma and Erin “Lizzie” Orbaker speak as part of a National Coming Out Day event at Patuxent River, Md., Oct. 11. (U.S. Navy photo)

From left: Cmdr. Alyce Grillet, Mark Hoursey, Jiyati Verma and Erin “Lizzie” Orbaker speak as part of a National Coming Out Day event at Patuxent River, Md., Oct. 11. (U.S. Navy photo)

Oct 18, 2017

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HEADQUARTERS, NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.— For many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning plus (LGBTQ+) people, coming out at work can be challenging and frightening.

A panel of four LGBTQ+ NAVAIR employees spoke about their experiences coming out at work at an event for National Coming Out Day Oct. 11. This annual LGBTQ+ awareness day was founded in 1988 to acknowledge and celebrate the voluntary self-disclosure of living openly as an LGBTQ+ person.

“Why does it matter?” Steven Ramiro, co-administrator of NAVAIR’s LGBTQ+A Advisory Team, asked the approximately 50 employees who attended the event. “Being out in the context of work is like constantly balancing on a tightrope. Without the support of our community and teammates, it’s almost impossible to be out at work. We can all play a role in making it less challenging and knock down barriers to understanding.”

The four panelists echoed Ramiro’s sentiments. Coming out, they explained, is a continual process that involves constantly balancing their personal identity and authenticity with the challenges associated with being out in the workplace. Before coming out, panelists sometimes felt they needed to tailor, censor or even hide their personal lives from people in their workplace.

Erin “Lizzie” Orbaker, who identifies as pansexual and a transgender woman, said she was worried about losing friends and respect at work. She came out in June to her co-workers. “Finding your identity can take a long time,” she said. “You feel like you’re lying to everyone around you.”

Orbaker said being out at work is freeing. “Being out allows you the freedom to talk about your family and be yourself. You don’t have to hide who you are for fear of rejection,” she said.

Jiyati Verma, who came out this year as bisexual, said coming out can relieve members of the LGBTQ+ community of the stress of being stigmatized. The panelists spoke of how that type of stress can sometimes lead to mental health issues. To her, “it [coming out] matters, because it gives context.”

Mark Hoursey said he initially wanted his work to speak for itself and not let his personal life influence his work ethic. However, after attending Capital Pride in Washington, D.C., in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, the same weekend, he wanted to be able to share his experience and thoughts on it with his co-workers.

“We still see hatred for us being ourselves,” he said. “I wanted my work to speak for itself, but now I can be fully myself wherever I go. I know who I am, and I choose myself.”

Cmdr. Alyce Grillet, lead for the Patuxent River chapter of NAVAIR’s LGBTQ+A Advisory Team, worked most of her 19-year military career under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law. She came out this year to her co-workers after a career of secrecy.

“Finally, I can just be me, get my job done and not carry the burden anymore,” she said.

Panelists said feeling included while at work is important for their morale and motivation.

“We can’t have the NAVAIR we need to have without inclusion,” Grillet said. “At NAVAIR, we’re responsible for our command climate. I’m accountable for me and the pocket of space I hold. Be a leader who wants to make people feel comfortable. Care about people around you as human beings.”

Panelists encouraged employees to ask questions and learn more about their LGBTQ+ co-workers.

“Take the initiative to learn when you don’t know about something,” Orbaker advised. “Educate yourself, ask questions. That is the best way to normalize and help the community.” 

“Question by question, this is a mountain all of us can overcome,” Verma agreed.

The LGBTQ+A Advisory Team was established in October 2016 to foster a diverse, inclusive and equitable environment where all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, can fully participate and contribute toward accomplishing NAVAIR's mission. For more information on NAVAIR’s inclusion and diversity initiatives, watch the video.

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3 Comments, Please review our Feedback Guidelines.

Karen said

It's refreshing to see the spirit of inclusion at work in southern Maryland. Thank you!

October 19, 2017 at 9:03:08 PM EDT

RosemaryPezzuto said

As a retiree from the United States Coast Guard I'm pleased to see that you are taking the topic of inclusions seriously. We need to treat every member of our community with dignity and respect. Your openness to this is amazing

October 19, 2017 at 8:46:13 PM EDT

Jesse Cummings said

I'm so glad to see NAVAIR moving in a progressive direction like this. Everyone should feel comfortable within this organization regardless of gender, race, or disability, and the creation of this diversity group and holding events like these help make that a reality.

October 19, 2017 at 6:22:26 PM EDT


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