Season 3 Episode 12:
Out in the Workplace

Phil: Hey, this is Phil aka Corinne.

Alex: And I’m Alex Berg. And you are listening to the

Phil/Alex: I’m From Driftwood podcast.

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On today’s I’m From Driftwood podcast, we are talking about two different stories about being out at work or really maybe I should say the perils that come along with having to negotiate your identity in the workplace. And for our listeners, my apologies, I’m having some tech troubles today. So my audio might sound a little different than it normally sounds, but Phil, should we kick this off?

Phil: Yeah, let’s do it.

Michael: I’m Michael Cox. I’m from Harlan, Kentucky. So one time I was on a flight sitting next to a person who was clearly a businessman dressed in a suit, salt and pepper hair, much like me, pretty much the same size. And we were on about a six hour flight across country. So I was going to be really close to him for about six hours. So as we start to make small talk, he asked me about what my wife does, and I realized as our thighs rubbed together, that I probably shouldn’t tell him that I was gay. So I actually made up a story about my wife being a school teacher. Now at the time, my partner was a school teacher, so I just changed the gender. But I told him this story about my wife and literally changed every pronoun for the comfort of him so that we could sit next to each other for that six hour flight.

After we finished our small talk in about the first 20 minutes of the flight, I had the next five and a half hours to think about how I had not been honest with this person. And while we were both comfortably uncomfortable sitting next to each other, he had no idea who I was and I had not been honest with him and I’d really betrayed my own relationship and who I really was. So I decided at that point that I wouldn’t do that again. So years later, I was working for a new employer, fortune one company, number one retailer, Walmart, headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, the heart of the south. And I was traveling there on business. So it was my first trip to meet my new colleagues. I had been with the company for about two months and I was flying from San Francisco, California, basically the cradle of the LGBTQ community of the universe to Bentonville, Arkansas.

It wasn’t until I thought about it as I was on the flight to Bentonville and realized that I had a pride pin that was on my badge, that I knew that I was going to have to either hide who I really was and take that pin off or keep that pin in and come out to everyone I met during that visit. My bag was down below the seat in front of me. So I pulled the bag out and I took the pin off. Then I thought about the consequences of doing that. And in case I ran into anyone who knew I was a member of the ERG, or they maybe even would see the hole in my badge where that pin would’ve been. I knew that that wouldn’t look like I was being authentic. So I put the pin back in. Well, then I started thinking about all the people I was going to meet and what their biases may be against people who are LGBTQ.

So I took the pin back out. So then I realized I may run into people I know from California. So I put the pin back in. So literally for the four hours of the flight to Texas, and then the two hours from Texas to Bentonville, Arkansas, I was putting the pin in, taking it back out until I finally decided right before landing in Bentonville that I needed to have that pin in and be my true and authentic self. My first meeting with someone who I knew was fairly conservative. I had read his bio, I had seen his background, I knew his politics. And so I was really concerned about that first meeting. Literally walking into the building, I was still debating whether to take the pin off or to leave it in. And I decided to leave it in. He actually turned out to be one of my best relationships.

And even though we never talked about being gay or talked about pride at Walmart, he was very supportive of me in my career and helped me work in network within Bentonville and remains a friend even until this day. So as I flew back to California, and I was reflecting on the visit, I had a real sense of pride that I had worn my pin, my pride pin per se. I had worn my pin and I had been my authentic self to everyone. For me personally, I think the active coming out is something that everyone has to decide when it’s right for them. And I think that’s why we see in the workplace. A lot of times executives who don’t come out is because for whatever reason, they’re not comfortable in being out and being their authentic selves. But I think the decisions behind that are so personal.

I think our responsibility as corporate leaders is to make sure that we create environments, where whoever you are at whatever level of the organization, you can be out and proud. If you can’t be your true and authentic self, maybe that’s not the right employer. So I wanted to share this story. So people know how important it is to be in an environment where you can be your full self.

Phil: Listening to Michael, put the pin on, take the pin off, put the pin on, take it off. It just reminded me. It’s like, we cannot forget how much anxiety that used to bring when it was something new and fresh for us that we hadn’t experienced. And some of the feelings of like, what could happen to me if I come out to this person? What could happen to me if I am being authentic right now? What are the consequences of that? Now we have laws that protect people. But even with those laws, people are still afraid sometimes to come out at work. They’re still afraid of it. Right now, we’re in COVID times and a lot of people are working from home and you think, okay, so that makes it very comfortable for everyone.

But there are people who have now moved back home with their parents or wherever, and they’re not out. And it doesn’t make it easy for them to be out anywhere. So I kind of just wanted to mention how scary it is sometimes to remember what that felt like. And I completely understand why Michael was like, I’m going to put this pin on. Nope, I’m going to take it off. Whoop. Nope. I’m going to put it on. I can see why that would’ve happened that whole dialogue, that must have been happening in his head.

Alex: Just like the ruminating over. Should I do this? Should I not do this? It kind of speaks to just how big of a deal it was for him. And also that, like, there are places where you can still legally be fired even though there are now it’s the laws that have been instituted in Supreme Court cases that have been decided, it’s still, there are a lot of cases where you can get fired, if you’re an Apple employee and nobody has to provide you with a reason, it’s just still so easy for bias to be present in the workplace. And so I just think that like ruminating over, should I wear the pin? Shouldn’t I wear the pin? And then also that like even weighing me kind of interpersonal consequences of like, oh my God, what if my friend who’s out sees me and I don’t have the pin on what [inaudible 00:06:58]?

And I honestly, when I was listening to that story, I had to check myself a little bit because my reaction, I think Phil, to your point about having to go back and remember what it was like, I have this great privilege of living in New York and reporting on LGBTQ issues. And so for me, I think so much of navigating being out and the workplace has been about like just owning it, and being so in people’s faces about it. That I had to remind myself that like, it’s really scary and definitely in the beginning. And definitely if you don’t have the privilege of being in a place for fuel, like I’m in.

Phil: Alex, you bring up a good point. We could take it for granted. We’re both very, fortunate to be in the careers that we are, where we can talk be out and proud and talk about, being clear, we can take it for granted. But I think that what struck me about Michael’s the first trip he took, was this thought of like, I will never do that again, like this first business trip that he referenced about, talking to this man and changing pronouns so that it appeared that his partner was a woman, he walked away being like, I will never do that again. So he seemed very clear about that. But yet years later, this trip came and the same anxiety sort of came back. So I do, I know I just made this point, but like, I really do love the idea of thinking that it can seem easy at this place that we’re at right now in history and time to come out and to be out and to be visible, which I think is so important for everyone.

It’s not just you, that you’re affecting when you’re out and you’re visible, you’re affecting people who might be in the closet and might want to come out themselves. But I think it’s just important to note that like, it’s a pretty scary thing. If it’s something new to you and something you just don’t know what the consequences are going to be.

Ingrid: My name is Ingrid Galvez Thorp, and I’m originally from new Rochelle, New York. Leading up to the ’96 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, I found out at my job that there was opportunities to transfer. They were looking to build out diversity. And so they were actively recruiting people that were diverse, who were from other countries who spoke other languages. They wanted to really showcase that they were a diverse company. And I jumped at the opportunity and I was thrilled. Within a couple of weeks of getting there, there’s a huge gathering of all these recruits from all across the country, who were the, basically the diversity team. And so here we are. We get invited by, not just our boss, but our boss’ boss. And she was a big deal. Everyone’s getting to know each other. Where are you from? What school did you go to? And everyone’s having a great time.

Lunch is being served, swept away. Dessert is being served, swept away. And the next thing you hear is her asking the server for a hot cup of coffee. He brings her cup, she starts drinking it. Everybody’s-the conversation picks up again. The next thing you notice is that the server’s back and he ask how everything is and does anybody need anything else? And so at this point, she picks up her coffee and sticks her pinky in it and says, “I piss hotter than this. I ordered a hot cup of coffee. Now, if you could, or if you would please bring me a hot cup of coffee.” Puts it down. We all had this almost like this bubble above our head, saying, “What the hell did I just sign up for?” And I just breathed in and breathed out and tried to keep cool and pretend that, “no big deal, no big deal.”

Then everybody goes back to their respective bases and works and does everything they’re supposed to do. So, here I am, I’m excited to meet my new colleagues, my new coworkers, and I’m getting to meet them one at a time based on our schedules and when we’re being assigned to work together. And there’s one guy who came and it was like, “Oh, Hey, so-and-so, you know, glad to have you.” And then when I spoke up and she asked me where I was from, and I told her I was from New York, she was like, “Oh, you’re a Yankee.” I had been warned that when someone says stuff like that, that there’s hidden meaning behind it and I thought, okay, so this is where I am. I went with an open mind and an open heart. And it was really sad for me, to recognize the subtle digs that were taken against me.

You knew who was from originally from the area and you definitely knew who they had imported in, if you will. Here, I am, showing up to work, plugging along, and a few months later, I get a call from my boss’ boss. She invited me to lunch and it was just the two of us. It was at like California Pizza Kitchen. And we sat across from each other in a small booth. And she wanted to know how things were going for me and whether I was experiencing anything negatively. And I shared with her that I didn’t think anything bad was happening. I thought that I was, showing up doing a good job and that everything else was okay.

She then went on to tell me that some of my colleagues had approached her, letting her know that they had a difficult time with me and that they were uncomfortable and she stopped. She says, “It’s been brought to my attention that year lesbian.” All I could do is gulp and utter. “Yes, I am. And I was cringing on the inside. I didn’t know, did my answer mean that I was fired? I had no idea. And I just looked at her and she leaned over and she said, “My sister is a butch dyke.” And she got a big smile on her face. And just said, “Now, if anybody gives you a hard time, don’t mess with that. You just come see me and I will handle it.” That moment clearly is still with me 21 years later, I’m still affected by those words, simply because those words gave me permission to show up as who I was, gave me permission to be authentic in my personal and my work life.

And I had an ally, the lunch with my boss changed me. And the ways that it changed me was it made me a much more dedicated employee, a much more conscientious employee. It really, I don’t know, it dug to the core of fully embracing the company that you’re working for, championing for your company and being an advocate for your company and being proud of where you are working and letting everybody know, “Hey, I work here and yes, I’m really proud of it, because people that work here are great and we do good stuff and we make good things happen and why not.” And so, I rode that as long as I could, for sure.

Alex: With that, you just heard her story. And now she’s back to catch up here to help broaden our conversation on this topic. Please welcome back to I’m From Driftwood, Ingrid.

Ingrid: Hello. Hello.

Phil: Hey, well Ingrid, welcome back.

Ingrid: Oh, thanks. Good to be back. Driftwood has been part of my life for over 10 years, so it’s always nice to visit.

Alex: Well, we’re so excited to dig in further to this topic, but first with all that is going on in the world, we’d love to know how you’re doing?

Ingrid: I got to say I’m doing really well with all the madness. And it actually goes back to the story. That experience changed the trajectory of my career. It positioned me to be in a different space and has afforded me this really incredible luxury and privilege to be out in the workplace, as well as explore how to show up.

Phil: You sat down with I’m From Driftwood in 2017. And I’m wondering, do you have any interesting or fun memories from that day when you taped your story?

Ingrid: It was hot and humid and Damien just made me laugh and we couldn’t get it right. And then of course telling, sharing the story. I actually got to a place where I didn’t recognize, I was reliving the story versus telling the story. And I actually broke down and cried, and it was such a release because it was a story that Nate wanted me to tell flirt a one time. And I was really resistant. And I was like, I don’t know. It’s just, it’s so packed in. There’s so much about it. And the one thing was that it really did afford me this opportunity to release so much of the emotion of not sharing, even within a safe space, a loving, caring, empathetic, compassionate space that Damien and Nate create for every storyteller and so it was really something else. Because I mean, you can even see like where it’s spliced. It was like, there’s not enough makeup. It’s going to cover this mess. So let’s just keep it moving.

It is what it is. You at some point you just got to be like, “Hey, this is the real” and that was a real moment for me. Was getting myself back together compartmentalizing to be able to share the story and not relive it and not make it part of my today world.

Alex: Oh yeah. It sounds like, you were just working through all the feelings as you are telling the story would bring up so much. And I mean, you really just listening to the story, you get a sense of how compelling it is. And there’s also a plot twist. That was a little bit unexpected just from the way that the story was set up. So let’s like backtrack a little bit through what happened. At the top of the story, you talked about getting this new position during a transfer. Had you been out at your job or other jobs before you transferred?

Ingrid: Okay. So the real real is, I was straight out of college. I was already out and I just had this opportunity of one of my really good friends from high school had moved down to Atlanta. I was like, “Oh, I’ll have a roommate. I’ll at least know one person.” And I was really comfortable with me and my skin. I’m not going to lie. It took a minute to get there, but it was a really interesting time. I mean, I grew up here in Westchester. I grew up in New Rochelle and everyone knows New Rochelle’s it’s like the gateway dug for, New York City kids. I went to FIT, I started attending school there when I was 16, so I was very quickly getting comfortable with who I was. So by the time I graduated college and got a job, I was just like, I’m just who I am.

It wasn’t a matter of me being at, it was just me being me. And when the opportunity to go from New York city to Atlanta popped up, it was a real moment of contention with my family. When I told my mother that I had taken this job, my mom’s response was south? Brooklyn is south. And that is the general feeling for my family, who’s all over New York. And they told me to be careful. And that was the thing that they were most concerned about. For me was, angry. You got a mouth on you, you’re going to say, be careful down there. They don’t play. Like we’ve seen the movies. And so I was like, You know what? I would like to go and have this experience and I want to be open minded. And I want to not think about those things because I’m hopeful that that’s not going to be my experience.

And so when I got there and it was, first of all, it was a female dominated environment of fragrance. And everybody that I work with was female or female identified. And everybody talked about their boyfriends and their husbands and their whatever. And they asked me, if I had a boyfriend and I told them, no, I didn’t. I was like, well, why is that important? And they were like, “Oh no, we’re just trying to figure out like, you know who you are.” And I was like, “Well, I date girls.” So there’s that. So I’m never going to talk about a boyfriend unless I’m talking about my girlfriends. And that was very jarring to them. One of the things, we didn’t get an opportunity to discuss in the story, it was really how that set the wheels in motion for other things. I started getting a lot of invites to go to church and it was not my thing. And they took real offense to it and they actually started a campaign to get me fired. And so that was actually what my luncheon was about.

Phil: You talk about, one of your coworkers referring to you or calling you a Yankee and the hidden meaning behind that, and we all know that that is clearly a microaggression. Tell us, did you encounter any other microaggressions from some of your other colleagues?

Ingrid: Oh yes. Exclusion was a constant. And so I just, the microaggression when she referred to me as a Yankee and I said, “Oh, you say that as if that’s the bad thing, you know, Yankees are the winningest team,” and that just enraged her even more. And when I saw her turn pink, I was like, I got your number. I know who you are. And no matter what you say to me, I’m determined to not let, who you are influence how I’m going to show up. And I continued and I thrived in that, I thrived in the environment, despite the circumstances, because I had those words of I’ve got your back.

Alex: This story does have a plot twist because I have to say, when you started to talk about that moment, when your boss was so affirming to you, that was not the direction that I expected it to go in. Just because of the incident with your boss being kind of awful about the server at the coffee shop. So it took a different turn than, I guess I thought maybe that’s an unfair assumption on my part, what was it like for you in that moment? Was it a plot twist for you too?

Ingrid: A hundred percent? I was shocked. I was like, first of all, that you even know what butch is. And then that you would be like, oh, and that’s my sister. And oh, if they come for you, come get me. I’ve got you. That was like, this is the Twilight zone moment of my career. And at the same time, it was that moment that I felt, I’ve always referred to that moment as the moment I was given permission to be who I was going to be every day that I showed up to work and that it was okay. And that was the greatest gift that I could have ever gotten as a young person, starting out in my first job ever, where I actually had made enough money that I could live alone and pay my bills and do my stuff. And that was kind of crazy.

And it was great. Because I just, I kept getting promoted and getting promoted until I ended up leaving the company, working for the competition and having an even better [inaudible] kick ass time and getting to meet, Dalai Lama and of doing like amnesty international work and doing all kinds of cool things. But I don’t know that I would’ve had the sense of self to be able to do that if I had not had that initial challenging moment. And interestingly enough, there are about half a dozen people that I worked with in that first job that to this day I’m friends with. So that was valuable to have, people talk about like, “We’ve been friends since we were kids.” You know what, there’s something about being friends with someone, because you grew up in the same neighborhood or your parents know each other or whatever. There’s something where you go out in the world and you forge your friendships, you build them on your own terms. It’s fascinating to me.

Phil: So you talk about still being in touch with some of those people from your first job. Are you still in touch with that boss?

Ingrid: No. And I have searched for her. I searched for her with everything that I could ever remember at who she was to just say, thank you.

Alex: One of the things that I has stuck with me about your story is it, wasn’t just how your boss affirmed you in that moment, but it really just set off almost like a domino effect of this change for you. And it made you a more, you said a dedicated and conscientious employee. What did you mean by that? And I guess, how do you feel clear people show up as better employees when we don’t have to hide a part of ourselves?

Ingrid: The thing that it did for me, when I talk about making me conscientious was that it affirms me. It said, you won a spot on this team. Now you just have to speak up. And that’s what I did. If I had opportunities to hire clear people, I did. And I’m completely unapologetic about it. I don’t care and not then and certainly not now.

Phil: Did you ever have to text your boss up on her offer? Did you ever have to call her and be like, I need you.

Ingrid: No, no. Very shortly after our conversation, even though I had all of her contacts at that time, she actually was promoted to lead on the west coast. And at this point, it’s like three years and everyone’s moving on to that next role and looking for where do they fit in this world and how do they want to be in, how do they want to participate? So, but yeah, I’ve always wanted to say just thank you. And what do you say to somebody who literally gives you, you?

Alex: Well, one thing that we often talk about on this podcast is just the idea of clear visibility in media, but what do you think, how do you think being an open LGBTQ person in the workplace also extends to that sense of visibility?

Ingrid: Oh. It’s so vital. It’s vital. I remember growing up and I didn’t know, people on TV, it was always seemingly a joke. It was always a sad thing. So the idea that I could show up in an environment that was actively hostile to me and continue to show up and I showed up and it was on my terms. No matter what they were ditching me, I gave it right back. I always maintained my professionalism in the workplace. Never letting them see me sweat it and really honestly, getting to the place of giving a crap about what anybody thought of me and really embracing, you hear that expression. What somebody thinks to me is none of my business really embracing that. And they’re like, you know what? There’s tons of shit I think about other people.

So whatever. It’s turn around to fair play. You can think that I’m going to hell and I can think that you’re dumb as hell. It’s, meet me in the middle, get to know me. Don’t just judge me. Everyone’s complicated. And so it is really interesting to have, this other part of who I am, also influence the way that I show up. But when it comes to clear visibility, there’s what, how many see lesbian clear CEOs or gay CEOs, you can count them. There’s a clear CEO at Land O’Lakes, my favorite salted butter. And to be able to say, “Hey, here’s something who has access privilege and visibility and doesn’t hide, and doesn’t hide herself or hide her family. I think that’s really powerful.” We show up in so many different ways. That’s why visibility is so important. I’ve been really fortunate to meet incredible humans that are part of the corporate landscape and getting an opportunity to meet them. To me, was empowering to say, “Oh, wow, we have a long way.” But I think it is really important. And it demonstrates just the normalcy of who we are, it’s human.

Alex: As we start to wind down a little bit. What advice would you give a young LGBTQ plus person who is nervous about coming out at work?

Ingrid: Get to know people and watch people’s behaviors, listen to their words and really observe their actions. It’s taking it to the playground, actions speak louder than words, and depending on what part of the country or the world you’re in, it is going to determine how quickly you gain that, that comfort, that trust, that you might build with a colleague.

Phil: Ingrid. This has been a great conversation. I’d love to have you tell everyone where they can find you, where can they find more Ingrid if they’re looking for you, like social media, websites, like tell us where we can find you?

Ingrid: Sure I’m on LinkedIn. I’m Ingrid Galvez Thorp. Really that’s where I navigate my world of inclusivity at work, as well as inclusive workplace practices, which I teach more equitable association, the society for human resource management. So that’s yet another one of those things where I have the opportunity and honor and privilege to share, not just who I am, but my experiences with SVPs of HR, CHROs, CDOs and or chief diversity officers, and have honest conversations about what their clear employees may be experiencing and the language that’s being used in the workplace just they work on their strategies and D and I initiatives and the importance of those initiatives, as well as the potential pitfalls and how to offset that.

Phil: Well, Ingrid, thank you so much for being with us today. And also it’s really nice to hear you talk more about your story. Just so expand on it a little bit. It was great to hear from just straight from your mouth and just to hear more about what happened. So I really appreciate having you with us today.

Ingrid: Oh, you two are amazing. I’m such a fan of both of you. So.

Alex: Gosh, thank you. We are fans of you truly appreciate your time and getting to hear more of story.

Ingrid: Thank you so much.

Phil: I’m From Driftwood podcast is hosted by Phil AKA Corinne.

Alex: And Alex Berg, and is produced by Andy Egan-Thorpe. It’s recorded as a program of I’m From Driftwood, the LGBTQAI+ story archive.

Phil: Its mission is to send a life saving message to clear and trans people everywhere. You are not alone.

Alex: I’m From Driftwoods founder and executive director is Nathan Manske. It’s program director is Damien Mittlefehldt.

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Phil: This program is supported in park by public funds from the New York City Department Of Cultural Affairs.

Alex: In partnership with the City Council.

Phil: Additional funding is provided by the Humanities New York Sharp Grant with support from the National Endowment For The Humanities and The Federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Alex: Thanks for listening y’all.

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