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Pride Month with Ashton Owens

Celebrating Pride Month with Ashton Owens

Pride Month is when we celebrate, support, and embrace our LGBTQ+ team members and the community. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) are central to Velocity’s purpose and core values – and we are committed to these across all levels and areas of the company.

In honor of Pride Month, a handful of our employees volunteered to share their personal experiences in coming out and what it means to them to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community. We will hear from several of our Velocity team members who are proud to share their stories throughout the month. Coming out stories are deeply personal and very emotional. Every story shared is a unique journey, and no two are alike.

The first story comes from Ashton Owens, a Tier 2 Media Solutions Agent team member who joined Velocity in 2021.

Can you share what it was like for you to come out to your parents and immediate family? Emotions, thoughts, feelings, etc.

Fortunately, I grew up in a very inclusive, open family. When I came out as a lesbian at 16, my parents didn’t bat an eye and responded, “We were waiting for you to tell us, but we already knew.” Fast forward to 2014 and having to come out all over again as transgender. My mother had just passed away in July, but my parents had been divorced for years. I knew that coming out wouldn’t be a big thing for my dad. However, I wasn’t sure how my stepmother would take the news as we didn’t get along very well. To my surprise, coming out as transgender went over just as well as coming out as a lesbian.

Is there something about how your parents handled or took the news about you coming out that you wish they would have done differently? What advice would you give a parent whose child is coming out?

My advice to parents is to listen to their kids. Don’t ignore or dismiss them if they decide to come out. People like me spend a lot of their lives in the closet, and fear is already present. There’s the fear of losing friends and family, not belonging at school, and fear that we could be harmed in some way simply because of our sexuality. Be there for them. Regardless of your beliefs, listen and practice acceptance. I’ve seen firsthand many coming-out situations that end up in tragedy or emotional trauma.

One thing still sticks out to me when I came out as transgender to my dad and stepmother: my stepmother introduced me to someone as her daughter-son. It’s not what she said but how she said it, and she did it often, which made me question whether she wholeheartedly supported me. I would not have felt this way if this incident had been isolated.

Can you share a situation(s) subtle or apparent that you’ve had to face as an LGBTQ person at work or outside of work?

Before working for Velocity, I worked as a chef and restaurant manager for 18 years. Part of my job was making deposits and getting change for the weekends at a nearby bank. I walked into the bank with my wife and was greeted by a bank account manager trying to get us to open up a personal bank account with the bank. We politely tell her, “No, thank you”. While standing in line, she is making small talk with us, just being friendly, or so I thought. I make my deposit get my change order, and we leave.

The following day my wife and I woke up to disturbing hateful Facebook messages from a profile we were not connected with. We did some searching and discovered the hate-filled messages were from the bank employee chatting with us yesterday. The messages this person sent me were threats to my life, and awful things were said to my wife for being with a person like me.

Can you share a professional/personal situation where you felt supported and understood and could be your authentic self as an LGBTQ person?

Most places I’ve worked have been very supportive and inclusive.

There was a period when I ran a small, independently owned kitchen from 2018 to 2021. Initially, the owner was extremely anti-LGBTQ and openly admitted it. He shared that he was raised to believe that anything outside of being heterosexual was wrong.

Over time, he started to ask me about my transition, and it seemed that he was genuinely curious about understanding my journey and that it wasn’t coming from a bad place.

Then in 2019, a transwoman was assaulted by two women from our area. My boss was friends with them and grew up with them and considered them friends. They hung out and got together for drinks a few times a week.

The story made headline news. I do not think I have ever seen someone get so mad so fast. He was livid and started venting (loudly, I might add) and apologizing to me. He felt awful and embarrassed that people he thought were friends physically assaulted someone because society deemed it not normal.

He is no longer friends with those people and, to my surprise, decided to run a two-week benefit to raise funds for the woman that was assaulted. 20% of our weekly and 50% of our weekend revenue were donated directly to the victim of the assault. So, how did I feel supported by this?

The reality is that support and validation do not always have to benefit you to have a meaningful impact on you directly. Before I started working for him, he made inappropriate anti-LGBTQ jokes and would chime in with his buddies when they would make homophobic and transphobic statements. People can change.

Even though I no longer work for him, he still advocates for the LGBTQ community and participates in LGBTQ events by donating his time or cooking for events he cannot physically attend.

There are not enough words to express how supported and understood he made me feel during that time. I will forever be grateful for his willingness to learn and completely change his view of the LGBTQ community.

What does an ally mean to you?

Saying you support the LGBTQ community is just a statement. Statements are not enough – it has to have actions behind it.

  • Ask questions, seek to understand, and apologize when you use the wrong pronoun. No one is perfect, and we are all a work in progress.
  • Advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves. Many of us have fought for so long mentally to be where we are today out, open, and living authentically.

The most significant and impactful way to be an ally for the LGBTQ community is to help by advocating for equal rights across the board, from discrimination in healthcare and workplace environments to anti-bathroom bills.

Lastly, be kind.

Describe a situation where an ally spoke up for you? And what are some ways others can support/speak up and become an ally?

I will never forget the day my wife and I drove to my first hormone replacement appointment. My wife has always been my biggest and most supportive ally. As we were leaving my appointment, my wife said, “just so you know, I will be correcting and putting people in their place that deliberately misgender you even more than I already do.”

Let me tell you, she does, and if they do it maliciously, she continues to correct them until we can remove ourselves from the situation or remove them from our lives.

It’s not hard to respect someone’s pronouns or gender identity. You can support your friends and family and become a great ally by speaking up for them when they can’t. Be their voice when they have taken so much hate and can’t muster the energy to stand up for themselves.

What does Pride Month mean to you? What inspires you to be you?

Pride month means being able to celebrate who I am openly and authentically. I spent 29 years conforming to what everyone else deemed normal. I finally decided that I no longer wanted to do that, even though it meant I would lose friends and family. The quote by David Husted inspired me to live my life the way I wanted and that transitioning was finally the only way I could myself.

“Closets kill. They suffocate us. We drown in our lies, lies that say we’re alright. We’re only alright when we can be seen for who we are.”

What are you most proud of as an LGBTQ person? What do you hope others take away from Pride Month?

Living authentically after years of misery. I hope that people start to understand the meaning of Pride Month. It’s not all about the parades, the drag shows, or festivals. The purpose of Pride Month is to recognize LGBTQ individuals’ impact on society.

We are people who, for so long, lived in the closet and hid our real identities because of fear.

Pride Month was initially inspired by the 1969 Stonewall Uprising or Riot, whichever you believe, and worked to obtain equal rights and opportunities for LGBTQ Americans. Stonewall transformed the LGBTQ movement and the twentieth-century fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States. That is what I want people to take away from and understand about Pride month and its importance for the LGBTQ community.

For those looking to learn more and support the LGBTQ community, do you recommend any groups, movies, TED Talks, books etc?

https://freedomforallamericans.org/is the national campaign dedicated to ensuring that every American, regardless of where they live, is protected under the law from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

https://www.hrc.org/ organization working to achieve equality for all LGBTQ Americans.

https://www.lambdalegal.org/ organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and those with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work.

https://transequality.org/ national social justice organization devoted to ending discrimination and violence against transgender people through education and advocacy on national issues of importance to transgender people.

https://pflag.org/ is the nation’s largest family and ally organization with chapters in almost every state.

https://www.thetrevorproject.org focuses on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning LGBTQ youth.

How can Velocity and/or other companies be more inclusive and support its LGBTQ team members? What can/should other companies be doing?

  • Show potential job candidates the inclusive practices of the company from the first encounter
  • Offer benefits for LGBTQ staff and everyone else, such as family leave and health coverage that does not exclude LGBTQ care and surgeries
  • Sponsor Pride or other LGBTQ events in the community
  • Remove references to only male/female gender options in hiring materials
  • Encourage employees and future candidates to share their pronouns in conversation or written communication, such as email signatures
  • Highlight employee resource groups in recruitment materials

Thank you, Ashton, for sharing your heartfelt story with us. We’re extremely proud of all our team members and are dedicated to ensuring that Velocity is a place of inclusiveness and an environment where all of our team members feel comfortable being themselves and supported.

Let’s all continue to celebrate, educate, and share the history of Pride.

Interviewed by Sarah Chamber Chambers, Corporate Communications Manger.

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