On this episode of The DroidDevCast, Esper Content Marketing Manager Rin Oliver is joined by Buzzfeed Staff Software Engineer Liz Frost, Sysdig Chief Open Source Officer Kris Nova, Zillow Engineering Manager Joe Engel, and Esper Enterprise Account Executive Oscar Leon to discuss National Coming Out Day, how today's businesses can support their LGBTQIAP+ employees, and much more. Please note, the experiences and viewpoints shared in this video are individual perspectives, and they may not be representative of the panelist's employers.
On this episode of The DroidDevCast, Esper Content Marketing Manager Rin Oliver is joined by Buzzfeed Staff Software Engineer Liz Frost, Sysdig Chief Open Source Officer Kris Nova, Zillow Engineering Manager Joe Engel, and Esper Enterprise Account Executive Oscar Leon to discuss National Coming Out Day, how today's businesses can support their LGBTQIAP+ employees, and much more.
Please note, the experiences and viewpoints shared in this video are individual perspectives, and they may not be representative of the panelist's employers.
Read the blog post: https://blog.esper.io/national-coming-out-day
Rin Oliver (00:10):
Hi everyone. My name is Rin Oliver and welcome to a very special episode of the DroidDevCast. We're here to chat about National Coming Out Day, and I'm super excited to be here with some of my wonderful friends. And I know we just did an intro, but we're going to do the official podcast intro now. So for those that don't know me, I am the content marketing manager here at Esper. I use they/them pronouns and I am an autistic, non-binary, Jewish lesbian. And I'm going to let everybody go around and give their official intro, that is not for the group and for the podcast.
Liz Frost (00:39):
I can kick us off. My name's Liz. I am a queer trans woman. I work for Buzzfeed and I've previously worked at Heroku and Heptio. I use she/her pronouns and I'm happy to be here.
Joe Engel (00:57):
I'll go next. My name is Joe Ingle. My pronouns are he/him. I am an SRE manager at Zillow. I am a cisgender gay man. Before Zillow, I've worked at places like Blue Origin, AWS and Rackspace.
Kris Nova (01:10):
I can go next. Hi, my name is Kris Nova. I am a trans woman. I'm queer. I work in tech. Previously, Microsoft, VMware, Heptio, Deis, SolidFire, NetApp. Now I'm at Sysdig. Who knows where I'll go next. Pronouns are she/her. Happy to be here.
Oscar Leon (01:30):
All right. I guess I'm going next. This is Oscar Leon with Esper. Pronouns ar he/him. Binary cisgender gay man. I have been with HPE, Cisco, and a couple of startups. I'm on the enterprise sales team here at Esper currently.
Rin Oliver (01:45):
Beautiful. Thank you so much, everybody. All right, let's get right into this. And to start us off, I'm just going to go for the most generic question here. What does National Coming Out Day mean to you?
Liz Frost (01:56):
To me, National Coming Out Day is mostly about being visible. I'm sure there are some people who actually use it as a opportunity to come out. But to me, especially as a person who is relatively out, mostly I see it as a opportunity to make coming out be a thing that feels real, as opposed to just some abstract concept.
Liz Frost (02:22):
I like being able to show what it might be like after you came out, after all of the difficult conversations are... All of those initial conversations are over. You don't have to constantly think about it, and just sort of whatever ordinary means these days, what that could mean for you.
Joe Engel (02:42):
Yeah. I'd give like a big plus one to, it's all about the visibility and celebration. To me, National Coming Out Day actually marks the day I chose to come out at a relatively young age. And I'm sure we'll talk a little bit about our coming out experiences as this goes on, but I think it's been historically a celebratory day to see the people around me, especially in the queer community, just celebrating who they are and really relishing that diversity.
Kris Nova (03:08):
For me, it's about taking the power back. It's the day to kind of say that there is life after coming out and not only is there life, but it could be a good one, and it can be successful and happy. It's just a day to stop and pause and remember that there was a point in my life where every morning I woke up and I wasn't myself. And then I came out and then it changed my life. And really that was like the first day of my new life.
Kris Nova (03:35):
And it's just like a holiday where I kind of like sit and reflect every year and just think about what it was like before, what it was like the day of, and what it's like now that I've made it through. And I think sharing the success and the happiness at the end is really, really pleasant for me every year.
Oscar Leon (03:55):
Yeah. Just to echo on what everyone else has said, for me, it's definitely a lot of reflection. I personally have gone through a lot of transformation on a personal level and a professional level, and life in general, ever since I was unfortunately outed. That's kind of my weird situation I was put in. But yeah, definitely for me, it's a time to reflect on what life was like for me before that experience. And just the fact that I can be me and be able to come to work and be me, and be around everyone else and be my true self. That's definitely what it's all about for me.
Rin Oliver (04:38):
Yeah. I actually agree completely. I use Coming Out Day to go through more than a few gender transitions because in my opinion, gender, [inaudible 00:04:47]. So that's just me, but I've gone through about three of them now, I think, maybe four. I don't know. And I originally came out, gosh, when I was like 12 and I'm 35 now, so that's been a while. But gender is ongoing, so I've taken National Coming Out Day to not only update my gender a couple of times, but also to reflect on that whole thing. So I really try to use it as a reflective thing also.
Rin Oliver (05:13):
And actually for the next one, yeah, I guess we're going to go for the story time. Would anybody like to tell their story in terms of how you came out, your journey in general?
Oscar Leon (05:23):
I guess I can go if that's okay. This is Oscar, on the Esper side. Like I mentioned in the previous kind of section, I was unfortunately outed by a family member. And so to my family, that was, I would say, a shock, especially because my mom's side is 11 brothers and sisters, about seven or eight of them are male and they're all pastors, so we grew up very religious. And it's kind of led me down a interesting path with my relationship with my family.
Oscar Leon (05:52):
I was fortunate enough to be able to share that coming out experience with my friend group. So, at first it was kind of a shock to see how my family reacted. And as a result, I'm not super close with the majority of my extended family, but thankfully, and I'm very thankful for this, my immediate family, my mom, my dad, my brother and sister have been incredibly supportive and just very... They've adjusted to life.
Oscar Leon (06:24):
And I am very fortunate enough to have had a very supportive friend group as well around me at the time. And at work, I've been fortunate to feel accepted around my teams. And if anyone knows what it's like to kind of work in a sales team in tech, it's very bro-ey, unfortunately, but I can't tell you that I've felt uncomfortable in any of those situations. I think it kind of lends itself to a lot of the people that I've surrounded myself with, they're good people. And some of the companies that I been at have been out have been very supportive as well, and very kind of involved.
Oscar Leon (07:08):
Cisco has to be one of the ones of note. They have a very large community of queer folk in Cisco world. And I definitely felt at home there and also at my other place of employment as well.
Joe Engel (07:20):
I can go next. This is Joe again, and Rin, I just want to comment that, especially as a cisgender person, I'm super interested to hear from maybe you as well, like the transgender experience and the gender experiences on National Coming Out Day are just completely different than anything I can imagine using Coming Out Day for. So I'm really excited to potentially hear from you on that, if you're comfortable sharing.
Joe Engel (07:46):
But for me, my coming out story when I was about middle school, I definitely knew something was amok. I knew something wasn't "right" with me. I grew up in South Texas and San Antonio to be exact, and so there is a lot of religious upbringing there. There is a lot of... Catholicism is very big there. And so back in the '90s, it wasn't really seen as a great thing, and so it was a lot of confusion for me, but slowly coming to terms with it and understanding who I was, was an awesome journey that honestly I never want to take for granted, because it taught me a lot, more about who I am than just that I'm a gay man.
Joe Engel (08:29):
It taught me about my interests and the things that I like. I actually chose National Coming Out Day, I believe I was 14, I chose National Coming Out Day as a day to come out to my parents. And it was rough. My parents are amazing, let me just preface with that. We have an outstanding relationship now, but at the time there was a lot of tumultuation in my family. My brother has a pretty systemic bad drug problem, and there's some other family things going on, and for my parents, it was just, "Oh, one other thing. Sure, why not get another kid with another problem?" Or something like that.
Joe Engel (09:07):
And it wasn't the best experience right away. But props to my mother. The next day, she actually picked me up from school, took me to Starbucks and had a conversation with me. And I think that really bridged a really cool gap. And then over time, my father definitely got a lot better about it. And I actually remember on my 21st birthday, him really apologizing for the periods between that, where maybe he didn't accept me as much. And now today, I'm having engaged to my fiance, and I love him to bits, and my family treats him as part of our family, even though we're not even married yet. So it's definitely come a long way. And I like what somebody said earlier, where there's a future past coming out and it's been an awesome journey getting there.
Kris Nova (09:55):
I look at coming out like... Like I can tell the story and it was really cute and adorable, and it's not at all what I was expecting. And it's a good story to tell, but more importantly to me is what I learned about coming out. And I think that I've actually come out more than once. The closest thing I can think of to describe this is my answer when people ask me what it was like to be born as a twin. And it's like, "Oh, I don't know. That's just the only way I've ever known it." So yes, it's completely normal to me. Like I was just born as a trans person and then that's just kind of how everything was. So to me, this is just like the baseline. It took me till I was 27 to actually mutter the phrase, "I'm transgender." And now I can't shut up about it.
Kris Nova (10:45):
And then it was like, maybe a year later, I was like, "Oh yeah, by the way, also I'm gay." And everybody was like, "Yeah, we know." And then that was kind of when I had the second coming out, which for me was, first, I had to realize that there's a huge difference between identity and attraction, like who you go to bed with versus who you go to bed as, is like two completely different things. And then it was like, "Okay, now I have to rationalize, like I'm gay as well as I'm trans." And then it was like, "But am I even gay?" And then I just finally just threw my hands in the air and just give up and was like, "I'm just queer, whatever. Whatever you need to tell yourself to compartmentalize me, go for it." But I'm not what I would consider straight heteronormative by any means.
Kris Nova (11:37):
And so that was the lesson that sticks with me. And I apply that all over the place, both to my personal relationships with people, with the folks I consider my family today, even at work. It's learning to accept yourself and say yes to the situation, even if you don't have the words for it or don't understand it. And even being able to recognize like, "Hey, there's something wrong with the-
Kris Nova (12:03):
Nice. Hey, there's something wrong with the situation. I feel like that's a part of coming out that nobody talks about is that moment where you're like, "Oh shit, there is something wrong." That takes time and effort. That doesn't just... You don't wake up one morning and somebody hands you a letter and says, "Hey, you're gay. Welcome to the party. Here's your commemorative CD and your package and enjoy everything."
Rin Oliver (12:26):
Yeah, your Ani DiFranco CD and your flannel. Yeah.
Kris Nova (12:27):
Exactly. Or even being an adult. Right? Congratulations, you're now an adult here is your 1040EZ, your 401k, keys to your new Honda Odyssey, and a cooler to take the kids to soccer practice. That doesn't really happen, you just realize it. It's a slow process.
Kris Nova (12:46):
And getting good at that. That's coming out. Right? Getting good at saying, "Oh shit, something's wrong." Or, "I'm different." Or, "What I was told is right or normal or correct isn't, what's actually happening," and being able to recognize that. And yeah, that happens to me all the time. And I get pumped when that happens because that means I'm learning, and that means I'm growing. And that means that making the world better. So to me, that's coming out. It's learning to detect when something's wrong.
Liz Frost (13:17):
Yeah. Just to add to that a little bit. I came out, I don't know, over the course of initially two years, three years, while I was late high school, early university. But the verb coming out is interesting when you're trans, because it's actually two very, very different processes.
Liz Frost (13:38):
There was the first one where the ostensible male that all of my friends knew, although I think a lot of them suspected, went away. And the person that you now here in front of you came out, but I don't have to do that anymore. That that happened. That was sort of a singular event. And the coming out that I do now is where I remind people that I am not in fact actually CIS, I'm not in fact actually straight. And I think it's interesting that those share the same verb because they're actually... From my perspective, they're a completely different process because the difference between somebody who... I had friends from the before times who just couldn't get my pronouns right. Couldn't get my name right. And I just stopped talking to them. Just, I don't have time for that. It was very stressful. It was very pleasant, but that's not sort of the kind of concern I have when I come out to people now.
Liz Frost (14:44):
When I come out to people now, I'm just like, "I am re-contextualizing what you already know about me rather than introducing you to something entirely new." And it's scary in a different way. Right? Letting somebody know that I'm not CIS is, I think, not quite as terrifying as it was for that awkward teenager, letting people know that they weren't CIS.
Liz Frost (15:15):
But I think they're both very important processes. I just I've always thought it was funny that they had the same word. And if you ask a trans person, "Are you out? I could mean two completely different things."
Kris Nova (15:32):
I have a question if other people have the same experience with me about coming out. When I was coming out, I learned just through... Because everybody needs a moment. You got to go have one-on-ones with everyone and let them do their thing. And sometimes it's like, "Oh, Hey, I'm queer and trans." And they're like, "K, pass the ketchup." And other times it's like, "All right, 10 years later we're still talking about it."
Kris Nova (15:55):
I'm wondering if anybody else noticed that you just never knew what you were going to get and that you were often wrong with how you thought people were going to react to it.
Oscar Leon (16:05):
Oh yeah. I can definitely relate with that a lot. So part of my background is I was in military. I was the Marine Corps, in the officer program for four years.
Oscar Leon (16:17):
And so a lot of the struggle that I had when coming out to my friends was, these are very aggressive, alpha male type, if you will, Marines. And the funniest thing about that is it is very much expert protection, subversion, is coming out to them and telling them, "Hey guys, I'm gay," was nowhere near as I would say traumatic as I thought it wasn't going to be. You expect some sort of reaction there and it was totally like, "Oh, that's cool, man. So what do you want to go for dinner?" Or something like that. It was a very interesting experience for me to do that.
Oscar Leon (16:58):
And then, with my family, I guess I expected a big whole blowout, which I halfway did was with some of my extended family because of the religious aspect of it. But my immediate family was a lot more quiet about it. So I definitely am with you right there. You never know what to expect. Sometimes you get those, "Hey, okay, cool. Pass can pass the ketchup," moments or sometimes you get to a deeper conversation about it and identity overall in the long run.
Liz Frost (17:33):
I had a couple experiences. No, most of the time people were just sort of like, "Yeah, we could... We knew. We knew that already." Some people came up to me and they were just like, "Wow, I've actually got a whole bunch of questions about this that I want to ask." And the thing that you're supposed to do is be very patient and answer all those questions. But in a lot of circumstances, the thing I actually did was tell them that Google existed and that I had more interesting things to do with my life than answer all of their questions. And that was liberating in its own way. That once I come out of you, once I come out to you, my part of the process is done. It is not my responsibility to hold your hand through this.
Liz Frost (18:19):
And some people who like really wanted that out of me, surprised me. Some people, it was really difficult for them. And the classic thing of like, "Have you ever thought about how this coming out is going to affect me?" It was just so funny who I got which response from. And it was also very gratifying to realize that I don't owe these people something because I'm trans or because I'm queer. Perhaps I want to keep them as a friend and I'm willing to put in the effort to do that, but that's not specifically a queer thing. That's the sort of decision you make with your friends all the time. And de-transactional-izing that relationship, I thought, was really interesting.
Liz Frost (19:07):
But it did feel like, I don't know. It felt like I was playing a role-playing game sometimes, and just, I rolled a critical failure on my coming out and a person just took it completely horribly, to Nova's point.
Kris Nova (19:24):
I can not echo the me-versus-you sentiment enough. I would be like, "Okay. And I'm trans and queer." And I'd be like, "Okay. And standby. And we're going to wait and see what side of the... Are you going to go Jedi? Or are you going to go Alliance here?" And it was either, "Oh my God, how does this impact me?" Or it was completely, "Oh my gosh, what is this been like for you?" And I'm not going to lie, the how-does-this-impact-me people did not stay in my life for very long. Most of those people are gone.
Kris Nova (19:59):
And honestly, whoever was talking a moment ago, I had the same thing. I was an electrician. I used to pull cable and I was like... Drove a truck, had guns. I was like, Mr. Macho. And I was like, "By the way, I'm a trans woman." And it took me, I think, six months to finally come out to the most alpha male, really, really good friend that I had. And his response was literally, "Pass the ketchup. Also, P.S. I'm gay. I haven't told anyone yet, but I figured should know now that you shared this with me." And I was just taken aback how many people would share. It was like one person being vulnerable kicked off this whole train of vulnerability.
Kris Nova (20:42):
But yeah, I think that's what I loved most about coming out. It's just learning about myself and about people and how people deal with the stress and stuff.
Rin Oliver (20:52):
That is very cool. Thank you so much everybody for the awesome sharing. For me, my story, like I said, pretty generic. I did a few gender updates over the years, but for the most part, my family has been great. My wife's been great. I'm really lucky in that sense. My wife's just like, "Hmm, you're changing your gender again. Okay. That's fun." My mom gets the name, fine. And other family members... We don't have enough podcast time for that. So we're going to skip that. And we're going to go to the next question.
Rin Oliver (21:31):
For me though, what I found was the most interesting was being autistic and being non binary people have a harder time with the autism than they do with the gender. And that's been interesting. And I don't think that... It's just such a facet of who I am, being non-binary and being autistic that always baffles me when people struggle more with accepting the fact that I'm autistic, more than the fact that I'm non-binary. Which is an interesting thing to have happened.
Rin Oliver (22:04):
So next on my question docket is, "What does it mean to you all, to work at a company where you can bring your whole self to work?" What's that like for you? Do you work at a company where you can do that? I would love to hear more about it.
Kris Nova (22:17):
I've worked at a lot of companies who have said that verbatim. I've never worked at a company that actually did it.
Liz Frost (22:23):
Yeah. I don't even think people want to bring their whole selves to work. I think when people say, " Can you bring your whole self to work?" What they actually want is, "You are allowed to have a rainbow flag in your profile picture, and you can talk about your wife." They don't want-
Rin Oliver (22:40):
That is true.
Liz Frost (22:42):
They don't want, "I am an archivist and I don't think that we should be doing deals with these foreign governments." They don't want even just for the CIS people... When you ask, "How are things are going," most of the time they want you to say, " I'm fine." Even if you're not, because you aren't going to put on the same persona with everybody else.
Liz Frost (23:09):
There are aspects of my lived experience that are wholly inappropriate for any work environment. It's just not appropriate to talk about. And so when I see the, "Bring your whole self to work thing," it does feel like what they actually want is, "You can talk about being queer. You can talk about being trans or whatever." But should the conservative Christian who hates me bring their whole self to work? Should the person who doesn't believe that trans rights are human rights bring their whole self to work? I don't think they should be at work at all, but I don't get to control that, so.
Rin Oliver (24:02):
Following up, first of all.
Liz Frost (24:03):
...to control that, so.
Kris Nova (24:03):
Following up, first of all, Liz, I miss you so much. That was beautiful. Second.
Oscar Leon (24:08):
Kris Nova (24:09):
That was really good. I agree. I don't want to bring my whole self to work. When I hear bring your whole self to work, what I really would like to hear is who you are as a person and things that are out of your control, like being queer or being trans, or being a vegetarian, things, whether or not you would use these choices or it just impacts you so greatly that you have to make lifestyle changes because of them. I would just like to be able to do that and not have those moments of my life impact my career. That's really all I'm asking for here. It's yeah, I'm trans and I don't need to show up to work and talk about what happens in the bathroom or surgeries or my love life or my... But if me and my partner have a kid, I'm going to put a picture of my kid on my desk.
Kris Nova (24:58):
And that is really all I'm looking for is just to not be scrutinized or insulted or demoted or not given an opportunity or treated differently because I happen to be different than the majority. And if I could just find... I guess what I'm really saying in so many words is I'm just [inaudible 00:25:17] quality. And if I could find that at a job where it truly was neutral, it would be really refreshing and I've got really close, and there's some really good people out there in the world. So maybe it's like Nirvana, you never get there. It's just about always trying to find it.
Oscar Leon (25:32):
Yeah, just to echo off all of that. Definitely things that are out of our control, being able to bring that aspect of our lives into the workplace is definitely something that we should all be able to do. And I feel personally that for the most part I've got there and I think everyone else that's spoken already has felt the same way.
Oscar Leon (25:51):
Of course, there are definitely certain situations we're put in, I'm not going to name any names, but I've definitely had one experience in the last year or so where I was definitely, I wouldn't say targeted, but looked at differently in regards to my standing, amongst my peers as a result of it. And it wasn't a great experience and unfortunately nothing really got done about that, at the end of the day. But in a way I am very much a believer in cosmic debt and karma is the other word, I guess, at the end of the day, that's just going to come back to that person in some way, shape or form. But to me, where I'm at currently, I definitely feel like I can bring those aspects of myself to work every day and everyone's very accepting and open about it. And I just feel fortunate that we can do that at least.
Kris Nova (26:47):
I've gone full circle. When I first came out and I was... I remember my first job as a trans woman, which was very much more emotional part of my life. And 99% of the things going through my mind on a day to day basis, all were about my transition, are people staring? Do they know? Do they not know? How does my voice today? Can people see my facial hair? That was all that was on my mind. And now I'm like, god, can I just go to work and not have to talk about myself for five minutes? Can I just get my work done, clock out at five, and then go be with my family? So it's interesting to see that I've almost become naive to it. And I just want to... It would be so refreshing to just be a normie and just blend in and not have to always have the long involved emotional conversations with everyone because you happen to be different.
Liz Frost (27:40):
Yeah. I think about that a lot from the perspective of diversity work. To a large extent, I do diversity work of which I think doing this kind of panel is a part, not because I think that that's the most fulfilling thing in the world, but because that's how I defend my existence at a company. That's how I make sure that the company remains a place that I will be safe and comfortable at. But I don't really want to do that, I would much rather do the actual engineering work. It's just we get this kind of labor foisted on us. And if we're really lucky we get compensated for it. But it just really, we just want to be left alone in a lot of cases. And sometimes even that's too much to ask apparently.
Joe Engel (28:36):
Yeah, it is interesting how, as a minority constituency, we are placed on that burden to your point, right? That we have to take it upon ourselves to do it when in an ideal world, people would just understand and not be bad to each other. But I will say luckily, I started rethinking after Liz, you commented about what whole self actually means and I think you actually changed my point of view quite a bit on that because I've always taken, and this is probably as Cis white male, right, that whole self to me is like, oh, it's a Docker container, it can run anywhere to where you think about it very generically.
Joe Engel (29:15):
And it is interesting to think about it from that perspective, because I would consider I bring my whole self to work, but listening to you all's lived experiences, it makes me realize there actually is quite a bit that I've held back, to me the whole self was, oh yeah, I'm gay at work and I have cats and that's cool, but there's so much more to me that I choose not to share at work.
Joe Engel (29:38):
And as a manager too, I have definitely seen a difference in how people who report up to me or who are on my constituent level at entry-level manager, how those conversations go and what people choose to share, versus as an individual contributor, the conversations that you have. So I think as a manager, the one thing that I try to do is to allow people if they want to and not trying to fish it out of them, but if they want to, to be available as a, hey what's going on, what's going on in your life? I want to care about the things that you care about and the people around you and your family and your loved ones. Yeah.
Liz Frost (30:23):
I think the Docker container analogy's a fun one because as Nova and a lot of other people could tell us, that abstraction is very, very leaky. Everybody, all those containers, they still share the same kernel, it's just a different user land.
Kris Nova (30:40):
Remember what I was saying about how much I loved you and missed you? Has anybody else, has anybody else had the, oh my cousin's gay moment? But in the work form, where it's like, either with technology or with the being queer, trans or gay or whatever, like oh yeah, I'm a trans woman. It's like, oh, have you talked to Sue in marketing? She's also gay. And it's just well, no, I haven't, I don't really engage with much of the marketing department in my role, but I will look out for her, if I ever come across her.
Liz Frost (31:18):
What's even more awkward is someone who's just oh, this person is also trans. And you're just... Do you know them? And you're just, you all assume we know each other. In this particular case I do. And we dated for a little bit, four or five years ago, but you still shouldn't assume...
Oscar Leon (31:35):
That's the worst part of it, right. Is when you actually do to that person, and like oh, I was going to make a point here, but the point is lost now.
Kris Nova (31:44):
The stereotypes do exist for a reason, but you shouldn't assume that, that's not polite.
Oscar Leon (31:48):
I agree, totally.
Kris Nova (31:50):
Also yeah. I just texted her a few minutes ago.
Liz Frost (31:52):
I know a lot of Australians and the exact same thing happens to them. Just everybody assumes everybody in Australia knows each other. So at the end of the day being gay is the same as being Australian.
Joe Engel (32:05):
Wait, are, you all not on the Queer Gal? I thought everyone was signed up for it.
Liz Frost (32:10):
Are you not on the [inaudible 00:32:11] Slack, really?
Joe Engel (32:14):
Is that the [inaudible 00:32:14] to Queer Gal now, is the [inaudible 00:32:17] Slack?
Kris Nova (32:20):
They're also is totally a moment, I don't know if you all are on the social media or anything, but there's always that moment when you see someone and you're ah, you're wearing chucks, you got a side shave, that's a red plaid shirt, you've got your nose pierced, purple hair. Are you? And they're looking back at you like are you? And then all of a sudden, you realize you found someone at work who you can just fast forward through all the bullshit, it just gets straight to hey, we can talk about engineering and I don't have to explain to you how it's different for a woman to engineer than it is for a man or any of that, we can just instantly get to level 10 communication. That's nice, I'm not going to lie.
Liz Frost (33:09):
I really like the protocol and negotiation that happens when both of you, two people, want to share the fact that they're queer with each other, but not if the other person isn't actually queer. So you're just... it's like a TLS negotiation where you're not actually allowed to say the name of any of the cipher suites you want. You're just trying to suss out what the other person is all about.
Rin Oliver (33:40):
Yeah. totally. I have had that experience also. You're hmm, are you? Maybe? Possibly? And you spend a good week or so just being the awkward turtle and just trying to make sure that you can actually talk to them. And then they're probably doing the same to you. Are you? And you're trying to find a way to signal, should I put up more flags? What do I do?
Liz Frost (34:03):
Do you have a Twitter profile?
Rin Oliver (34:06):
Kris Nova (34:08):
I was just going to say, I feel like it can go both directions. Sometimes somebody is like, oh hey, you must be... And then you talk, or maybe you say something on Twitter or Slack and you find out the other one's queer, trans. And it's every once in a while, I'll be in a very anti... I just don't want to talk about being gay. I just want to sit at home and drink tea and pet the cat and just be gay without having to talk about being gay. And I just, I don't know, it comes and goes. And I think what I've learned over the years is it's just like anything else, some mornings I'll wake up and I'll be really excited about talking about being a vegan chef, and other days I'm just like, I just want some oat milk and leave me alone. I don't even want to talk about it. And yeah, it's a lifetime of learning, and a lifetime of getting through it.
Rin Oliver (35:01):
Absolutely. I love out milk for what it's worth. It makes the best lattes.
Joe Engel (35:05):
Rin Oliver (35:08):
It does. Yeah. Props to oat milk. Oat milk is the best. My last question here for all of you wonderful people is do you have any advice for today's technology companies on how they can cultivate a culture of inclusivity and belonging, and of course equity for their LGBTQIAAP team members.
Liz Frost (35:31):
The first question, they have to ask themselves as if they want to do that, or if they just want all of the ally cookies that go along with doing that. Because I think most of the time it's the latter.
Rin Oliver (35:42):
This is true.
Liz Frost (35:42):
Because if you actually want to cultivate a culture of inclusivity, it's going to take more than an ERG with a $500 budget. It's going to mean not doing business with a lot of companies that have very deep pockets. It means firing people who are good engineers, but are just garbage...
Liz Frost (36:03):
... who are good engineers, but are just garbage human beings. It means not hiring as fast as you want to because that's going to lead to a mono culture. It means not speaking at every single conference because some of those conferences are going to be filled with people who have terrible opinions. It means, for example, being supportive when your employees come to you about trying to unionize, because you basically can't extract being queer and being LGBT from economic privilege. You can't extricate it from racial justice, which means you have to be prepared to confront the fact that just like having a couple of white queer women at your company, isn't enough. And you're still going to be a monoculture. It's really, really hard work. And I have worked at a lot of companies that have just wasted everybody's time by pretending they want to do it.
Oscar Leon (37:09):
Yeah. I definitely agree with you there on all of that. There was a running joke at a company I worked on not too long ago, about two years back, they always decorate the office really, really cool, rainbow, everything for Pride Month and then July 1st hits and automatically turns into 4th of July stuff the next day. And so to me, it was kind of a like a, are you kidding me moment, but at the same time, okay, this is a large tech company. So yeah, they're going to try to act in their best interest regardless of what it is.
Oscar Leon (37:43):
So I think, for me, my advice is it goes beyond just putting up pride stuff during Pride Month or putting on something special for coming out days like that, because for us, pride is all the time. I know personally, I love who I am now and I've definitely grown to love that person a lot. And I've been fortunate enough to have people feel the same way about me. And it's not just about a single month or a single day. It's about being able to be me 365 days a year and not being afraid of it. Right?
Oscar Leon (38:16):
So I think the responsibility goes beyond just a season for these companies. And that's one of the biggest things that I think it's the easiest change to make across the board, because everything else you're talking about is not doing business with companies that have very deep pockets, but who don't share the same opinion as you, or changing a hiring process, making everything more diverse. Those are fundamental shifts in these big technology spaces that are just going to take a lot more time. And I think in my opinion, the easiest one is to not just make it seasonal, right? It shouldn't always be seasonal. It should be something that's ongoing for people who are part of that company.
Joe Engel (38:59):
I think beyond even to like the internal, right? Totally, everybody should be doing those internal things, right? Who say they care about the queer community, but also that the actions that you take towards the external community where people can see you, especially if you're a consumer brand. So I'll toot Zillow's horn here for just a second if you'll humor me, but Zillow during Hack Week did for our home details page that loads up a home, it now shows you the LGBTQ protections in your area and whether or not that exists or not.
Joe Engel (39:31):
And so Zillow, I will say, has been one of the best companies I've worked for in terms of actually caring about diversity in more ways than, like you mentioned, just decorating the office or participating in the local pride parades where our offices happen to be. They actually take a lot of actions both internally, but also externally to our customer-facing site.
Liz Frost (39:54):
One of my favorite examples here is insurance companies that got like 100 from the human rights commission, because they had such good healthcare for their employees. And they had domestic partnership benefits and their entire business model was based around denying healthcare to trans people whenever they possibly could. Just stop. Don't waste everybody's time. Don't pretend you're this paragon of inclusivity. It's like getting lectures on diversity from Palantir. [crosstalk 00:40:32]. If your external business is not aligned with your internal values, those external forces are always going to win. They're where the money comes from. They're what your board cares about. Yeah, I... Go ahead. Thank you.
Kris Nova (40:51):
Joe Engel (40:51):
Cut me off.
Kris Nova (40:52):
No, you're fine. I'm going to just take what you were saying and run with it here. And this very well might be the most stereotypical Chris Nova thing that I will ever say on a recorded line. I feel like being gay is like open source. And I really do.... I know. I'm sorry.
Speaker 1 (41:14):
That is [Peak 00:41:15] Chris Nova.
Kris Nova (41:16):
Peak Chris Nova. But the reason I say that is because of what everybody else was just saying, which is, if you look at open source today, it is very easy to see the monetary and the fiscal reward and consequences of doing open source, right? If you do open source, people are going to adopt it because it's fun. It's exciting. It's cool. It's hip. It's easy to consume. It's free. All the cool kids are doing it. It's great. And from a company perspective, it's like, "Yeah, we want that. That's good. We should do open source."
Kris Nova (41:52):
But the moment that you're doing open source for that reason you lose track of everything, right? You can't do open source because you want people to think you're cool. You do open source because you genuinely understand that sharing and building that environment is better. And I look at LGBTQ in the workplace the same way. If you're just doing it to get the [LI 00:42:16] cookies, if you're just doing it to get the likes on Twitter, if you're just doing it so that people think you're hip, it's not going to last and it's not authentic and it's not going to work. And it's not real open source.
Kris Nova (42:29):
And I feel deeply passionate if you can't tell already that that's usually nine times out of 10, the LGBTQ+ policy, which is like, "Yeah, yeah. We put in Apache 2 License on it where we have open source. You can go read it on GitHub." But we're the only contributors. And it's like, yeah, but you follow the rules, you check the boxes, but you're not really building an open community. And it's like, yeah, I get it. You put up the pride flag and you hired a queer person and you hired and a couple of recruiters and told them to focus on gay people. But at the end of the day, this isn't something that's important to you.
Kris Nova (43:09):
And as I've been growing in my career, one of the things I realized is a huge part of my career is implicit decisions. A lot of times people don't even realize they're making a decision. And I think not making a decision to focus on hiring LGBTQ and making that a safe and welcoming environment is a decision to outcast it, whether you want it to be or not. And that's just the way it is. And I'm going to shut up now, but that's my open source game [inaudible 00:07:40]. I'm Chris Nova. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
Liz Frost (43:45):
The other thing is maybe in 2013, 2014, 2015, you could've gotten away with just putting your rainbow flag up and pretending for the month, like changing your Twitter logo to a rainbow for the month of June and people would think you were inclusive. But we're smarter than that now. We know that you're being hypocrites. We know that we don't have to respect the Palantirs and the Facebooks and the Googles of the world. The shiny, friendly branding has rubbed off. We know that that was just a little bit of gilding.
Liz Frost (44:28):
And so, if you're not going to put the effort in, just be honest about it, because we're going to find out. It's going to waste everybody's time. And we've got more important things to do. There is more important work for queer people to do now than advocate for a internal, like pride party or something like that. What we have to be doing right now is advocating for racial justice and advocating for the abolishment of the power structures that want to destroy us. I don't actually care how much budget you allocated to the specifically queer recruiter this particular quarter?
Kris Nova (45:18):
This is why when everybody was all bent out of shape about Istio not going to the CNCF, I was like, "This is great. This is exactly what we've been talking." Again, open sourcing being queer. I have a point, I promise. Google was being honest about it. They were like, "Okay, we're not going to try to sugarcoat this and use an open source foundation as a marketing vehicle to sell you crap. We're just going to be real and be like, I mean, we just want to control the project. That's what we want. And we're being honest about it."
Kris Nova (45:48):
And I was all about that. Being honest with yourself, that's what pride is all about. That's what being gay is all about, being real with yourself. And if a company can have their LGBTQ policy as authentic and as honest as that, whether or not I agree with it is a different conversation, but if they can be real about it, they're gay in my book. You're being real with me. That's honorable.
Liz Frost (46:13):
Do capitalists belong at Pride? The longest discussion in the history of the forum closed after 20,000 pages of strenuous debate. [inaudible 00:10:25].
Rin Oliver (46:27):
Wow. Yeah, no. I'm just going to say no. Flat out, no. Yeah, honesty and authenticity are huge. And yeah, I think that people can see that the companies like Palantir and the companies like Facebook, you can put gold sparkles on it, but it doesn't make it pretty. So yeah, people are smarter than that. And I think that's really important. On that note, I would like to thank you all for being here. You're all wonderful, amazing humans. And I appreciate you very much.