Bursting Through Blog

DEI and the Human Workforce: The Queer/Straight Equation

As published in The Des Moines Business Record on 8/20/2021

Bursting through is the storytelling movement for the Queer/Straight relationship. It is also a for-profit business founded by a queer man who had a very successful 27 year corporate career. That queer man, me, had firsthand experience of well intentioned (but overtasked) HR and Diversity Teams trying to create emotionally safe work environments for everybody. I know HR knows that an emotionally safe work environment creates a more productive and profitable company and I know it’s time the rest of the company got onboard.  

Today’s company cultures, driven by millennial leadership, require DEI to be taken very seriously and treated as integral parts of those cultures. Why? Because, companies must be forces for good to be relevant in business today and that good must start within the business itself to be real, to be lived and to create emotionally safe environments for the entire workforce. DEI is no longer a box to be checked off. I believe that only companies that truly embrace DEI will succeed and create a roadmap for future success. Our times demand that DEI is authentic! 

My community, like many others, needs to be heard, valued and respected to feel safe at work:

• 53% of LGBTQ+ workers report hearing jokes about lesbian or gay people at least once in a while.

• 46% of LGBTQ+ workers said they were closeted at work. 50% on non-LGBTQ workers report that there are no employees at their company who are open about being LGBTQ.

• 1-in-5 LGBTQ workers report having been told or had coworkers imply that they should dress in a more feminine or masculine manner.

• 31% of LGBTQ workers say they have felt unhappy or depressed at work .

• The top reason LGBTQ workers don’t report negative comments they hear about LGBTQ people to a supervisor or human resources? They don’t think anything would be done about it — and they don’t want to hurt their relationships with coworkers.

How do we achieve true emotional safety for an entire company workforce? Well, first it has to be a company value, not a box to be checked off. Then the question becomes how do you put that value into action. 

My deep belief and lived experience is that the best way is through the path of least resistance. As a species we humans are storytellers. We love to share our stories and we remember stories.  When we are heard we are more likely to listen to others.  Stories are our power!

Storytelling is not only important to connect us and develop stronger teams but it is also a key component of any business.  When I was an executive, a big part of my job was developing and presenting ideas. I presented often. Essentially a presentation is storytelling to get approval for an idea and a budget.  

Storytelling brings people with you on your journey. They become invested and want to be a part of the adventure and help get you to your desired outcome.  Most of us want to help others and want to see others succeed and it’s even better when their success can be our success as well.

The most recognizable example of the power of storytelling in business is TED TALKS. The talks show us the importance of communication.  It is also important how we communicate and communication is not the same in all aspects of the professional structure.  We are multi- dimensional and our communication needs to be as well.

Ted Talks teach us because  “TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.”  In other words Ted Talks believe in diversity AND storytelling.

Psychology Today has this to say in “The Psychological Power of Storytelling.”

  • Stories provide order. Humans seek certainty and narrative structure is familiar, predictable, and comforting. Within the context of the story arc, we can withstand intense emotions because we know that resolution follows the conflict. We can experience it with a safety net.
  • Stories are how we are wired. Stores take place in the imagination. To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences. Stories create genuine emotions, presence (the sense of being somewhere), and behavioral responses.
  • Stories are the pathway to engaging our right brain and triggering our imagination. By engaging our imagination, we become participants in the narrative. We can step out of our own shoes, see differently, and increase our empathy for others. Through imagination, we tap into creativity that is the foundation of innovation, self-discovery, and change.

It’s my deeply held belief that the most natural, powerful and effective way to foster workplace compassion, empathy and understanding is through the superpower of storytelling. This understanding leads to an environment where employees show up without fear of being their true selves, which in turn increases retention, engagement, productivity and innovation which all contribute to increased revenue.  Empathy is one of today’s most powerful team building tools. 

Businesses today have more complexities to manage than ever before.  Many of those complexities  are completely out of your control, like tariffs, supply chain shortages and pandemics, but there are things that are in your power to control.  

You can control your workplace culture. You can ensure you provide a physically and emotionally safe workplace for ALL employees. You have the power to control how your company treats the people within and influence how they treat one another.  You can lead on this topic or you can follow but you cannot ignore it or you won’t have a company left to run.  DEI is a reality of a successful business. The path of least resistance to authentic DEI is storytelling.

Story Sharing + Understanding & Empathy= Emotionally Safe Workplaces

It’s (Past) Time for Queer Allies to Come Out!

As published in the Des Moines Register on 08/12/2021

I am a gay man, identify as gay and use the word Queer when talking about my community because it is the most inclusive word.

If you are straight, you don’t have to know me. You could exclude me from your social group, you could refuse to hire me or keep me in the closet at work. You could not invite me to family functions to ensure no one is uncomfortable. All of these things are simple to do and unless you told someone, they would never know or even think about it.

5.6% of U.S. adults identify as Queer. An average of 55% of heterosexual adults identify themselves as allies, yet Queer people are nearly four times as likely to be victims of violent crimes than the straight community. I am far from good with numbers but I don’t think this adds up.

If we are so aligned and evolved why do more than 1.8 million Queer youths in the US seriously consider suicide each year? Why do Queer teens make up 40% of the homeless youth population? Why do one in five Queer adult workers report being told they should dress in a more feminine or masculine manner? Why is leadership apathy the top reason Queer professionals don’t report negative workplace comments about Queer people?

I sincerely believe it is because the Queer community’s straight allies do not know. I refuse to believe straight allies don’t care and are just giving lip service to the issue. I truly believe this compassionate population wants to do right by their Queer loved ones but simply do not fully realize the challenges those loved ones face or how to actually help. They don’t realize that loving someone who is Queer is not enough. The love and acceptance our allies give is great, necessary and appreciated but it is just the beginning. Many allies view it as the end.

Like it or not, this country is fighting a cultural war. The lens I l see it through is the Queer/Straight relationship because my life journey has given me a unique perspective of this country and its people. I grew up in rural Iowa, attended Iowa State, and lived all around the Midwest and on both coasts. I am proud to say I have friends who range from those who identify as redneck to identifying as woke and everywhere in between.

I strongly believe the Queer community has more allies than not, that there are more good people than bad, but right now the bad people are better organized and louder.

If you are a straight ally to the Queer community, it’s time for you to come OUT. You can no longer be passive. You are either ACTIVELY HOMOPHOBIC, PASSIVELY HOMOPHOBIC or FIGHTING HOMOPHOBIA.

It is not incredibly complex and the choice is yours.

My friend Phil

As Published in Las Vegas PRIDE Magazine 08/10/2021

As Founder of Bursting Through, I’m on a mission to recycle hate into love through storytelling, activism, and the celebration of Queer/Straight relationships. Nothing exemplifies this more than this story of friendship called, My Friend Phil.

I recently reached out to Phil and asked that he share some memories and perspectives from our growing up years.  I imagined this exchange would be powerful, but what I got back was really eye opening and effected me in a way I hadn’t expected.

Phil and I grew up in rural Iowa, graduating from High School  in 1986.  Phil was a country kid and I was a town kid.  To those who don’t know about rural communities that might seem like the same thing, but they are worlds apart.  The kids that lived in a certain part of Audubon County went to elementary school in a little town called Gray.  In 1980 the population of Gray was 108 and the population of Audubon was 2,841.  By comparison Audubon was a metropolis a long 13 miles down highway 71.

In the seventh grade, the Gray kids came to Audubon for junior high and high school.That sucked for everyone because no seventh grader wants change, but it sucked particularly badly for the Gray kids. By all accounts they were considered new students even though they had come from a school just up the road.  

I remember that year sucking for me because at that point I was feeling pretty friendless in the boy category. During that summer a lot of the boys, most notably the one I considered my best friend, had decided for whatever reason we were no longer friends. I thought maybe I could snag some new friends from the Gray boys or at least feel less alone.

Meanwhile Phil was going through something very similar. He shared,“I had a best friend kindergarten-sixth, but we had a falling out before seventh grade. I was a little guy who got good grades and didnt fight back (mostly because of the fear of my dad at the time) so I was a good target. I hated school, and I dont remember much from those days.”

In hindsight Phil and I had more in common than I could have imagined.

Phil and I were never friends in or out of school, not enemies, just people existing in the same, but very different space. Phil was active in FFA (Future Farmers of America) and Ag classes. I was active in Swing Choir, Model UN and tennis so our paths did not cross a lot. Our school life was very different on the outside but on the inside, we were on parallel paths.

Like many kids, Phil was bullied. He told me, “I started drinking between 8th and 9th grade. That quickly became my solution. High school was the same as junior high for me. I was bullied most of the time, especially in Ag Class. I was just trying to survive the week back then, so I could drink on Friday and Saturday. The bullying centered around my grades, and I was accused of doing favorsfor our Ag teacher in return for good grades. I think I hated gay people, because in some twisted way I thought it would prove that I wasnt. The other obvious issue was my Catholic upbringing. I thought I might be going to hell, but I KNEW you gay guys were!  I didnt like you then, because someone told me you were gay. I know now it was wrong, but at the time it made sense.”

Like Phil, I was drunk a lot of high school. Drinking was also my solution to survive high school bullying and being labeled a fag. The BIG difference is that I knew on some level that I was different and being labeled the fag was hurtful but true on some level that I hadn’t yet discovered. On the other hand, Phil was labeled the fag but he wasn’t. Logically,  he was going to hate gay people and especially me. Given the same circumstances and the high school brain, I doubt I would have thought much differently.

Phil told me his drinking escalated through high school, and he stopped caring so much what people thought. He dated quite a bit, and was always trying to ‘“go as far as he could” to prove he wasn’t gay. He also believes drinking saved his life and thinks he would have committed suicide had it not been for alcohol numbing his pain. He emphasized that he hated gay people, even though he didn’t really know any.

I found another chilling parallel, not the dating a lot or hating gay people but in the alcohol. I’m not sure I would have survived without beer and road trips.

Fortunately Phil got sober but his sobriety came with a tragic twist and then, transformation. He shared, “I got sober the summer after I graduated, and was befriended by an older member of the twelve-step program I became involved in. He was upper 30s and I was 18. I trusted him, and he asked me to go to St. Louis with him on vacation. Long story short, he tried unsuccessfully to seduce me on that trip. I came home with a VERY strong hatred of him and all gay people. I thought they were all the same. . . . A few years later – when I was attending Iowa State- my mom called me and asked if I remembered him. I told her I did, and felt the hate return. She told me he had committed suicide. That experience, and getting to know gay people in Ames, helped change my thinking. I have many gay friends, and a few trans friends also. As always happens, my friendships removed my hate and I thank God for that.” 

Today, when I think about recycling hate into love, I think about Phil. For my 50th birthday I hosted a benefit for The Matthew Shepard Foundation called “Skate Against Hate.”  When I announced the event, Phil was the first person to reach out and make a donation. He and his wife attended and this is when I can say I met my friend Phil for the first time and my life has been better for it. (It turns out his wife is a really good roller skater and she totally owned the rink.)  

Phil is an awesome human being and an amazing example of not only recycling hate into love but of  living the Bursting Through values of change, courage and compassion.  

 I want to leave you with these words from my friend Phil.

I know today that Im not gay, and I also know that its not wrong to be gay. One of my favorite sayings is Different isnt wrong and change isnt bad. Some of my change in attitude was due to guilt over my friends suicide. I cant help but think that, if I had simply told him I wasnt gay instead of pushing him off my island, then maybe hed be alive today. I know I probably didnt have that power, but I cant help but wonder.”

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