Honoring LGBTQ+ History Month 2020

First celebrated in October 1994 as Lesbian and Gay History Month, LGBTQ+ History Month commemorates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history. It also honors the history of gay rights. October was chosen because the first and second LGBT Marches on Washington, in 1979 and 1987, occurred during this month; October 11, National Coming Out Day, also marks the anniversary of the 1987 march. In honor of this event, three NYGC staffers ponder this month’s significance for them and what can be done to make the workplace more inclusive. [See also our previous Feature Spotlight: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month 2020.]
 

CLAIRE BORRON
Manager, Sponsored Research Department

Tell us about your current role at NYGC.
I am a Manager in the Sponsored Research Department. I help scientists put grant applications together and submit them. Once awarded, I manage their award portfolio and make sure the institution stays in compliance.

What is the significance of LQBTQ+ History Month for you?
It is an opportunity to look at the past and thank all the important figures who fought, demonstrated, got arrested and were imprisoned, were injured, and died in order for the LQBTQ+ communities to have equal rights. It is also an opportunity to share my story. Our stories can be powerful to each other and we need this kind of support more than ever, considering the high risks to LQBTQ+ rights in the current political battles.

What got you interested in working at NYGC?
I have always worked in big companies and was looking to work in a smaller institution where everybody would know everyone by their name.

What do you think can be done to make the workplace more inclusive and equitable?
It is very important to be heard in order to be understood, and I believe this can only be achieved by educating people. There is a need of implementing ideas from and for the communities in question in order to give them a sense of ownership, to make them feel that they are being listened to.

What do you enjoy doing besides work?
I love playing volleyball — it has been a passion of mine for the past 20 years. I also like all kind of outdoors activities, photography, and hanging out with my friends.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Ha! I would tell myself to look at the clear hints about my sexual orientation, which were somehow very obvious to my family and friends.

ALEXI RUNNELS
Assistant Scientific Project Manager

Tell us about your current role at NYGC.
I’m an Assistant Scientific Project Manager, and I’ve been at NYGC in this role for about two years now.

What is the significance of LQBTQ+ History Month for you?
LGBTQ+ History Month is an important time for me to reflect on the history of the LGBTQ+ community as well as focus on the work that remains for the present and future.

What got you interested in genomics?
I always loved biology as a kid, so it was a matter of figuring out where to focus. What interests me most about genomics is how quickly the field is evolving and how even a well-planned project can lead you in a scientific direction that you couldn’t have predicted

What do you think can be done to make the workplace more inclusive and equitable?
I think talking openly about what an inclusive and equitable workplace looks like is important, as well as [implementing] bias training to learn what assumptions we might be making about our fellow co-workers and potential colleagues.

What do you enjoy doing besides work?
I enjoy traveling, hiking, hanging out with my dog and cat, and listening to podcasts and music.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would advise my younger self to not be afraid to ask more questions and put myself out there. I would also encourage my younger self to be more comfortable speaking up and feeling confident in my own contributions to whatever space I’m in.

LAURA SHAPIRO SHE/HER 
Software Engineer

Tell us about your current role at NYGC.
I started as a software engineer here at NYGC in April, so I’ve been a remote employee my entire tenure here thus far. That has been an adjustment, but everyone’s done a great job at making this go smoothly. The coding work I’ve done so far has been fulfilling and challenging, and I’ve also loved participating in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Advisory Group (DE&I AG).

What is the significance of LQBTQ+ History Month for you?
Being LGBTQ+ is kind of unique in terms of marginalized identities, because you do not necessarily share it with your family of origin. As in: I’m also Jewish, and I learned about that cultural history from my parents and grandparents and so forth. But when I figured out I was gay, I had to discover that history on my own. I grew up here in NYC and had the Internet by the time I was a preteen, so finding resources and support was not as challenging as it could have been, and is for many people even now.

But generally, I think it’s vital that we draw attention to and pass down the histories of previous generations. It wasn’t that long ago that just being gay was illegal; to talk about it in the workplace would be unthinkable and dangerous. It’s still incredibly dangerous in some places, and for trans people, even more so. It’s important that we remember and honor the people who have helped us make this progress thus far as we continue their work. A special shoutout to the trans women of color who have been at the forefront of the movement from Stonewall through today.

What got you interested in working at NYGC?
When I was looking for my next role, I was very much hoping to work for a mission-driven/nonprofit organization. I had done so before transitioning to software, and missed it. When I saw this position I was psyched, because like many people, I have family history with some of the diseases we work on here. It’s extremely rewarding to use my software skills to further the mission of this organization.

What do you think can be done to make the workplace more inclusive and equitable?
I think a lot of the things that can be done are in progress right now in the DE&I AG. Generally, I think listening to people about the ways their lived experience differs and granting space for how that might affect their work goes a long way. Just having the opportunity to give feedback about things that feel non-inclusive, etc. without consequence is huge.

What do you enjoy doing besides work?
I read a lot of books (mostly fiction, usually queer, often sci-fi/fantasy), and have a never-ending list of TV shows to catch up on. Recently I’ve spent a great deal of time playing [the video game series] Animal Crossing; I also enjoy board games and puzzle games. Theater is probably my favorite thing in the world, and I look forward to the day that Broadway can reopen safely.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
That’s a great question. Assuming no interference in global events (e.g. warn people about the severity of COVID-19 in January)…maybe take a gap year before college? I don’t have any subject-specific advice for young me, except perhaps that upon recollection there were definitely more girls flirting with me than I realized at the time.