While T-Mobile recognizes that support at the national level is important and continues through partnerships with GLSEN, Happy Hippies and HRC to improve the quality of life of at-risk LGBTQIA+ community members, it’s vital to show that there is power in every single voice. Spotlighting how individuals can make an impact shows that Pride is Power.
The anti-transgender legislation making news of late is more than just a headline for the people interviewed in this spotlight. Everyone featured says that telling their story is an actionable item in the ways they want to celebrate Pride this year. It is how they are being advocates for their community, making an impact. From Seattle to Wichita to Memphis and Colorado Springs, their stories include gender-affirming treatments that they say T-Mobile’s health benefits made possible, or changing chosen names on work badges and pronouns with co-workers. They’re experiences that help shape T-Mobile’s own advocacy practices that now include things such as a thorough transition guide and employee handbook of policies designed to create a better experience for co-workers across the company who come out as trans at work.
“Our Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG) is a place where our employees can bring their ideas about how to make our workplace better for all,” says Jen Palmer (She/Her), senior director of T-Mobile’s Technology Project Management Office and the chair of the Pride ERG. “We take great pride in consistently looking at new ways to improve experiences. Whether it’s encouraging all to add their pronouns to badges and email signatures, or recommending inclusive language on our restroom signage, or looking at our own internal systems and fixing issues that may pop up when a colleague changes their name. As we hear from our employees, we also continually evaluate our benefits to ensure they meet the unique needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. Our ERG does not settle for the status quo. It’s our role to champion inclusivity and continuous improvement.”
Looking Forward, but Honoring the Past
“Sometimes I think that the Pride Employee Resource Group at T-Mobile found me just as much as I found it,” says Haven Vilminot (They/Them), an HR data analyst and non-binary/transgender T-Mobile employee in Seattle.
When talking about T-Mobile’s Pride is Power 2022 initiative, it’s important to remember how the company’s Pride ERG began and how those simple beginnings continue to have visible effects on its members today, even for those like Haven from the newer Gen Z workforce. Pride participation at T-Mobile began as a grassroots movement before becoming an influential, company-wide commitment.
Back in 2013, some thirty employees from two call centers in Albuquerque took it upon themselves to represent T-Mobile in their local Pride parade. The news of these employees spearheading this participation traveled fast all the way to T-Mobile’s headquarters in Bellevue, Wash., inspiring another hundred employees to not only march in, but also sponsor the Seattle Pride parade the following year. Today, the ERG boasts more than 13,000 members across 50-plus chapters in the country.
“For me, queer community was something that I had outside of work, but that I wasn’t able to bring into work with me, and that’s a very unsustainable way to live,” says Haven, “but T-Mobile is actually the first place that I’ve ever worked where I felt safe to be all the way out of the closet.”
Haven says one reason for that is T-Mobile is the first place where they had an openly gay boss, who connected them to resources at the company specific to the LGBTQIA+ community.
“For me, Pride Month is a moment, I think, where a lot of us like to pause and think about our history, but it is also a time where I feel particularly moved by being able to imagine futures together as people,” says Haven. “For Pride Month 2022, something that I’m thinking about is the concept of taking a door off the hinges when you go through. Outside of my T-Mobile community, I find myself making sure that I am visible and out and taking that door off the hinges on my way through, so that anybody who comes after me maybe has to do a little bit less of that. We’re building on it for each other everywhere we go.”
I Have Community
Brantley Clark (He/Him) says he is many things: A partner. A girl dad. A trans man. A black man. A trans black man. And he is crystal clear how to encapsulate all that succinctly if you ask what Pride means to him.
“Progressive Individualism,” he will tell you. “Those are two words that I hold during Pride.”
They are two words that the global care business support manager from the T-Mobile Wichita Customer Experience Center says not only give space for the many layers of his own unique identity, but also helps to invite others who perhaps, like him, did not always feel represented under the Pride umbrella.
“There’s this epiphanic moment in June that everyone gets from a societal perspective,” says Brantley, “but I walk this journey every day, not just in June. And it’s an every day progression into the right direction as an individual.”
Brantley says when he began his transition at T-Mobile it was abundantly clear that despite the lack of support from family members, he could safely be in what he called “a long-term relationship” with T-Mobile.
“When I stepped into global care as B, as Brantley, I didn’t have to bring on that past history with me,” he explains. “Being in a spot where I had the financial means, the benefits, the insurance and many other supporting factors, is when it really hit home for me, and I realized that T-Mobile is a place that I could commit myself to. T-Mobile gave me the ability to control what I look like and what I presented to the world, and it really helped me to align my internal with my external, and I don’t compromise that for anything.”
This Pride, Brantley says he is hyper-focused on trans visibility within T-Mobile and beyond.
“I have a seat on this plane called Pride,” he says. “But are we always doing the seatbelt checks to make sure everybody’s buckled in? Are we making sure everybody on the manifesto is actually on the plane?”
A leader in his local Pride ERG chapter, he says he was the first trans person on the advisory council and as such feels a sense of responsibility to create a path that others can follow and join him.
“From a LGBTQIA+ perspective, there’s not many examples of leaders who looks like me,” he says. “Which is why my mantra this year has been we're going to do the work to get it done, even if it means that I have to be the face for people to see. What we really need to do is create equality and equity across Pride.”
I am an Advocate
For Jason Bayless (They/Them), a Community Expert at T-Mobile’s Colorado Springs Customer Experience Center, their advocacy stems from a painful experience with a previous employer and a desire to give back to those who showed them what true advocacy looks like.
“The reason I started at T-Mobile, and it’s a reason that I hear a lot of people say that they are at T-Mobile, is because it is a place that they are able to truly be themselves,” says Jason. “Not embracing that and not stepping out of what for me personally had been a very easy bubble of just passing — that wasn’t being true to myself because I was not giving back what this company had given me, and it’s not helping to pave the way forward for other people.”
Jason became co-chair of the Colorado Spring Pride ERG chapter as a way to advocate for others. Jason’s story of qualifying for hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery and being supported by T-Mobile’s benefits plan along the way is profound because of the way they felt unable to do basic things according to the gender they identified as in previous jobs.
“More than anything, it had to do with the people around me,” says Jason.
Not comfortable with being out at work previously often led to Jason being “pegged as a lesbian” because there simply were no open conversations about it and using the restroom they felt comfortable in was never something they were able to even consider.
While Jen Palmer says most all of T-Mobile’s properties, including its headquarters, call centers and retail locations, have genderless bathroom options, the company’s gender transition guide and employee handbook also state clearly that “all employees should have access to restrooms that correspond to their gender identity” and that “employees should determine the most appropriate option for themselves.” It’s a policy Jason says they never had before, and the lack of that protected inclusivity caused very public derision.
“Once in a meeting at another company I was very pointedly told by upper management in front of everyone that I was not allowed to go into the restroom that I actually identified as, because that’s not what it showed on my birth records,” recounts Jason. “It's not what showed on my ID. And if I did not agree with it, there was the door. These people that I’d worked with for years, looked me in the eye and then literally physically pointed at the door. I was broken.”
Compare that to the experience Jason had after joining T-Mobile, where they say managers and co-workers not only supported all the protocols to change their name and pronouns after their transition, but even quickly helped fill their shift when a last-minute appointment for part of their gender affirming surgery became available. From the small things to the very big things, Jason says there’s no price you can put on the value of being surrounded by advocates.
“You don’t have to always make a big splash to make an impact,” says Jason. “To turn to my coworker, a cis male who says he has never known anyone who wasn’t straight and have him say we can participate together in ‘No-Shave November’ now that I have been able to grow a full beard, is so incredible.”
I Have Impact
If you look up Ellis Bishop-Wright (He/Him) online today, you would be hard pressed not to find some kind of positive comment about how he has impacted people at work. As Ellis was preparing to be part of a Lesbians Who Tech event with T-Mobile Chief Human Resource Officer Deeanne King this month to discuss his coming out story at the company, many who felt touched by his kindness were on all major social channels singing his praise.
“Ellis has been a leader and advocate for Human Rights as long as I’ve known him,” writes one person. “He is someone I am proud to work alongside and learn from.”
Others posted that the senior learning solutions consultant in T-Mobile’s Career Development and Learning organization is someone who has been “dedicated to creating a safe and affirming environment in the workplace.” Ellis’ online persona paints an unshakeable force. But speak to Ellis directly and he will acknowledge that the powerful person he feels today is in stark contrast to the person he felt like just four years ago.
“It was May of 2018, and I was depressed, unemployed, and had real doubts I would ever get hired,” says Ellis.
Having lived in a part of Memphis where he says he and his wife were not particularly welcomed in their local stores or their kids’ schools, it wasn’t until he joined T-Mobile a year later that something switched.
“The environment at T-Mobile gave me a lot of confidence and that space to explore who I am,” says Ellis, “and helped me get to the point where I was like, ‘Okay, I’m trans and I need to admit this and stop spending so much time and energy not admitting it.’”
Ellis says he knows there are so many who do not share in his positive experience of coming out at work.
“I am representing trans people of T-Mobile,” says Ellis, “and my coming out was like landing on a soft cloud. Deeanne was excited. My manager happy-cried when I told her. People got so excited for me, and it has just been like doors always open … but I know that others — many, many others — haven’t had such a positive coming out experience as I have and sometimes I feel like guilty about it.”
And while Ellis is careful not to imply through his personal story that there aren’t real risks that trans people face every day when they come out at work, he says he hopes showing what a positive experience can do for both the person and the overall work environment can be impactful on a micro and macro scale.
“This is my first foray into the world as a transgender man,” says Ellis. “When I combine that with the terrifying and terrible legislation that is happening all over this country against trans people, I feel now is the time to speak up and have our voices heard.”
You’ve heard some of their voices, now see some of their faces below at T-Mobile sponsored Pride events as they become available all month long.