julian waving a pride flag

Unwavering Pride at Bitwise

Our story begins in 1969, at a small bar and tavern in New York City’s Greenwich Village. A police raid is underway at the Stonewall Inn, where a large number of the city’s LGBTQIA+ population is being shuffled out—some in handcuffs, some in drag, some in both. A woman trips, an officer slams a baton against her back. She turns to the growing crowd of bystanders, screaming, “Why don’t you guys do something?” After a split second of silence, a brick sails through the crowd and smashes a window on the Inn. The crowd erupts, sparking an uprising—and a movement is born.

Each June we celebrate Pride month, honoring the Stonewall Riots—one of the single most important events in the Gay Liberation movement and the 20th-century fight for LGBTQIA+ rights in the United States. A month full of freedom, expression, artistry, and hope floods our cities, streets, and communities. Pride is a celebration, distinctly marked by calls to continue the fight that began at Stonewall (and long before it).

Pride is significant in so many ways, beyond the single month in which we officially recognize it. At Bitwise, we are working every day to maintain and encourage an aggressively inclusive environment—for our team, our community, and beyond. This year for Pride, we are inviting some of our LGBTQIA+ team members onto the stage to share their stories. From their unique coming-out experiences, reflections on what Pride means to them, and work we can all do to better support this beautiful community—this is “Unwavering Pride at Bitwise.”

“To me, Pride is a time for me to be me in public” said Talisha Brantley, VP of Events at Bitwise Industries. “I can celebrate myself and others in the community while paying respect and homage to those who came before me—clearing a path so I can walk with my head held high.” Pride is often a physical opportunity to be out and proud of who you are. It’s an invitation to celebrate something often not acknowledged, and sometimes not even accepted. “Pride means knowing who you are and living in that authentic skin openly,” explained Celeste A. Barron, Content Development Manager. “During Pride, we promote self-affirmation, equity for all, and representation in all we do.”

Pride is celebrated in a variety of ways, from celebratory parades to rallys around current issues still facing the LGBTQIA+ community. “My favorite ways to celebrate Pride is to reach out to queer elders, support queer businesses, learn about LGBTQIA+ history, and spend extra time with my chosen friends and family,” shared Alli Wentz, Inside Sales Apprentice.

I met my fiancé at my first Pride after coming out. So for us, it’s a very special day—we like to go to the parade and visit the exact place we met and fell in love.

– Julian Ramos, Events Coordinator

It’s hard to miss the beauty and freedom that comes during Pride month. It is a celebration, after all! But this month can also be marked by remembrance of the difficult experiences that still exist for those who identify as LGBTQIA+. Conservative communities, non-accepting families, and even everyday tasks like using a public bathroom or holding hands with a partner can invite unwanted attention and negative remarks. In this way, Pride becomes a time to honor one’s journey thus far, recognizing the challenges faced and overcome. “I hold pride in myself for having the bravery to get to where I am today—something I thought would never happen,” remarked Carley Feil, Product Officer for Tatstat. A shared experience, Pride acts as a reminder to extend love, hope, and acceptance to those who are still on their own LGBTQIA+ journey. “Pride is not just loving yourself,” said Julian. “It also means helping those still in the closet realize it gets better and they are exactly who they are supposed to be.”

“Coming out of the closet” is a metaphor commonly used by the LGBTQIA+ community to describe the process of self-disclosing their gender identity and sexual orientation to others. That definition may seem straightforward, but the coming out journey can be much more complex. Your personal identity touches everything—your job, family, community, friends—and accepting as well as embracing a new identity means navigating those spaces as well.

Priscilla Presto, Marketing Coordinator, began her coming-out journey by watching her sister “out” her brother in front of her parents. “After seeing my parents’ reaction to him being gay, I prolonged my coming out—I didn’t want to be another disappointment,” Priscilla said. “Once I came out, my mom felt terrible that I kept it in and let it eat at me for so long. Even though it wasn’t his choice, I thank my brother for paving that path. It was my parents’ eventual comfort with him that softened their hearts to me coming out.”

Megan Cardenas, Community Catalyst for Bitwise Cowork in Bakersfield, felt the weight of her coming out journey after having children. “I realized I never wanted my kids to experience what I was experiencing, and I never wanted them to feel like they had to be somebody other than who they really were,” she shared. And after her first interview at Bitwise, where she met folks who celebrated queerness, Megan was emboldened to finish her process of coming out to everyone else.

Madison Shrader, Businesses Development Onboarding And Operations Manager, grew up in the church. Even though her parents accepted her after coming out to them, relationships between her faith and identity as gay proved more difficult. “Being in the church and gay has not been easy, especially attending a Christian University,” Madison reflected. “I had to learn to navigate conservative or homophobic environments, that it’s okay to take up space, and that I have inherent worth—no matter what others think of me.”

Identifying as LGBTQIA+ is only one facet of an individual’s identity, one that intersects with all the other things that make us who we are. This intersectionality is important, because queerness is only one lens through which to view identity. It’s one piece of the puzzle that makes us each unique. “I feel so often I’m in the door as the ‘first’ thing at all my intersections,” explained Michelle Skoor, Chief Workforce Officer. “My identity as nonbinary, queer, and trans intersects with my Portuguese identity, being a first-generation student, being a technologist, and being a leader.” For Carley, her queer identity intersects with her faith experience. “For quite some time I struggled with my faith and sexuality,” she shared. “I used to be at a church that was non-affirming and this caused a lot of damage. After finding an affirming church, with a community who welcomed my wife and I, we felt at peace.”

Intersectionality is important because my experiences as a White, cisgendered, gay, leftist woman will be vastly different than that of a Black, trans woman. It’s important to be cognizant of people’s identities in order to support and uplift them, as well as to teach folks outside of the LGBTQIA+ community how to be allies.

– Madison Shrader, Business Development Onboarding and Operations Manager

Bitwise understands that supporting and advocating for our LGBTQIA+ team members is more than just celebrating Pride month—it’s financially supporting local organizations doing work in the community, helping identify comprehensive healthcare options, reinforcing the use of pronouns across all departments, and ultimately putting inclusivity at the forefront of all we do. These steps and more help build a ladder towards a community that instinctively acts out of inclusive care and love. “I am thankful for Bitwise because it is the first time I have worked for an organization that really supports and wants us to be ourselves,” said Jenn Guerra, Inside Sales Apprentice.

“At Bitwise, I feel safe and empowered to bring my whole self to my work every day,” reflected Michelle. “I believe we create a company culture where other folks can also find safety and celebration in their LGBTQIA+ intersections.” Part of that ongoing work is simply normalizing the LGBTQIA+ experience. While there are stark differences and challenges that face this community, we aim to make sure their working experience is no different than the rest of our team. “At Bitwise, no one bats an eye when I bring my partner around,” said Talisha. “I’m complimented on my suit and tie when I dress up and I just feel normal.”

I came out after working at Bitwise. I had been struggling with my sexuality for years, and when I started at Bitwise there were so many of us. They took me under their wing and told me that it’s okay to be me and I’ll be accepted by doing so.

– Carley Feil, Product Officer for Tatstat

These steps are just that—steps on the way towards a more inclusive and affirming environment for all our team members. Each step we take helps us better understand how to advocate for, take care of, and serve our LGBTQIA+ team members. And as allies, we have the important responsibility to continue standing alongside our LGBTQIA+ community in the ongoing fight for equality and equity—both in the technology industry and the world at large.

“Saying you’re supportive is one thing … actively being supportive is another,” explained Madison. “Show up. Speak up. Act up. Vote. And use your dollars too.” It is also our responsibility to educate ourselves on local and national issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community, and then taking appropriate actions. “Be loud: sign petitions, call your representatives, actively look for discrimination in your community and call it out in person,” said Ariel Dyer, Community Events Coordinator. “There are plenty of resources out there with which to educate yourself, and continuing this education is critical to understanding the myriad facets of LGBTQIA+ communities.”

The love and acceptance that flows from the LGBTQIA+ community is like no other. If you have had the opportunity to experience that, whether during Pride or not, you know the unique atmosphere and beautiful depth of joy that comes from these incredible individuals. “The LGBTQIA+ community ends up becoming your family and the bonds you develop are unshakeable,” explained Celeste. “We love with passion. We provide unwavering support.” Being a part of this community is foundational to the experience of each LGBTQIA+ person, while also providing common ground across a variety of life events. “I love bonding over our lived experiences,” said Alli. “I feel like our connections are deeper from the loss so many of us have felt. Some of the friendships I’ve developed have spanned more than 10+ years. These people are my family.” 

That family is one overflowing with love and acceptance–especially during the month of Pride. But Pride can be a difficult time for those who are not completely out yet. Watching your peers celebrate their identity when you are still working through untying and untangling the knots of your own is heartbreaking. Behind the colorful, rainbow parades and celebratory confetti is someone still in the closet, wondering when it’ll be their turn to wave that flag or feel at peace with their identity. They might be frightened, or nervous, or even in denial. They could be at the start, or middle, or even close to the end of their coming out journey. They may feel lost, alone, and scared.

If that’s you, we want to extend some encouragement from our LGBTQIA+ Bitwise Community. 

“It’s understandable hiding feels comfortable. It feels safe. Just know there’s also safety in the LGBTQIA+ community. Whether you are pushed or jump into coming out, we’ll be here to catch you.” – Priscilla Presto

“Your story will be unique and no one can tell you how it will go or how it should go; be true to yourself. And know there is a whole community ready to show up and celebrate when you’re ready!” – Michelle Skoor

“You are loved. You are not different, or bad, or horrible. You are a wonderfully unique human who brings joy and love into this world. And there is a chosen family waiting for you.” – Talisha Brantley

“You are exactly who you are supposed to be.” – Julian Ramos

“There’s nothing wrong with rebuilding a support system from scratch if it means you have friends and allies by your side who will fight to the death to make sure you’re happy and living as the real you.” – Celeste A. Barron

“Know that your story matters. You deserve to live your life.” – Madison Shrader

“Nothing is more freeing than people loving you for exactly who you are. If it’s safe for you to come out, do ityour community will catch you.” – Alli Wentz

“In the process of coming out—you are doing something very hard. Find your people who support you while you come out to those around you. Even just telling a friend out loud, ‘I’m scared’ will help more than you know.” – Carley Feil

“You are not alone.” – Jenn Guerra


Resources

Below is a list of resources provided by the participants in this story. We encourage readers to check them out for more information on how to get involved, be an advocate, and support the LGBTQIA+ community in your local area and beyond.


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