Inclusion: A Reflection Of My Week With Johnson & Johnson
With Pride Month coming to an end this post couldn’t be more timely. The majority of my posts consist of me talking about my passion for soccer and how strength and conditioning played an important role in my development as a player and reaching the highest levels of the game.
Although these are topics I’m passionate about there’s another piece of me/my career that has also been critical to my success. As a member of the LGBT community I’ve faced my own personal challenges and triumphs as an out athlete and my aim to inspire others through sharing my story.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to spend a week sharing the story of my journey as an out, elite athlete thanks to an invitation from Johnson and Johnson.
Johnson and Johnson, or JNJ, has an employee resource group called Open and Out, geared towards political activism on behalf of LGBT equality. Each campus has its own chapter and is led by an LGBT and/or straight ally employee. Last year transgender teenager, Jaz Jennings was the keynote speaker, who just happened to be the Grand Marshal for this year’s NYC Gay Pride Parade – so I was in good company.
As this year’s keynote speaker, I was asked to speak on my soccer journey to becoming a professional soccer athlete as well as my experiences being an Out professional athlete.
To say that I was ecstatic for this opportunity would be an understatement. I knew it would be a challenge and would provide me with an opportunity for further growth since up until that point the majority of my speaking engagements had been centered solely around my soccer achievements and not much around my advocacy for LGBT equality.
It was a whirlwind of a trip as I spoke at six different JNJ campuses ranging from cities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Boston, and Los Angeles in a span of five days. Each speech was led by an Open & Out representative and were open to all employees who wanted to attend.
The support and excitement was amazing. One thing that was apparent immediately was the employees passion for the company. I had never witnessed a company with such high job satisfaction across the board. I heard numerous stories throughout the week about employees driving an hour or even 1.5-hours each way to work because they loved working for JNJ so much. This seemed to stem from the fact that the company is authentic to who they are and what they believe, especially when it comes to their support for LGBT equality and inclusion. I even joked that they are the “gayest company I’ve ever come across.” Johnson and Johnson is definitely a company that walks the walk.
I knew JNJ was a fantastic company when it came to their support of diversity and inclusion but I was blown away. It was clear that each campus I visited was determined not only continue to cultivate an all-inclusive community for all their employees but also provide education on how to do so.
Participating in this environment reminded me of the various “teams” I have been on that strive for the same inclusivity, where each member was treated with respect and encouraged to bring all of who they are to the task at hand.
As an Ambassador for Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to combating homophobia and transphobia within and beyond sport, I was happy to see parallel goals and values within the team at JNJ. I love this organization because it utilizes all aspects of teamwork, – gay and straight allies, – working together to cultivate a culture of inclusion.
This experience reminded me of how important it is that advocacy for LGBT equality comes from all sectors and cities. Although, I have been extremely fortunate for the positive experiences I have had as an Out athlete, I know this isn’t the case for everyone. There is still work to be done and our mission of compassion and inclusivity will only succeed with us working together.
My talk was centered around how my parents were amazingly supportive in different areas of my childhood and encouraged me to be my best self. I’m so appreciative of that support and love and want to pass that support on to others who aren’t as fortunate.
An area of my speech that garnered a lot of interest was the pivotal role strength training played in the success of my career. Not only did it provide me with the actual strength and improved athleticism I was looking for, but it also helped to build my confidence both on and off the field to be true to me. In return that made me a better player and gave me the sense of freedom to be my true self.
This week gave me more hope and courage to continue to share my story and do my work. There are still so many people living in fear and if I can help just one person by telling my story then that is progress.
That’s the goal of Ambitious Ahletics as well. We happen to be centered around lifting heavy weights and performance, but the goal is to be the best we can. And, we’re all better when we’re on each others side. That was clear at JNJ – a huge corporation who believes in what they do because of the inclusivity woven within.