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JSC Shares their Ally Stories!

September 24, 2019

Ally Week at JSC is September 23-27

Ally Week is a national effort to encourage Allyship with the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, & queer/questioning) community. Being an Ally means taking action in solidarity with LGBTQ individuals to be inclusive year-round.  Each day in the Roundup Today during Ally Week, there is an informative article on what being an Ally means. Resources are also found on the Out & Allied Employee Resource Group website:

Now that you know more about how to be an effective Ally, here are some actions you can take:

  • Safe Space Sticker: Post a Safe Space sticker to show that your office is a safe, affirming space for LGBTQ individuals.
  •        Ally Pledge Card: Sign the Ally Pledge card and post it in a visible location to demonstrate your commitment to being an Ally.
  •           Sign the Banner: Sign the ALLIES support banner.
  •           Ally Challenge: Talk to one group about why you are an Ally and why it’s important to NASA.  It can be as formal as a staff meeting or as informal as lunch with friends.
  •       The Ally banner, pledge cards, and safe space stickers are all available this week in the lobby of B1 by the break room.

We asked people around JSC why they are an Ally.  The answers are as varied as they are:

Kelly Elliott

Deputy Director, Human Resources Office

I recently attended a conference where the top medical officers for major organizations shared a primary research finding that engagement at work, or lack thereof, is directly related to a sense of loneliness.  I love living and working in the Clear Lake community where I have numerous friends but also am surrounded by my immediate family of my husband and daughter along with my mother, sister and numerous nieces and nephews.  I realize that there are many others in our community that move here to work at our amazing organization but leave behind friends and family to start over.  Being an ally to me is being a good listener, friend and bridge builder among individuals and communities that are not otherwise connected. 

My first experience at being a bridge builder was more than 30 years ago during a time when my uncle was somewhat estranged from the family for being openly gay.  After almost 10 years of separation from our family, I reconnected with my uncle as part of a business trip to Washington D.C.  As that relationship grew, more of my family reconciled with him.  I have had numerous opportunities to build bridges over the last 30 years and feel that while I have helped others, I have been more than blessed by the friends and family in my life as a result of these growing relationships.

During a recent trip to Dallas where we traveled as a family to meet my uncle, we visited the location of a newly placed historical marker by the State of Texas at the intersection of Throckmorton Street and Cedar Springs Road.  The area surrounding this intersection has been recognized as the center of the LGBTQ community in Dallas since the early 1970s and became a neighborhood for political activism, social services and clinical trials during the Aids Crisis in the 1980s.  When reflecting on the last fifty years, I was inspired by the impact that a few people, including my uncle made, not only in a community but our country. 

I know that I have enabled change in our family during the last 30 years in my own way by just being a niece who cared.  What we do and how we embrace others around us makes a difference in their lives, our lives and our communities!  Please join me in being an ally and fostering engagement at JSC.

John Sims

Deputy Director, Human Health & Performance Directorate

I am the Deputy Director of Human Health and Performance, an Executive Sponsor of the Out and Allied Employee Resource Group and most importantly, a proud ally.  When I was growing up, LGBT people did not have a real voice.  I have been happy to see this change for the better over the years as awareness and acceptance have improved.  However, there is still a long way to go and we must guard against losing ground.  Everyone has something unique and valuable to contribute to our mission and we need everyone in order to succeed.  Allies are key to embracing the value of diversity in all aspects of society, both here at NASA and out in the community!

Elena Fermin

Facilities Contract Analyst for COD

I’ve always considered myself an Ally.  Finding happiness is hard enough so, when someone does find happiness with another person, that’s all that matters.  People’s contributions to the world are what’s important, not their sexual orientation.

Carol Harvey

Chief, Accounting Services Office

I believe in the premise that differences among us bring about creativity and innovation and do all I can to support being one’s authentic self at work.

Allison Mcintyre

Branch Chief, Space Vehicle Mockup Facility Office

I’ve just always had gay friends. I’ve simply accepted and understood that they are who they are meant to be. Everyone deserves to live their best life. That idea became more critical as my friends found serious relationships, started raising children, etc. It seemed so unfair that they were treated differently in the eyes of the law concerning marriage, children, etc. I want my daughter to grow up in a world where none of that matters, where LBGTQ kids don’t get bullied or turn to suicide. Love is Love.

Linda Riviera 

Public Outreach Specialist

It was a Saturday afternoon in November of 2013.  I was in my den watching TV when my son Matthew, daughter-in-law Jolene, and my daughter Vicky walked into the room.  They were all standing around me, and I knew something was wrong.   My son asked me to turn off the TV, because we needed to have a family meeting.  Now, I was really worried.  Then, he said, “Vicky has something to tell you.”  Vicky began to cry so I stood up and went to her to comfort her.  I said, “Vicky what’s wrong?”  As I was hugging her, she said, “I’m Gay” while continuing to cry.  Vicky then said that she didn’t want to tell me, because she thought that I would not love her anymore.  Anyone who knows me and Vicky knows that we are really close and have a great mother-daughter relationship.  Hearing her say that she was afraid that I would not love her anymore really shook me to my core.  Vicky had just returned from finishing school in Europe and, since coming home, she was not the same.  She was distant and very unhappy.  Certain posts on her Facebook page made me wonder if she was gay.  Trying to ease the tension and the crying, I said to Vicky, “So you’re not in trouble?”  And, with a smile while crying, she said, “No.”  Then, I said, “So you’re just gay?”  Then, she was chuckling, and she said, “Yes.”  I continued to hug her and told her that I was happy that she finally told me.  I had had a feeling, but I knew that, when she was ready to tell me, she would.  While holding her, I told her that I loved her so much and all I could ever want for her is to be happy.  We all had a family hug, and, from that moment on, I knew Vicky was on a better path and journey to find her happiness and to find love.  I am an ally who believes that it is all about love!

Jackie Reese

Director, JSC Employee Assistance Program

My initial response to the question “Why are you an ally?” was to think “Why wouldn’t I be?”  Let me explain.

I recall as a very young child meeting my dad’s cousin Bill, who lived in NYC, at my great uncle’s funeral. There were some whispers and snickers about him, and, when I asked why, I was told “He likes boys.”  I remember wondering why that was bad.  He was kind and generous and loving, and it seemed that he was much loved by my family.  A few years later, an uncle and a cousin had a falling out, because my cousin told his family he was gay.  I lost contact with him when that uncle broke ties.  It broke my heart.

The next event that made a big impression on me was a call during high school from a distraught friend asking if I had time to talk.  She came over, and we sat on my front steps as she told me she was gay and didn’t know what to do.  She sobbed for hours that night, filled with self-loathing.  I didn’t know what to say except that there was nothing wrong with her, and she was wonderful, that’s just how she was.  It was abundantly clear to me at that point that this was not a path she chose.  She left our small town after graduation and never returned.  I still think about her and hope she’s ok.

From there I met many LGBT folks in college – all wonderful people with much to contribute.  I watched in despair as AIDS took a few of those friends in the early days of the epidemic.  It sickened me to hear my friends vilified and blamed for their deaths.

Early in my career as a psychotherapist, a young man came to me, because he’d heard that I work with the LGBT population.  He was gay and wanted conversion therapy.  I told him this was not legitimate therapy, but I could help him with acceptance.  He told me he would lose his whole family if he couldn’t “make it go away.”  It was clearly not his choice to be gay.

Then my kids were born.  They both sought to live by the “normal” social expectations all the way through high school.  They were not happy or complete.  My daughter came out as gay in her senior year of high school.  My son came out as transgender in college.  They are now their authentic selves and feel at peace.  I would like to tell you that I handled it all gracefully, but, in truth, I was terrified both times.  Not at learning who they were – I think I knew for many years – but at how society would treat them now.  They are brave so I owe it to them to be brave too.  And I’ve realized that all those prior life experiences prepared me for this.  They helped shape me into an unconditionally loving, affirming parent.

Why am I an ally?  How could I be anything else?

Justin Bautista

Electrical Engineer, Avionic Systems Division-Human Interface Branch

While our country has always valued equality, liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness, history shows us that we have failed to make those possible for all Americans. I am an ally because I believe that I am supposed to use my privilege to help others and make those ideals a reality. The pursuit for LGBT equality is one of the leading civil rights issue and I believe that we all – including those of us who do not identify as LGBT – have a lot to gain by ensuring equality for everyone. I believe this because Dr. King taught us that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Jennifer Mason

Lead for Export Control, ISS and Gateway Programs

My journey as an ally started with a little “a”

My brother came out in the early 1980s and my parents talked about mental illness, teenage rebellion, drugs, deviant behavior.  They tried to “fix” him through therapy and the military.  It was not a good fit.  He became a runaway kid on the streets of Montrose and learned the music business in the gay bars of Houston, Austin, Bryan and Galveston and became DJ Chris Allen. 

In the beginning, my parents were not equipped with the tools they needed to accept my brother.  I was away at college and, while I loved my brother, I was an ally with a little “a”.  I had friends who were gay and I was supportive but I was not an activist.  Eventually I am happy to say that my parents and my brother came to a loving place in their relationship. But I continued to be an ally with a little “a” - satisfied to be a silent behind the scenes.

The Out & Allied ERG helped me become an Ally with a capital “A” and to find my voice.  It started with George Takei about 8 years ago.  I was tired of the political divisiveness in our country, and I was relieved to see so many of my friends stand up on stage with George Takei to get their picture taken with the ERG.  I found my people!  I came out as an Ally at work.  I participated in the “It Gets Better” video project after getting permission from my brother to tell his story.  I met Sally Ride’s sister, Bear, and told her about Chris as she signed her book for him. 

Then, the unbearable happened.  After a year-long illness with no insurance and no diagnosis, my brother Chris died from AIDS related pneumonia.  I transformed into an Activist.  An Ally with a capital A. I’m no longer satisfied to be the silent supporter.  I will speak up, get out and raise money; I will educate others.  I will always fight for the LGBTQ community and for each of us to live authentically and honestly.  To be treated with fairness and as equals.

I want my LGBTQ friends and coworkers to feel safe.  I want them to feel accepted.  I want them to feel what I take for granted every day – that they belong here and are valued for all that they bring to the world.  That is why I am an Ally.

Ryan Warrick

Co-Chair, Emerge ERG/ COD Resource Analyst

During my freshman year of high school, one of my best friends, Paul, was outed. He instantly lost friends and was treated differently. I was the one to tell him that he had been outed.

A few years later, my sister came out as a lesbian.

In college, my best friend started to question his sexuality. We spoke with Paul and worked through all the emotions.

Being open and accepting brought me closer to the most important people in my life. I’m an ally because of them. Nobody should have to hide a piece of themselves to feel accepted.

Sara Shehata

EV3 - Human Interface - Pathways Intern

As no movement can succeed without the support of its allies, the LGBTQ+ community cannot win its fight for rights without the support of allies. Only when we understand the importance of acceptance, equality, and mutual respect, will we be able to win this fight. Being an ally allows me to support fixing a problem that doesn’t affect me personally, and I believe that encourages others to do the same. Understanding that it only takes one person to make someone feel uncomfortable with who they are, we need to recognize that it also takes one person to make them feel the exact opposite - so be that person. Be a listener. Be an accepter. Be a supporter. Be an Ally!

Johanna Petrocelli

Safety Engineer, Flight Operations Safety Office

I’ve never seen a beautiful travel destination and thought “is it safe for me to go there with my partner?”

I’ve never kissed a significant other in public and even considered the possible reaction of strangers.

I’ve never been in a work setting in which I needed to read the room before talking about a weekend with my partner because I wasn’t sure how my coworkers would respond.

I’ve never been cautious of talking about the sex/gender of those I date because my employer is within his legal bounds to terminate my employment based on his opinion of my sexual orientation.

I’ve never considered my ability to date, hold hands, kiss, live with, or love whoever I want a freedom because it’s what I’ve always known.

But that isn’t the case for millions of people around the world. For some, judgment, hatred, termination, and even death are possible consequences of loving who they love.

That’s not a world I want to live in and that’s not a world anyone should have to live in. That is why I am an ally. For as long as I can love who I love I will continue to stand up for basic human rights so every human on this planet has that same freedom.