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Our Stories Unmasked: Growing Up (and Coping) Inside the Closet

Our Discover teammates opened up about growing up and masking their true selves. Find out how they’ve learned to create space for themselves.

Vibe with someone’s story? Click their name for more.

Man in parkBrandon Frost
Sr. Business Analyst
Remote (Portland, Oregon)
Pronouns: He/Him/His

When I was younger and closeted, I spent so much time and energy masking myself. It was downright exhausting living my authentic life out of the closet, and then packing it all in to “act a certain way” when I went home. I never mentioned any details of my personal life in fear of being found out.

I do sometimes resent how much damage was done by being trapped in the closet. But through therapy and counseling, I’ve found a peaceful and productive way to deal with that past trauma. The best way to revisit the past is with a sense of grace, and non-critical self-judgement. As my therapist always says, “You did the best you could with what you knew then. You were an adolescent gay child – give yourself some grace and understanding. You were protecting yourself because you thought nobody else would.”

Karlyn Steadman
Team Coach, Customer Service & Engagement Dept. Core
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: They/Them

I knew I was a lesbian as soon as I knew what the word meant. I don’t remember a time that I could identify as anything but that. At that same moment, I learned the name for the feelings I had for other people, I also learned it was a “sin” according to my family’s religion, or, specifically, an “abomination” as was taught every Sunday. From that moment, I felt as if I was an abomination. From five years old until the age of 15, I forced myself into a box, carefully suppressing those feelings. When I was 15 years old, I was caught with my partner at the time and forced to go through conversion therapy. I built up more layers of hate for myself, all while navigating the feelings of being non-binary and different from the female I was being forced to be.

At the age of 23, I was finally able to work through my own self-hatred, and happily, confidently, be me. I came out to my friends and family as non-binary. I stopped forcing myself into the check mark box of female and learned to love my differences and embrace that my life was worthy of love. I understood Pride and found an identity that I wanted to live in. I’m amazed how identity can be ever-changing. I teach kindness and love so we won’t force our future generations into our outdated standards.

Megan Isaac
Team Leader, Deposits Front Office
Lake Park, Salt Lake City Utah
Pronouns: She/Her

It was extremely hard for me to come out to myself. I grew up in a religion where being a part of the LGBTQ+ community was not okay and was viewed as shameful. I always knew that there was something off about me and that I wasn’t attracted to the typical “marry a man and have lots of children” expectation. Yet I denied the same sex attraction feelings I had.

When I was 16, I stumbled across the LGBTQ+ community through social media and was immediately drawn to it. As soon as I could see that two women can be married with children and have a fulfilling life, I came out to myself. When I came out to my parents, it was discussed that I would move across the country to move closer to our religion and suppress my feelings. When I did eventually come out, I learned that my family found it more important that I follow their religion over me living a happy and healthy life.

Nathan Andon
Account Executive
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: He/Him/His

The first time I came out to myself I was a teenager living in a small, midwestern town. I knew my identity in my mind, but growing up in the Midwest (and being pre-internet) was very isolating. I literally felt like I was the only person who felt the way I did. I suppressed a lot of myself because I had to. I remember saying “I’m gay” out loud in the mirror, and it was an out of body experience (not the good kind).

The best decision I ever made was leaving my hometown. I always knew my life would never be fulfilling in a smaller setting. I felt drawn to a bigger city so I moved to Mexico after right after high school. It was my first time out of the country and really broadened my view of the world.

Because I grew up in a non-LGBTQ+ affirming place, if I’m in non-affirming spaces now, I can revert to that mental place. I’m able to suppress myself in order to “fit-in.” But I have friends who can’t do the same (nor should they have to). I don’t frequent non-affirming spaces as much nowadays because it still makes me a bit uncomfortable. I remember going to college sports bars, or events that were very alcohol and straight-male oriented. It’s hard to relax and have a good time when at any moment I know I could be singled out, physically assaulted or worse. That’s why LGBTQ+ affirming spaces are important in reinforcing safety, security, and establishing confidence in your true self.

two people in coffee shopMargarita Zias
Associate Information Security
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

While small Greek town I grew up in was beautiful and the people were friendly, I often felt like I couldn’t be truthful to myself. If my identity was written as a social media relationship status, it would be ‘It’s Complicated.” I always struggled to be myself and felt scared of becoming an outcast. I was always labelled as a weird kid because I was into anime and enjoyed wearing super colorful patterns that didn’t fit in with the trends at the time.

I can’t say I had an ‘A-ha’ moment where I came out to myself. On some level I always knew. But because I grew up in an environment where I wasn’t even aware that being gay or bisexual was normal, I was always fearful to admit it. I had a hard enough time fitting in already. Coming out was difficult for me because I wasn’t aware that there was an “in-between” option. I thought the only options were “A” or “B” and I couldn’t pick just one.

It wasn’t until I came back to New York for college that I realized I wasn’t alone. There, I met many other people who were like me. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel alone anymore. For the first time in my life, I felt like I knew who I was and I wasn’t ashamed of embracing it.

couple posing in sunflower fieldNicole Barton
Operational Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/her

My family is still very religious and we disagree on a lot of things. I recently talked with them about the Equality Act, back when it was up for a vote. I wanted to know if they supported the bill because I’m part of the community that it affects.  At the end of the day, my parents didn’t support the bill because they felt it limited their religious freedoms. I felt frustrated because while they say they support me, they didn’t act in support of me.

No matter how much I want them to see it from my side, they might not ever change. From this experience, a hard truth I learned is that I cannot control them. Instead, I set boundaries with them while staying true to myself. I won’t stop speaking up and sharing my opinion. I’m not going to hide myself in fear. If they want to stop their relationship with me, they have the option to set that boundary too. It’s a hard scenario to swallow, but it’s easier because I have other people in my life that fully support me.

woman holding mug and smilingSusanne Jenz-Lingemann
Senior Executive Relationship Manager
Remote (Cologne, Germany)
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

When I first came out to myself I felt very alone. I grew up in a small village in the countryside. I felt certain that I was the only one who felt the way I did. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of LGBTQ+ representation in the media. The internet wasn’t popular, nor did I know anyone who was lesbian or gay. Instead, I mostly heard about people’s biases and of course, hear people use “gay” and “lesbian” as swearwords. I suffered, a lot. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know where I belonged. I had nobody to talk to and I was too ashamed to talk to my parents or my friends. If I could tell my younger self one thing, I would tell her, “You are okay! Be brave and speak to your friends and you will find, you are not alone.”

 

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More Complex Than You Think: Allyship within the LGBTQ+ Community

Discover teammates share their perspectives on the nuances of allyship from within the LGBTQ+ community. Vibe with someone’s perspective? Click on their name to read their full story.

Stephanie Garcia
Loan Review Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

Apart from my friend, I kept my sexual identity to myself at first. I felt worried that people would judge me and say that Asexuality wasn’t a valid identity. Then I slowly started wearing Ace Pride pins and eventually venturing into clothing. My parents were confused at first, but are now super supportive and even educate others on asexual awareness. I’m currently working on not feeling like I take up space at Pride events and feeling more included within the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

I volunteered for a Pride event a few years ago to help customer care representatives at Discover sign up for our Ally Program. I was sitting at the booth looking at the list of identities on display and was so excited to see Asexual listed for all to see. After helping at the booth for a bit, many agents asked what Asexuality means. I got to describe it to a few people and they were so interested to learn more. My friend in a previous department even saw my Ace Pride pin and asked what it meant. We talked for a little while and he finally opened up to me to say he felt the same way. He felt so glad that I opened up to him and told him that he wasn’t alone.

Avonlea Whitaker         
Coach
Lake Park
Pronouns: They/Them

I went on a date with someone who identified as lesbian, but didn’t validate transgender identities. It really threw me for a loop that someone who was part of the LGBTQ+ community could be so discriminatory towards a whole part of their own community. I realized then that someone can be queer and not be an ally! That moment reaffirmed my dedication to allyship for the community and minorities.

Man posing on balconyBrandon Frost
Sr. Business Analyst
Remote (Portland, Oregon)
Pronouns: He/Him/His

I find myself really understanding intersectionality more and more as I navigate being an Out individual. I’m recognizing the full extent of my privilege as a white man, while also being empathetic to other minority groups that have experienced discrimination, bias and stereotyping. I too have been oppressed and discriminated against from growing up as a gay man. Those experiences help me understand what being an advocate and ally truly means within the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) space.

woman with glasses and pink hair smilingNicole Barton
Operational Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/her

I’ve also been impressed with the diversity and equity work Discover has focused on with the Black Organizational Leadership at Discover (BOLD) ERG. We have programs about systemic racism and how we can be better allies. Discover has also actively taken steps to hire more people of color (POC), donate to our local communities, and has spoken out about how we don’t tolerate racism in our workplace. I’ve loved working here specifically for these reasons.

I’m currently working on navigating life as a white woman. I’m learning to un-write my biases, support marginalized communities, and stand up for what’s right— even when it is uncomfortable or scary. I’ve educated myself through research and am learning to listen more. I’ve been standing up when people around me say things that are racist, homophobic, or overall just rude and insensitive. I will never stop trying to better myself in this area, it’s so important for our future.

 

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You Heard It Here First: Life Advice from Your LGBTQ+ Faves

Hear life-changing advice from people who’ve fought for their joy, for acceptance and for themselves. Vibing with what they’re sharing? Click on their name to read their full story.

Anahita Chaudhary
Lead Modeler
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/her/hers

When I was in grade 4, in the year 2002, Mumbai became the most populous city in India following the census in 2000. My textbook wasn’t updated and still claimed the most populous as Calcutta. My dad noticed the difference and told me to write the answer as Mumbai if the question ever came up on exams. To my surprise, the question did come up. I wrote Mumbai as the most populous city, but I didn’t get the mark. The experience taught me was that no one, not even the text books or teachers, are beyond the limit of being questioned, and that marks don’t matter if I don’t have the knowledge. I carry this as a value today when I question the trends I see in my data, or when I learn a new technique to expand my understanding of my work. It’s also helped me align my work satisfaction to my performance and not by the amount of praise or bonus I receive.

Stephanie Garcia
Loan Review Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

In the past, I’ve made the mistake of taking on too many projects. I often got stretched too thin and pulled in too many directions. This also goes along with not knowing when to say no. I have a huge fear of disappointing people and I always said “yes.” I was all about helping others, so it was extremely hard for me to admit that I needed help. The best decision I ever made was to start talking to a therapist. I’ve learned to know my limits and not be afraid to say no if I really can’t do something.

Person wearing a flower crownAvonlea Whitaker
Coach
Lake Park
Pronouns: They/Them

A hard truth I’ve learned is that family are the people you choose— not necessarily the people you’re blood related to. I have a group to call my chosen family and am out to all my friends. They’re all super great with using my pronouns. The best decision I ever made for myself was coming out as non-binary to my chosen family. It was the hardest thing for me to come out, but starting with my chosen family reminded me that there are people who accept me for who I am. My family knows my sexual orientation, but not my pronouns.

Amy Armstrong             
VP, Compliance Advisory
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her

A piece of advice I live by is “know your non-negotiables.” Everyone has non-negotiables.  Knowing those will drive your goals and take out the stress of the unknown and a lot of “what-if” guesswork. Is your title and work flexibility non-negotiable? Then look for those opportunities. Is it benefits and work location? Then use that as a starting point.

Dawn Hansen
Change Management & Communications Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

I’m still working on caring less about what other people think. When I realized that’s what held me back from coming out sooner in life, I promised myself I’d work on not worrying about it anymore. My advice to my younger self would be, “Accept who you are no matter how scary it is. It’s gonna be okay. You’ll be much happier once you live 100% authentically.” I’m getting better. I’ve done a lot of things in the last few years that I’ve always been very scared to do because of what others would think (i.e., cutting all my hair off, getting tattoo sleeves, etc.)

Camille Todd
Agile Coach, Cybersecurity
Riverwoods, IL (Permanently remote from Delaware)
Pronouns: He/Him | They/Them

I struggled a lot with accepting that I was Trans, but I finally came out to myself at 30. I wish I had the courage to have done it a lot earlier in life but hey… that’s life, right? Now at 32 I’m really happy with myself and my body. I would tell my younger self: “Dude, you’re definitely Trans and that’s cool. Don’t be so weird about it…just come out already and start living your life as the person you are!” I wish that I could have experienced this level of happiness in my youth when I really needed it.

 

 

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Iced Coffee, Power Tools and Drag Shows: A Non-Definitive List of Our LGBTQ+ Obsessions

Iced Coffee, Power Tools and Drag Shows: A Non-Definitive List of Our LGBTQ+ Obsessions

Happy Pride month! We asked Discover teammates across the globe to share their LGBTQ+ favorites. Swipe through to find out what (and who) we’re obsessed with from queer culture:

Self-expression

Avonlea Whitaker

Person wearing a hatCoach
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: They/Them

I am obsessed with iced coffee! I’ve also dyed my hair every color of the rainbow. It sometimes feels like I change my hair to match my confidence or my evolved identity. Having colored hair almost feels like a comfort thing because of how much I’m able to reflect my feelings with my hair color.

Chris Crosby

Team Leader, Identity Protection
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: He/Him/His

For me, it’s about fashion. I always look my best at all times— even when I am not in the mood to. You never know who’s watching!

Megan Isaac

Team Leader, Deposits Front Office
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

I love wearing flannels! My fiancé and I will also sometimes match or coordinate clothes to dress similar. Sometimes it’s on purpose, sometimes it’s not— but that’s still okay with us.

Music

Camille Todd

Agile Coach, Cybersecurity
Riverwoods, IL (Permanently remote from Delaware)
Pronouns: He/Him | They/Them

I have secret love of a certain Queen of R&B (not so secret when you see me dancing to any of her songs). I listen to her nearly every day—if you show up to one of my meetings early… you may get a personal concert. Her music keeps me feeling upbeat and a little sassy during the work day, which helps me tackle complicated problems.

Laura Stoll

Principal Release Manager
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: She / Her

Indie concerts– I follow my favorite bands likes it’s my job!

Hobbies hobbies hobbies

Margarita Zias

two people in coffee shopAssociate Information Security
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I love shopping for extremely corny stuff for my friends. One of my favorite purchases recently was little drink toppers that hang on the side of cocktail glasses. They look like little plastic dolls in bathing suits. Each one has a name written across their swimsuit. I gave the drink toppers to a friend of mine who’s gay, and he absolutely loves them. They always “join us” for movie nights at his house.

Kayla Knoll

IRA Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: they/them

I love tarot readings!

Nicole Shuck

Senior Manager, Rewards Marketing
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

This is an easy one!! SOFTBALL. I love the stereotype about lesbians being softball players because, well, it’s pretty accurate (I played softball for 15+ years).

Dawn Hansen

Change Management & Communications Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

I love using power tools and building things and working outside. I’m super eco-conscious and spend a lot of time upcycling furniture or things around the house. I guess my stereotypical LGBTQ+ fave would be being a queer woman with a tool belt.

Drag shows

Brandon Frost

Man smiling at cameraSr. Business Analyst
Remote (Portland, Oregon)
Pronouns: He/Him/His

If there’s a stereotypical LGBTQ+ obsession that I have, it’s watching (and being fully invested in) drag show reality TV! I appreciate the openness, creativity, inclusivity, the over-the-top personalities, and the incredible artistic talent of the show. I’m always eager for the newest season to drop so that I can have watch parties with all my LGBTQ+ friends! It’s light-hearted, good-ole-fashioned campy FUN!

Natalie Kalmbacher

Natalie headshot with trans flag colorsLead Account Specialist Billing Resolutions
New Castle, DE
Pronouns: She/her

Going to and watching drag shows… because YAASSS QUEEN! All the entertainment in the world is right there.

Heather Koelliker

Throwback photo of Heather and her wifeAcquisitions Relationship Manager
Salt Lake City, UT
Pronouns: She /Her

I don’t know if it’s stereotypical but I love me some drag show reality TV! I love seeing the competitors on the show be who they are no matter what. It makes me feel connected to their stories and I love seeing how beautiful and talented they are.

Nicholas Cash

Nicholas and sonSystem Support Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: He/Him

I love drag show reality TV and all things reality TV. Housewives and dating shows— all of them have my heart and more of my time than I wish to delve into. Part of the appeal is seeing how these people live, and their version of “normal” is fascinating to me.

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From Pre-Internet Midwest Isolation to Self-Confident Pride: Coming Out and Staying Out

Nathan Andon
Account Executive
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: He/Him/His

The pre-internet Midwest landscape

The first time I came out to myself I was a teenager living in a small, Midwestern town. I knew my identity in my mind, but growing up in the Midwest (and being pre-internet) was very isolating. I literally felt like I was the only person who felt the way I did. I suppressed a lot of myself because I had to. I remember saying “I’m gay” out loud in the mirror, and it was an out of body experience (not the good kind).

Deciding to leave for Mexico

The best decision I ever made was leaving my hometown. I always knew my life would never be fulfilling in a smaller setting. I felt drawn to a bigger city so I moved to Mexico after right after high school. It was my first time out of the country and really broadened my view of the world.

Wait, there’s an entire community

Over time, I’ve grown to accept myself for who I am more and more. Back in my teen years, if someone asked me about my sexual orientation, I definitely would have lied. In college, I would have answered depending on whether or not I felt safe enough to do so. Once I moved to Chicago, I felt comfortable enough with myself to not care. I realized there was an entire community that identified the way I do. I would tell my younger self: IT GET’S BETTER! SO MUCH BETTER!

Okay, Discover Pride

Back in my younger days, I connected with the broader LGBTQ+ community by going to gay bars and nightclubs, hanging out in Boystown (Chicago), going to street fests and parades. I don’t frequent the bars and nightclubs anymore, but I do like a good street fest or parade still. Now that I’m more involved in Discover’s Pride employee resource group (ERG), I feel more connected to the community. I’m in frequent contact with local organizations that focus on the LGBTQ+ community.

Going back in the closet

Because I grew up in a non-LGBTQ+ affirming place, if I’m in non-affirming spaces now, I can revert to that mental place. I’m able to suppress myself in order to “fit-in.” But I have friends who can’t do the same (nor should they have to). I don’t frequent non-affirming spaces as much nowadays because it still makes me a bit uncomfortable. I remember going to college sports bars, or events that were very alcohol and straight-male oriented. It’s hard to relax and have a good time when at any moment I know I could be singled out, physically assaulted or worse. That’s why LGBTQ+ affirming spaces are important in reinforcing safety, security, and establishing confidence in your true self.

Yas labels

My identity is ever-evolving, but I’m at the end of my journey of accepting who I am. As with anything, I have good days and bad days. My younger years were definitely full of exploration and trying to find out exactly who I am. It took some time to become comfortable with myself. I’m now more self-loving and self-confident. I know who I am, and I am proud of who I am. I identify as a cis-gendered, Latinx, gay male, and am 100% proud of all of those identifying labels.

 

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Dude, You’re Definitely Trans: A Story of Self Love and Fluidity

Camille Todd
Agile Coach, Cybersecurity
Remote (Delaware)
Pronouns: He/Him | They/Them

Fluidity and self-love

My identity has definitely evolved over the years and it’s been a wild ride. When I was born I was AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) and in my early adolescent years (11 or 12) I came out to my friends and family as bisexual. In recent years, I came out to myself and then family and friends as Trans. I now live as a proud pansexual transman. In regards to self-discovery and identity, I believe fluidity is the best approach for me and it’s how I’ve learned to love myself on deeper levels.

Navigating non-affirming spaces          

As a black queer person, I’ve faced many challenges associated with my identity, but the largest battle has always been related to non-affirming spaces. In my early life, I felt discouraged and sometimes ashamed when in non-affirming spaces. But I’ve learned to own my space and experience. When I find myself in a non-affirming space now, I come alive and show more of my personality and uniqueness.

Staying true to me

I strive to be my most authentic self at all times, with the full understanding that some people won’t understand or accept me— and that’s okay. At the end of the interaction, I walk away affirmed because I was true to me. Other people in that space may even learn something that changes their perspective. By being my authentic self, I may have cleared the path for someone who will come after me!


Dude, you’re definitely Trans

I would tell my younger self: “Dude, you’re definitely Trans and that’s cool. Don’t be so weird about it…just come out already and start living your life as the person you are!” I struggled a lot with accepting that I was Trans, but I finally came out to myself at 30. I wish I had the courage to have done it a lot earlier in life but hey… that’s life, right? Now at 32 I’m really happy with myself and my body. I wish that I could have experienced this level of happiness in my youth when I really needed it.

First shot, best shot

On my 31st birthday, I took my first shot of testosterone and it was without a doubt the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. For years, I contemplated whether or not medically transitioning was the right thing to do and it totally was! I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own body and how I present to the world. I honestly never thought I could feel the way I now feel about myself. Confidence glow up?–absolutely!

Claiming space

I navigate corporate structures with intention and compassion. I’m intentional about 2 things– being my most authentic self and taking up space. I thrive when I can be my authentic self and bring ideas from my unique perspective on the world. I’m intentional about taking up space because early in my career I was plagued by imposter syndrome and it caused me to shrink away from various opportunities. In recent years, I’ve learned to own my experience with greater accountability. I take up the space required to present new and fresh ideas, foster and cultivate relationships with my coworkers, and drive growth and diversity within corporate culture.

My LGBTQ+ obsession

I have secret love of a certain Queen of R&B (not so secret when you see me dancing to any of her songs). I listen to her nearly every day—if you show up to one of my meetings early… you may get a personal concert. Her music keeps me feeling upbeat and a little sassy during the work day, which helps me tackle complicated problems.

 

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When I Stopped Calling My Fiancé My Roommate— and Other Advice on Navigating the Closet

Nicole Shuck     
Senior Manager, Rewards Marketing
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Why I stayed in denial

From a young age, my friends and family joked about me being gay. All throughout middle school, high school, and even my freshmen year of college, I denied it. I felt afraid of being more different than I already was, and I struggled constantly with my internal thoughts. When I had my first crush on a girl in high school, she called me out on it in a not-so-positive way. After that moment, I told myself, “I can’t be gay. I don’t want to be gay. I don’t want to be different.”

Saying “I’m gay” out loud

I was in hardcore denial until I met some new friends through my sorority my sophomore year of college. They showed me that it was okay to be me, to accept myself and to love myself. After playing a game of spin the bottle (ha!), I quickly realized there was no point in denying it anymore. That night I finally said the words, “I’m gay” out loud. From there, my life changed for the better and a complete feeling of relief washed over me as the weight finally lifted off my chest.

Telling my parents

A year later of living openly at college, I had my first girlfriend and that’s when I decided to call my parents to finally come out to them. The day I came out to my parents was one of the most impactful moments of my life. I changed my relationship status on social media to, “in a relationship,” but didn’t list with who. Then I called my parents, knowing they would see my status change and question me. I told them, “I have something to tell you. Will you love me no matter what?” My parents paused and said, “Of course, we will always love you.” With a choked up voice. I said, “I’m gay.”

The longest 10 seconds of my life

The 10 second pause after I said those words felt like the longest time of my life. They quickly responded with, “of course we will always love you and we accept you.” We cried for a few minutes on the phone together, just sinking in that I was finally fully out to the people who mattered the most in my life. They did ask the question, “will we still get grandkids,” but they quickly educated themselves after that moment and have been my biggest supporters. I wouldn’t be who I am today if they’d responded differently. I wouldn’t live such a positive, loving, caring and open life without them.

Finding my soulmate

From then on, I’ve lived openly and freely and met the love of my life. I’ve now spent 9 years with the best human I could ever ask for and am set to be married to her this June. If I didn’t come out and accept myself, I would have missed out on finding my soulmate and being the happiest I could possibly be. Reflecting back, I wish I wasn’t so hard on myself at a young age. That said, my experiences shaped me, made me stronger and developed my trust in myself.

Fiancé or roommate

I’ve been at the Discover Riverwoods, IL headquarters for over 6 years now. For the first 1-2 years, I was very selective of who I came out to and told about my personal life. When people asked who I lived with, I called my fiancé my “roommate.” At that time, I had come out to a close friend at work who accepted and loved me. She pulled me aside and said, “You have to stop doing that. No one will care about who you love and they will only love you more for being you.” In that moment, she was the best ally I could’ve ever asked for. She gave me the courage, in this new professional world, to be my full authentic self.

Taking one step forward

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to really lean into the notion that, “When you’re scared, afraid, nervous; take one step forward.” Coming out at work was one small step forward. I slowly opened up one by one, until eventually my sexuality became part of everyday normal conversation. I’ve moved away from “coming out,” to just “being me.” And when the pandemic started, I hung a pride flag behind me so that on every single video call, my flag is showing.

Surprise virtual bridal shower

Ever since I started to be more and more open at work, every person I’ve come out to has shown me nothing but positivity and acceptance. Even most recently, my past coworkers, current coworkers and friends came together for a surprise virtual bridal shower for me and I was blown away by how many people showed up and contributed to the gift.

Your discomfort isn’t mine to feel

Outside of work, I’m still working on letting go of my fear of making other people “uncomfortable.” When I feel like holding back, I confront that fear by speaking confidently and remembering that any uncomfortableness isn’t mine to feel. This is my daily personal challenge to overcome, but every day that I come out (because it’s an every day journey), gradually gets easier. While everyone’s “coming out” journey is different, for me, believing in the statement “If you don’t love me, if you don’t accept me, then it’s your loss” gets easier every day.

My LGBTQ+ cultural fave

SOFTBALL. I love the stereotype about lesbians being softball players because, well, it’s pretty accurate (I played softball for 15+ years). Also, my absolute favorite memories are from the annual Pride trips that my friends and I take every year in downtown Columbus, Ohio! We all book multiple hotel rooms (sometimes over-packing them), collect all of our pride gear (pride flags, tattoos, fanny packs, etc.), gather our drinks and watch the Pride parade. We stroll up and down the short north all day long, and end our night at the only remaining lesbian bar in the city!

 

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Because of Who I Love

Laura Stoll                                      
Principal Release Manager
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: She / Her

I tried to ignore it

I’m a bi woman, married to a woman who I’ve been with almost 16 years. Most of my life I knew that I was attracted to women, but because I was brought up in a religious household, I tried to ignore it. In early 2000 after my engagement ended, I started dating a woman for the first time. I used to think I was either straight or a lesbian, but over time I’ve accepted that for me, it’s about being in love with that person— whatever they identify as.

The best moment of my life

Being able to marry my wife in 2016 after 10 years together (because it was finally allowed) was the best moment of my life. The best decision I ever made was going out to a bar when I was hungover because I met my wife that night. Christmas Eve is my favorite holiday because that’s my dating anniversary with my wife. We always go out the same place as our first date.

I accept who I am

I accept who I am and who I love. I feel sorry for those who don’t take the time to accept me. Though, I’m still working on self-love. I used to be very overweight and changed my lifestyle in the past 6 years to work out and eat healthy. I’ve lost over 140 pounds without weight loss surgery. While everyone is their own worst critic, I try to remind myself of where I’ve been and where I can go.

Connecting with the lesbian community

I connect with the broader community by going on lesbian-owned cruises and resorts since 2009 with my wife. This has allowed us to travel and volunteer on vacation with women just like us. We’re still friends and go on vacation with many of the great women we’ve met over the past 11 years.

Because of who I love

I’ve been extremely lucky in my career. I worked for a very supportive startup tech company for 13 years before coming to Discover. Now, when I mention my wife from time to time on calls, it’s just like anyone else talking about their other half. Discover celebrates everyone. The company’s value of acceptance shines through and lets me focus on doing my job well. I don’t have to worry about someone not liking me because of who I love.

Handling burnout

I’ve made mistakes in my career when letting myself get burned out and not disconnecting when on vacation. I left the startup I was at due to burnout, and it took about four years to find a job I love. I’m glad to have found it with Discover and have work-life balance now.

My LGBTQ+ obsession

Indie concerts – I follow my favorite bands like it’s my job!

 

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Finding My Way Back to Security after a Childhood Lived in Caution

Megan Isaac
Team Leader, Deposits Front Office
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/Her

Navigating religion and the LGBTQ+ community

It was extremely hard for me to come out to myself. I grew up in a religion where being a part of the LGBTQ+ community was not okay and it was shameful. I always knew that there was something off about me and that I wasn’t attracted to the typical “marry a man and have lots of children” expectation. I denied the same sex attraction feelings I had. When I was 16, I stumbled across the LGBTQ+ community through social media and was immediately drawn to it. As soon as I could see that two women can be married with children and have a fulfilling life, I came out to myself.

When I came out to my parents, it was discussed that I would move across the country to live in another state in an effort to be closer to their religion and suppress my feelings. When I did eventually come out, I learned that my family found it more important that I follow their religion over me living a happy and healthy life.

Advice for my younger self

When I was younger and figuring out my same-sex attraction, leaning towards the label of bisexual was easiest. As I was able to explore my sexuality further, I felt comfortable identifying as lesbian. I would tell my younger self: these moments will pass and what you’re feeling right now is not how you’re going to feel when you get to your 20’s. I know you are feeling insignificant, lost, and sad. Just wait, before you know it you are going to figure it all out and meet the person who will change your life forever in the best of ways!

 Social media and meeting my fiancée

The best decision I ever made was broadcasting through a video streaming site. I became an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and would broadcast to meet people all over the world who were struggling with coming out and seeking advice! My current fiancé who lived in England at the time stumbled upon my broadcast and we exchanged information. We are now 5 years into our relationship, have a house in the United States, and are moms to 3 beautiful pups!

Cautious pronouns

Oftentimes, if I’m unsure of how LGBTQ+ friendly a situation is, when speaking about my fiancé, I use they/them pronouns or substitute “my partner” or “my fiancé.”  A mistake I’ve made is being too cautious. I’ve never had a negative interaction from a co-worker finding out I’m a lesbian. My management, peers, and people I manage have always been supportive. Yet, I’ve held back when sharing personal stories. If I could change anything, I would be open and proud from the start. I wouldn’t hold back when asked about my relationships and I would use she/her pronouns from the get-go.

Feeling secure at work

When I was first hired at Discover, I was so scared for anyone to know that I was in a relationship with a woman. I didn’t have very many positive experiences or role models that I knew of that were successful and out. I’ve been very blessed to work for a company that I personally have never felt like my sexuality has held me back from opportunities. The environment at Discover is amazing. My management and peers have always made me feel included.

My LGBTQ+ obsession

I love building things from scratch and wearing flannels! If I see something, my first thought is, “I have enough tools and resources to create that.” My fiancé and I will also sometimes match or coordinate clothes to dress similar. Sometimes it’s on purpose, sometimes it’s not but that’s still okay with us.

 

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The Moment I Knew I Was Different and How I’ve Evolved Every Day Since

Karlyn Steadman 
Team Coach
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: They/Them

My identity over time

When I was a kid, I identified as a tomboy. The youngest of 3 daughters, I was the one who played every sport from dance, to cheer and even played football up until my first year of high school, and yes, softball (but you probably already guessed that). I would go through phases of short and long hair. I didn’t bother much with dating, it was too much work. Really, I just didn’t want to admit to myself that I had feelings for people who I thought (at the time) were the same gender as me.

Come high school, I knew I was different. I learned more about what it meant to be a lesbian and could easily identify with that label. Even still, I forced myself to show up as female. What I was learning, through school and the new-to-the-time popularity of social media, was that there wasn’t anything that described me fully. I didn’t want to wear dresses, or skirts. And wasn’t a huge fan of how my body was changing. So I would hide myself in hoodies and baggy clothes and explored the more masculine side of myself.

Finally, when I graduated high school and was navigating the world of college, a new social media platform opened doors to the world and taught me that there were other people out there like me. I used social media and the internet to explore what it meant to identify not only as a lesbian, but also as non-binary. I was able to learn through my college classes what stigmas and social norms our society sets for each binary gender, and how I fit perfectly in between. Not only were there people out there like me, but there was a name for it.

Now as I approach my 30’s quickly, I’m finally comfortable in my own skin. I’ve used my past traumas to learn more about myself. I’ve built a foundation of support in my family, both chosen and not. I can be open and truthful out loud to myself— it’s ok that I don’t fit into a box of female or male. I can help people understand the importance of using the correct pronouns, and even how to navigate creating a space where others feel comfortable in sharing those different pronouns. I can teach my own kiddo that although there are still those out there who will tell them that you must be one or the other to be “right,” those people are wrong. That there is representation in the media and that your gender does not change who you are, who you love, and your success in life.

My relationship with myself and my identity

The ever-changing sliding scales of gender and sexual orientation can be difficult to navigate if you aren’t taught that it can be ever-changing. This is especially true for those that are taught that their religion or culture has a bias against the LGBTQIA+ community, which can cause a looming feeling of homophobia and ultimately self-hate. This certainly was part of what shaped my growth into who I am today.

Yes, I wish I could change my past. I think that it’s important to remember that I do still love my family, and have decided to speak to my past pains as an opportunity to grow. But I do recognize that the pain I grew up in could have been avoided, and that I will spend my life dedicated to creating the most affirming space I can so others don’t experience what I did. I simply was taught to hate myself.

I knew I was a lesbian as soon as I knew what the word meant. I don’t remember a time that I could identify as anything but that. At that same moment, I learned the name for the feelings I had for other people, I also learned it was a “sin” according to my family’s religion, or, specifically, an “abomination” as was taught every Sunday. From that moment, I felt as if I was an abomination. From five years old until the age of 15, I forced myself into a box, carefully suppressing those feelings. When I was 15 years old, I was caught with my partner at the time and forced to go through conversion therapy. I built up more layers of hate for myself, all while navigating the feelings of being non-binary and different from the female I was being forced to be.

At the age of 23, I was finally able to work through my own self-hatred, and happily, confidently, be me. I came out to my friends and family as non-binary. I stopped forcing myself into the check mark box of female and learned to love my differences and embrace that my life was worthy of love. I understood PRIDE, and found an identity that I wanted to live in. I’m amazed how identity can be ever-changing. I teach kindness and love so we won’t force our future generations into our outdated standards.

Navigating a corporate environment

Knowing how to navigate a professional work environment as a male or a female is learned— from binary dress codes, to learning how to navigate proper etiquette based off your birth gender. But what do you do if you don’t fall in the binary?

As someone who doesn’t fall under the binary gender umbrella, it was always difficult to know how to navigate those norms. After my first year of college, I was a chef. I kept to myself and always made sure I worked somewhere where the uniforms were the same. I always chose a unisex cut chef’s coat. But after leaving the industry, I was thrown into the business world without guidance on what to do.

Thankfully, I was lucky and worked for Discover. I quickly realized that the scary truth of a binary dress code, binary bathrooms and professional brand, were not true for Discover. I felt comfortable in my own skin quickly and created my own brand. I felt confident that it didn’t matter that I didn’t fall under a female or male identity. I identified as me and portrayed that in my attire and confidently shared my pronouns.

I thankfully had the support to be true to myself and create a space for people around me to ask questions, open up and be more inclusive in their everyday practices. I feel hopeful for future generations that the anxiety of forcing ourselves into a label isn’t necessary.  Rather, we can just be ourselves.

 

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