Pride this year coincides with a landmark Supreme Court decision and swelling Black Lives Matter movement, giving people a real sense that change is in the air — and for Microsoft employees who want to help the world move closer to true equality, GLEAM is ready to welcome them with open arms.
“Communities don’t just happen when there is a meeting or a big gathering,” explains Es Braziel, a senior design researcher at Microsoft’s local Bing team and a volunteer for GLEAM. “They happen because people are finding each other, reaching out, and proactively supporting one another.”
A history of support
GLEAM is an acronym for Global LGBTQI+ Employees and Allies at Microsoft, an employee resource group that for nearly thirty years has been an important part of Microsoft’s pioneering efforts in workplace diversity. Braziel, who is non-binary, serves not only as an active volunteer in the local Bay Area chapter, but also as Policy Chair on a GLEAM global board that connects over 40 chapters in 36 countries.
“I always want us at GLEAM to be doing more,” says Braziel. “We’re here, but also we’re open to new ideas and new blood to help push the community forward.”
New blood like Windows & Devices principal program manager Millo Ognissanti, a self-proclaimed “boomerang” who worked for Microsoft from 2001-2014 in Milan, Munich, and Redmond, then came back in 2018 to Microsoft Bay Area’s San Francisco office.
(Millo Ognissanti (left) and his husband (right) celebrating Pride last year in Taiwan as international participants pushed for LGBTQI+ rights in the region)
“When I first started at Microsoft years ago, I thought how wonderful it was that there was a recognized group that stood for equality, that fought for my rights, and shared experiences of working on the issues in our community,” remembers Ognissanti, who lives in the area with his husband. “But it wasn’t until I was re-hired that I felt the need to give back to the community that had given so much to me. And the time was right, with a CEO like Satya Nadella who is hyper-focused on cultivating an inclusive culture. Moving to San Francisco, which is an iconic city where the gay liberation movement is rooted, showed me how fortunate we are here. But this can be a bubble.”
Allies, annual events and all-gender restrooms
“GLEAM opened my eyes that even in California, there’s still a lot of injustice and people have to fight for their rights and face discriminations,” says Athena Chang, a senior sales account executive. “That got me really passionate about the group, and I wanted to be an ally to help out.”
In the time since she joined, Chang has helped define pillars for the Bay Area chapter built around Career, Culture, Community, and Fun. In the days before COVID-19 GLEAM community-building events ranged from happy hours, to movie screenings, educational discussions, and a close collaborations with the SF LGBT Center and SF Pride.
Ultimately, these volunteers say, such efforts are what GLEAM is all about: being a part of a community that can use its collective voice to drive real, inclusive change.
“We have a unique ability, as part of Microsoft, to be pushing for different changes we want to see,” explains Braziel, who led a successful campaign for an all-gender restroom in the San Francisco office. “It’s easier when you’re working with a group of people than when you’re on your own. It helps to have that slightly bigger stage.”
(Es Braziel (left) and Wendy Pei (right) share what gender inclusivity means to them at the end of a successful campaign for an all-gender restroom)
Focused on the Bay, and beyond
“We’re fortunate to work in an area with progressive views, and at a company who supports an inclusive culture where people can bring their best self to work every day without having to pretend they are not who they are,” says Ognissanti. “Our local chapter not only has an obligation to connect with the surrounding community, but also serve as examples and ambassadors to other geographies in the United States and internationally where the LGBT community is not being heard. There’s no path to equality if we don’t all have equal rights.”
Being an ambassador, however, means you’re constantly looking beyond changing one mind at a time. At historical moments like these, GLEAM members are thankful they have not only a local Bay Area foundation, but also a global framework determined to advance equal rights for all.
“I am ecstatic about the decision,” Ognissanti says of the June 15th Supreme Court ruling protecting gay and transgender workers from discriminatory termination. “Now is the time to invest, believe, and engage further, so we can contribute to that momentum.” Also in the headlines is Black Lives Matter, a powerful movement reminding us all that it’s time to listen, learn, and take action — and one that resonates with LGBTQI+ allies.
GLEAM is highly intersectional as an organization because it is a collection of individuals all from different, unique backgrounds. The community proactively supports each other, guided by a collective passion for equality that is not just limited to LGBTQI+ interests. “We extend a hand to other underserved communities, including people of color, women and other minorities,” says Ognissanti. “Let’s remember that Pride was started by a group that included transgender and gender non-conforming women of color at Stonewall in New York, 51 years ago.”
When you sense that change is in the air, the word “inclusion” transcends, moving beyond traditional Pride activities and into quick action that effects real change, as GLEAM is doing this year by donating funds for their annual event to groups like the TGI Justice Project, Somos Familia, the LGBT Asylum Project, and the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project.
(Microsoft Bay Area GLEAM will be donating funds traditionally used for San Francisco Pride – 2019 float pictured above – to non-profits helping LGBTQI+ underserved communities)
”We want to join forces with other folks who are marginalized in the world,” Braziel says of such efforts to up-level others. “We have a unique ability, as part of Microsoft, to be pushing for different changes we want to see.”
If you are interested in a career at Microsoft where GLEAM and other employee groups are making a global impact not only with the products they work on, but also across marginalized communities fighting for recognition and change, Bay Area job openings can be found here: https://aka.ms/MicrosoftBayAreaCareers.