National Coming Out Day 2021 & LGBT History Month: Samsung Employees Share Their Stories
- LGBT History Month and National Coming Out Day are celebrated annually each October to promote self-acceptance in the ongoing fight for equality within the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Samsung’s Equality Alliance Employee Resource Group hosted an internal event providing a platform to share stories and experiences with peers.
- “National Coming Out Day is important because I get to be myself. It reassures me that I work for a company that encourages employees to be who they are.” – Johanne Millet-Stanziale, Corporate Marketing & Communication
In support of LGBT History Month and National Coming Out Day taking place annually each October, Samsung Equality Alliance, Samsung Electronics America’s LGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group (ERG), is hosting an internal virtual event to provide employees an internal platform to share their stories with their peers. The Samsung Equality Alliance is one of five ERG’s within the company and is dedicated to advocating for the LGBTQIA+ community and allies.
National Coming Out Day serves as a reminder to acknowledge the significance of October 11th for the LGBTQIA+ community to celebrate self-acceptance and strength while recognizing the ongoing fight for equality. As a testament to the power of personal stories, we sat down with Austin Akers and Johanne Millet-Stanziale, two members of the Equality Alliance ERG leadership team, for a candid conversation before Samsung’s employee event to discuss their own coming out experiences and what these moments mean to them.
Coming out is an experience that marks everybody. It is positive for some, scary or hard for others — and sharing our experiences with each other is powerful.
Senior Specialist – Brand Creative & Governance in the Corporate Marketing & Communication team, Johanne Millet-Stanziale has been with the company for nearly three years. In part of explaining what National Coming Out Day means to her, she said, “National Coming Out Day is a special day when you belong to this community, something I relate to and care for on a personal level. Coming out is an experience that marks everybody. It is positive for some, scary or hard for others — and sharing our experiences with each other is powerful.”
National Coming Out Day first began in 1988 and has since encouraged recounting the different experiences and stories from members of this united community. For Johanne, her story began at the age of 15 when she first fell in love. She explained, “Falling in love was great and because I had always had a great relationship with my parents I wanted to share this moment with them. I felt like it wouldn’t matter, that they would be supportive as the open-minded people they had always been. So I came out.”
She continued, “As it turned out, my parents were indeed open-minded, but when it came to their own children it was a different story. They didn’t understand, wondered what they did wrong, and hoped it was a phase. My mom and I had a very difficult relationship for a couple of years.”
Despite her parents’ unforeseen and hurtful disproval, Johanne describes herself as fortunate following her battle for acceptance and equality from her loved ones. “They decided to accept me,” she said. “Now 15 years later, they are my biggest fans; they love my wife and my community, they are proud to talk about me to their friends, and they genuinely want to know what’s going on in my life. I’m very lucky they both made up for their initial reaction. Having love and support is the only thing people who come out can really hope for.”
You have to say: if they don't accept me, I will find new people. It turned out all my friends out in the middle of nowhere were very supporting.
Austin Akers is a Field Sales Manager for the Mobile Business, located in Columbus, Ohio near his hometown, a small, rural town called Chillicothe, Ohio. With the lack of gay representation in media and the community around him in the 1990s, Austin explained feeling pressured and confused as he first came out to his sister following his senior year of high school. He told her, “I don’t want to be this way. I don’t know what to do anymore; I’m so depressed now.” The lack of resources and this uncharted territory left the two of them on an impossible, unfortunate mission: “to learn how to stop being gay.”
He continued, “I started to realize this isn’t working for me as I read the books my sister would bring home to me. I had met somebody, and through this other person, I realized that this feels right, this feels natural to me — I need to embrace it. I told one of my best friends at the time, and she was so mad at my sister, but I explained that I asked my sister to do this and she was just trying to support me in whatever way she knew how. Maybe two months later, I told my mom, and she was really the gateway. After I told her, I made a YouTube announcement video and posted it on my Myspace account so everybody would get the same story.”
Newfound confidence with acceptance from his mother, sister, and most importantly, within himself soon overpowered the initial floods of worry and fear of disproval. “You have to say: if they don’t accept me, I will find new people,” he said. “It turned out all my friends out in the middle of nowhere were very supportive. They had a lot of strange questions, but I still have awesome friendships with them. I did lose some of my family in Kentucky, but you make your own family, you find your own tribe. After they realize you’re gay, they think you’ve become a different person, but with time they realize you’re still who you were from the beginning — they just know something new about you they didn’t before.”
In its journey toward a culture of true individuality to build a better tomorrow, Samsung continues to work toward an even more diverse and inclusive workplace. Johanne explained, “I still remember my first day at the Samsung 837 office: I walked in, and there were gay flags all over, still up from Pride month. From the second I walked in, I felt welcome and like I could be myself.”
Elements such as these flags, internal panel discussions and events, are significantly made possible through Samsung’s Employee Resource Groups. Austin, a current leader on the Samsung Equality Alliance board, first began his work with a recommendation for Pride-themed swag to be available on Samsung’s merchandise site for employees. After a few months and the beginning of a growing community within Samsung, he remembers feeling energized upon seeing the results of his idea. “That was such a big deal to us,” he said. “It showed us the power we have through suggestion and influence with this ERG. I feel like I’m constantly trying to think of different ways I can add something to the culture for Samsung, whether it’s with Pride-themed swag or events we are planning. For National Coming Out Day, I am super excited to give people a taste of a real drag queen show, so maybe they will understand our community more.”
Both Johanne and Austin’s bravery and vulnerability in sharing their stories emphasize how each personal background and experience creates a united strength within smaller communities and broader corporate culture. LGBT History Month and National Coming Out Day are great opportunities to continue promoting being the most genuine, authentic version of oneself, both in and out of the workplace. In learning from the past and driving change in the present, together, we can create a better, more inclusive future for all.