Celebrating Pride Month

Personal stories from the OpenGov team

 

June 26, 2024 – OpenGov

From Dominic Belcaster, Proposal Specialist:

I was raised by a larger-than-life, Italian-American family in a city-suburb just 20 minutes west of the Chicago Loop. Although much of our time was spent here, my family’s roots were planted firmly alongside Taylor Street in Chicago’s infamous Italian neighborhood.

Many of my summers were spent in the city running through open fire hydrants – cooling from the scorching heat, while digesting the vibrancy of my culture. From small shops and vendors to eclectic restaurants, my family’s origins were embraced and a sense of community was never shy from being celebrated.

This was even more so apparent at the city’s annual Little Italy Festa where thousands gathered as live music blared and the Italian, American flags draped the city. It’s a very prideful event.

It was this connection to the city that granted me access to a wealth of differing identities and allowed me to experience the act of cultural humility from a young age. It was this connection to the city that granted me my initial understanding of what it meant to take pride in something larger than myself.

 

But my pride didn’t stop there.

My Uncle Mike, two generations my senior, always had a way of taking me under his wing. Whether it was to amplify my love for theater and dance, or to binge through an entire catalog of Barbra Streisand records together, he had a keen sense of self and insight that would unlock a new normal for me to exist in.

He was consistently there to educate me on the extent of the gay rights movement and AIDS epidemic throughout Chicago, a piece of history he stood on the frontlines for. He shared stories of the queer underground scene and how bars I frequent would once get raided by police solely on the basis of identity. He exposed me to critical communal figures like Judy Garland, Bob Fosse, and, of course, Barbra Streisand.

And although all of this seems like a ploy to lean into queer stereotypes, it’s not. My Uncle Mike was proud of these figures and movements and felt it was imperative that I lived my life informed and equally as prideful.

Being proud was never the easy choice, but it was always the right one.

I spent years tolerating insults and slurs from those around me for simply choosing to exist. I survived many attempts of my identity being shot down, even to the extent of enduring physical violence against it.

I believe no queer person should live with the fear of isolation, let alone for their safety. So I echo my Uncle Mike and believe it is imperative we all live life informed and equally as proud – through our own experience and/or through allyship.

Today, I am openly out to all. It’s non-negotiable. In life, my partner and I are surrounded by the greatest chosen family of loved ones. In the workplace, I feel holistically accepted by my colleagues – and not just for my queerness.

Everyone at OpenGov has built a culture that embraces individuality and encourages inclusion through the participation of workshops, seminars, and social activities like monthly happy hours – which our Chicago Office will be hosting at Sidetrack: The Video Bar this June, intentionally centered around Pride Month.

Pride Month symbolizes a period of liberation and resistance. It’s a time of reflection that grounds us in our history and mobilizes us for the future. This year marks my first Pride Month without my Uncle Mike and it’s not an easy one. In his honor, I encourage you to remain educated, resilient, tolerant, and loving to all those around you. Happy Pride! 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️

In memory of Michael August Termine (1947-2023) ☀️

Donate to the Brave Space Alliance today and watch “Art and Pep”, a transformative documentary on the dynamic duo behind the iconic gay bar, Sidetrack

June 21, 2024 – OpenGov

From Patrick Tesh, Sr. Manager, Sales Enablement:

For many queer children, there’s a memory like an ember in their mind. It’s never forgotten, and usually brief- even fleeting. But we pick it up to hold sometimes, to remember the weight of it. How it still burns our skin.

It may have been the utterance of a school bus driver or visiting uncle. Maybe it was a schoolyard taunt or rumor, passed cruelly from young ear to young ear until it reached us and we went red with embarrassment.

These are the moments where our otherness is called out, laughed at or villainized. But if we’re lucky, someone shows us how to nurture that ember of shame into a torch.

My mother was a no-nonsense Irish Catholic head of six children. On a warm Spring day she found me hot with anger and tears, sitting outside my Kindergarten classroom. I explained to her that I’d made a macaroni necklace, and the school bully had promptly ripped it from my neck, taunting me as “Patricia.”

She took a moment to consider the incident, looked me in the eye and said “Make a bigger necklace next time. Double knot that thing and if anyone asks who made it, just say ‘Patricia’.”

In the confusion of youth, I was wildly lucky to have parents (and five older siblings) who shared the same life value: Get ahead of your bullies, and live so authentically you deny them ammunition.

As an out gay man, I’ve taken that value and applied it to every facet of my life. I spent time in New York pursuing standup comedy- gladly getting to the punchlines of my life before the hecklers could. What I learned is that there is power- and immense joy- in owning every part of you- and that authenticity is an asset.

I joined OpenGov only a month ago, and have already seen that shared value in the people who choose to join this company and drive forward the mission to power a more effective and accountable government. OpenGov fosters an environment where authenticity is celebrated and encouraged.

This pride month, I am so grateful for the support i’ve received from family, chosen family and friends. And I am honored to have found a company whose culture truly fosters expression of individuality.

This month, I double knot my macaroni necklace gladly—and hold that ember tightly.

June 17, 2024 – OpenGov

From Thao Jones-Hill, VP of Product Management (Procurement):

“A life where I don’t have to be anyone other than exactly who I am. With all my twists and turns of what ‘who I am’ means.”

I grew up in rural Tennessee in a small town called Normandy (It’s next to the more famous small town of Lynchburg where they make the whiskey). My father was a Vietnam War veteran and my mother, a Vietnamese immigrant. In a town of about 100 folks, of course we were the only “colored folk.”

I give you that background to help you understand that by the time I was five, I already knew I was not the same color as everyone else. I also was a boy who liked boys—so I was a closeted gay, half Asian, 5-year-old boy in the middle of rural Tennessee. I was separate without having to be separated. I felt completely NOT normal, and no one had to call me sissy (even though they did) for me to know.

Throughout my coming of age, I’ve endured a lot of having to “learn life the hard way.” I had no good examples of what it was like to be “out” and “happy” at the same time, just some select sermon narratives that pinned “my kind” as evil. So, a promise I made to myself when I got out of college and moved to Louisiana was that I had to be out immediately. I wouldn’t live another minute hiding who I knew I was. It felt dishonest and disingenuous not to be out.

Without hesitation, my parents were very supportive, my friends were very supportive, and the company I worked for was supportive. When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita changed Louisiana forever, I made my way to San Francisco. It was here that I found a life where I don’t have to be anyone other than exactly who I am. With all the twists and turns of what “who I am” means.

Today, I’m out with my colleagues at OpenGov and my customers. It’s nonnegotiable.
It is who I am.

And I feel completely and wholeheartedly accepted. And not just accepting of my “gayness.” But fully accepting me as the unique human being that I am. That statement is important for everyone to hear.

OpenGov has a culture of celebrating diversity and helping each other overcome adversity. It is ingrained in the DNA of our company’s core values. Our mission to power more effective and accountable government is a mission that requires each of us to unite behind something we believe in. Then fight hard every day for the right of every resident to live in a thriving community, backed by an effective government that works to uphold the public’s trust. Our spectrum of unique perspectives, experiences, and upbringings gives us the confidence that we are considering every angle. It makes us a better company, and it makes for a work environment that is free from discrimination and full of support and empathy for each other and our customers.

(Let me just mention here that we’re hiring for over 80 positions right now across the country. It’s a very exciting time!)

I work hard. I’m passionate about the outcomes and results we achieve by building software that changes the lives of our nation’s public servants and our communities.

Pride month is necessary because, for the five-year-old brown queer kid who wasn’t sure if I was going to be ok, it gives me this opportunity to express it in a public way and say it with pride: It actually isn’t just going to be ok, it’s AMAZING! We are all different, and that makes us the same.

Stand up tall. Love yourself. You don’t have to feel or be separate. You can embrace your diversity, because each and every one of us is different, and that diversity makes the human race such a miracle. You being you is the miracle!