Brandon Salas is co-chair of our LGBTQ+ Alliance ERN and a corporate recruiter in Gresham Smith’s Human Resources department. We recently sat down with Brandon to discuss his vision for the LGBTQ+ Alliance ERN, and in the process learned more about his story. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
Why did you join the LGBTQ+ Alliance ERN?
Brandon Salas: Growing up, I felt that I wasn’t able to speak up or act on my feelings because of my cultural surroundings and influences. At the time, I also didn’t yet fully understand who I was. The entire subject was a big “no-no” in my family.
I guess that coming out late in life has made me want to speak out to make up for all the years that I was silent. I was also in a place, both in my personal life and at the firm, where I felt empowered to step into this role and be an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. I want to be a voice for our employees.
In hindsight, I think I’ve been prepared to do this for years. Now, I finally have the chance to be heard, express who I am, and help those who identify as LGBTQ+ and their allies find their voice.
“I felt empowered to step into this role and be an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community”
What are your goals for the LGBTQ+ Alliance ERN?
Brandon: Our major goals encompass awareness, inclusivity and belonging. Once you create awareness, inclusivity and belonging should follow. We must create an awareness of the fact that there are people in our firm who identify as LGBTQ+, and we have to do better in terms of understanding their personal experiences and stories.
Of course, there are so many pieces that have to come together to achieve these goals. Gresham Smith’s unconscious bias awareness initiative, for example, is just one of those pieces.
We also need to create a more inclusive workplace through having meaningful connections and conversations where everyone feels safe and comfortable. In terms of overarching goals, we aim to get involved in LGBTQ+ community events, and we need to examine our internal policies to make sure they are inclusive.
What is your story?
Brandon: I grew up in a strict Mexican Roman Catholic family. Anything even remotely connected to the letters “L, G, B, T, or Q” was strictly off-limits. Like the rest of my family, I was raised to respect my parents’ wishes and decisions because I was a reflection of them. Get a good education. Get a good job. Get married to a woman. Have kids. Live a long, happy life. That was their American Dream for me.
So, I buried any thoughts or feelings that didn’t align with that vision. Also, I was the first natural-born U.S. citizen in my family as well as the first person to graduate college, and these both carried a lot of expectations. It wasn’t until I left college and was away from home in the “big city,” so to speak, that I began to explore who I truly was.
Brandon celebrates his 1st birthday with his parents in Louisville, Kentucky.
What made you finally decide to come out to your family and colleagues?
Brandon: I met Quentin, who is now my fiancé. He is the only person who ever made me want to say: “I’m gay” and come out to my parents. He was also the catalyst for my coming out in the workplace because I needed to move to Boston to be with him.
At that time, employees in more than half of the states in the U.S., including Tennessee, could still be fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. It wasn’t until 2020 that the Supreme Court passed a landmark civil rights law to protect LGBTQ+ employees from workplace discrimination nationwide.
In the moments leading up to my coming out to HR at Gresham Smith, I was very nervous, primarily because of the sociopolitical climate we existed in. I had also heard some horror stories about other people in the LGBTQ+ community coming out to employers in other companies, and I remember my heart was beating so hard that it was all I could hear.
But, as soon as I said the words I’d been dreading to speak, a tremendous burden was lifted off my shoulders because I received immediate support and acceptance from my colleagues.
I remember thinking to myself about a month later: “Why was that so hard for me to face?” “Why did I agonize about it so much?” “Why does it always have to be such a ‘thing?” I realize that so much of what I was dreading was built up in my head. I know now that it’s always best to be your authentic self, and I hope that my experience of stepping into my truth can help someone else who is struggling.
Brandon and his fiancé Quentin.
In Patrick Gilbert’s recent blog The Times They Are Slowly a-Changin’: LGTBQ+ at the Turning Point, he talks about Generation Z and the fact that there is no fear of coming out in that generation’s DNA because they haven’t grown up with the same unconscious bias that has been experienced by older generations. Would you agree?
Brandon: Absolutely. In fact, Generation Z is even different from millennials—which is my generation and only one generation removed—in terms of how they embrace sexual orientation and gender identity.
I agree with Patrick that the LGBTQ+ community is now at a turning point; a place and a time in history where people want to be more informed and proactive when it comes to diversity and inclusion—whether it’s LGBTQ+ issues or matters of social justice. Our ERN hopes to elevate that conversation within our firm.
“We must create an awareness of the fact that there are people in our firm who identify as LGBTQ+”
Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Brandon: It’s important for LGBTQ+ awareness to shift from a passive attitude of: “I’m OK with people being gay” to a more proactive stance of becoming an active ally of the LGBTQ+ community.
At the end of the day, one of the key things that connects us all is the need to be seen, heard and understood. It’s something that I’ve had to live without in the past, and it’s something I want to ensure our employees have in the future.
Brandon and Gresham Smith’s Chuck Isbell and Dwayne West join United Way staff at Gresham Smith’s 2019 United Way fundraising kick-off event.