This year’s month of Pride has been one of personal reflection for me. Not only is it the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, but this weekend my partner Mark and I will be celebrating World Pride in the U.S. for the first time. It’s a moment to look back with gratitude and to look forward to what needs to happen next. I’ll never take for granted that I’m writing about LGBTQ+ topics in a corporate culture that supports me as an openly gay man.
Coming out at my first job in early 1994 came with great trepidation. I had enjoyed being out at college and with my family, but I was going back into the closet in many ways. I started as a graphic designer with a fantastic company and colleagues. Eventually, part of the job growth called for getting a security clearance. Back then, you could be denied a security clearance based on your sexual orientation. I had to come out to my boss and the investigator. Fear and dread were the norm for a couple of weeks. I was starting out on my own. The idea of losing my job made me angst-ridden; however, I had nothing to hide. So that’s the attitude I took. I wanted to be true to myself and with others.
Still, with hands and voice trembling, I told my boss I needed to talk. I said you know how I have that clearance coming up? Well, I may not get it due to something. I’m gay. I felt like I was coming out to my mom again! Thankfully, my boss, Amy Taschler Snyder, quickly put me at ease. First, she was immediately accepting. Amy told me not to worry. Even if I didn’t get the clearance, I would still have a job. This moment with Amy is one of my most genuine pride moments. To have the pride and protection of a straight ally is something I will never forget.
Next came the meeting with the investigator. A simple matter of questions occurred. Then THAT question came next: “Mr. Buraker, are you gay?” I said yes with confidence. I still remember his body language instantly changing. He moved back from me with his arms folded in a defensive position. I had told all my family and close friends. There was nothing to hold over me, so I couldn’t be blackmailed. I couldn’t wait for the questions to end and to hear the outcome. To my surprise, my clearance came through in less than two weeks – it was one of the fastest approvals my company had ever seen. Being out and proud had its advantages. I was living my truth. Amy was thrilled, and we’ve maintained a friendship since that day.
In 1995, President Clinton signed an executive order barring the federal government from denying security clearances to LGBTQ+ employees based on their sexual orientation, ending decades of discrimination. Workplace acceptance has increased in the past 25 years, but there’s much room to grow.
During my 13 years at Porter Novelli and 11 now at Ketchum, I’m fortunate to have been accepted so readily at both firms and within our parent company, Omnicom. I’m grateful to participate in activities with OPEN Pride, which fuels the personal growth, organizational inclusion and business success of Omnicom Group’s LGBTQ+ employees and allies.
While Ketchum, like most creative agencies, upholds inclusion and equality, it can be a stark contrast to America at large due to a lack of federally mandated non-discrimination policies. A recent 2018 Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation survey found that 46 percent of LGBTQ+ workers are closeted at work. And in 30 states, LGBTQ+ people are at risk of being fired or being denied housing and other services. The historic passing of the Equality Act in the U.S. House of Representatives gives me some hope.
LGBTQ+ equality in the workplace continues to grow. HRC’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI) cited 571 businesses which earned a top score of 100. They meet significant benchmarks, “including a record number offering transgender-inclusive health care policies – in the most comprehensive assessment of workplace LGBTQ inclusion in the 17-year history of the report.” Omnicom and many of our clients are proudly among the list earning perfect scores on the CEI.
Coming out at work can be even harder than at home. If you know someone who is looking to come out at work, I encourage them to start with HRC’s Coming Out at Work Guide.
The theme for World Pride this year is “Million Moments of Pride,” and looking back on this year’s Pride Month gave me a million moments of both pride and gratitude. Regardless of your sexuality, we all can be allies like Amy was to me — whether if it’s at work, home or your community. Remember to do so with love, compassion and pride.