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June 15, 2023

HHS Pride Connect: Celebrating Authenticity and Promoting Inclusion at HHS

In August 2022, HHS launched its first three Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), called OneHHS Connect Groups, as part of its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. These groups provide a safe, supportive space for employees who share a common identity, or for those who want to support their colleagues as allies. One of those groups is Pride Connect which exists to support the interests of HHS team members who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Pride Connect's mission is to represent the diverse LGBTQIA+ community within HHS comprehensively. The group values inclusion, integrity, respect, and celebrating the uniqueness of every individual. They aim to create a safe workspace where all team members can be their authentic selves.

Regional Vice President of Culinary Alyson Crawford and EVS Assistant Director David Delgado lead the charge as the group's Co-Chairs, accompanied by Sous Chef James Figueroa-Perez as secretary.

David Delgado 2022    Alyson Crawford    James Figueroa-Perez

Alyson, David, and James each found that they had passionate reasons for joining Pride Connect. David saw it as an opportunity to network and be a part of something bigger than himself, ensuring that everyone, whether an ally or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, felt included and supported. Alyson wanted to repay the experiences she had when she came out as transgender in her professional world and ensure that others are met with the same support and acceptance in their journeys. 

For James, his involvement with Pride Connect stemmed from his experience with his sister coming out. His family's positive response to his sister stepping into living as her authentic self had taught him the value of acceptance and understanding. Because of this experience, he believes that allies play a crucial role in supporting the marginalized LGBTQIA+ community.

Why do you think it’s important for a group like Pride Connect to exist in the corporate space?

“I feel like this group is very important because it shows how diverse and inclusive a big corporate company can be. [It shows that] everyone is represented, whether it's Pride Connect, Afro Connect, or Women Connect, because we often do get lost with a company as big as HHS. So it just shows that we as a company care for everyone.” David Delgado

“[Not everyone] fits into the [corporate] mold, we all look a lot different. We all talk a lot different. We all act a lot different. And so it is important to know that you're represented.” Alyson Crawford

What is the importance of allies in the LGBTQIA+ community and how do you see the role of allies in Pride Connect?

“Having allies is important in the LGBTQIA community because [having] their support and understanding shows that we are people too and we love one another just like the next [group]. It helps create the norm of inclusion for all. Allies have the most powerful and effective voices especially in the workplace environment or public settings [to combat] ignorance.” David Delgado

“It's the single most important thing to any marginalized minority group. We cannot be seen as normal if we are not treated and talked about as such. There are so many people who don't pay attention and are indifferent to our acceptance because they don't know us. Allies help bridge those groups.  But, to be clear, there is a difference between an ally and someone who [just] accepts us. If you don’t stand up against things you see as wrong then you don't support me, you just accept that I am around.” Alyson Crawford

“I believe the role of allies is incredibly important, as they provide key support to the Community.  As an ally myself, my role is to always ensure the LGBTQIA+ Community that they are heard, loved, and supported.” James Figueroa-Perez

How do you think managers/directors can make their LGBTQIA+ team members feel safe?

“Give them a voice with you and within your team. [A voice] that they don't have to fight any harder than others just to have. When it matters the most, stand with and walk beside us where everyone [can see].” Alyson Crawford

“For managers, I think it’s important to be fluid with their views on team members who identify as LGBTQIA+. Understand the hardships that some are facing outside of work and that not everyone has support in their family. Their coworkers are their support system at times.” David Delgado

“Being inquisitive, open, and mindful of microaggressions in the workplace. More than anything else, I believe that by being genuine people ourselves, we allow those around us to feel more comfortable about being genuine themselves.” James Figueroa-Perez

What is your favorite thing about the LGBTQIA+ community?

“My favorite thing about the Pride community are drag queens and drag shows. They are just full of energy and excitement. People are singing, dancing, and just having a great time. The drag performances are off the charts and it’s amazing to see the art of making themselves into the queens they truly are. I also love that I can love who I choose and be who I want to be. The bond I have made with others is strong, however, the harsh reality is that being LGBTQIA+ can be hard at times. Even our own community needs help with adjusting their views on labeling each other and fixing their ignorant mentalities. Even as a gay man, I need to be an ally for others within the community to get a seat at the table. You don’t have to be straight to be an ally.” David Delgado

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“I love how we are so diverse, fight for each other, support each other, promote each other. We all come from different places, have different experiences, have different levels of support. But one thing we have all had to do is accept ourselves and that is actually mentally something most people cannot do. We are strong because we all have had to look into a mirror and accept ourselves and admit that it would be worse living a lie that's accepted by all, than living a truth and being judged simply for who we are. I don't think most of society realizes the strength marginalized communities have. We are not weak, we are strong.” Alyson Crawford

David, Alyson, and James also acknowledged that Pride Connect has a vital role in helping HHS move forward and become an even better company for marginalized groups. By educating and enlightening others, they hoped to promote positive change and foster a more inclusive work environment. 

They also want to serve as a model for future resource groups that come along. With their passion, dedication, and vision, the leaders of Pride Connect are determined to make a difference and create an environment where every team member can feel safe, supported, and celebrated for exactly who they are. 

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