Sandia LabNews

Sandia Labs marks Pride Month

Why we care: from Scare to SPAN

Michele Kahn

See also: Sandia Labs joins Albuquerque Pride Parade

Last week, the Sandia Pride Alliance Network (SPAN) hosted a presentation and discussion about the Lavender Scare, a 1950s-era purge of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals from the State Department and other government agencies.

The Lavender Scare still looms large for LGBT individuals today. Legal persecution and firing of LGBT government employees continued until 1995 when President Clinton signed Executive Order 12968, adding sexual orientation to the anti-discrimination statement for granting access to classified information. Furthermore, LGBT Sandians who also served in the military had to remain closeted until 2010 when President Obama repealed the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Working on the Lavender Scare presentation with my SPAN colleagues helped me appreciate how far Sandia Labs has come in its journey to become a more welcoming place for LGBT employees. I would like to share my perspective on the culture shift during my 25 years at Sandia’s California lab.

Tepid welcome

Prior to starting at Sandia Labs in 1992, I worked for 13 years at AT&T, the managing and operating contractor at the time. Sandia Labs was seen as the place to work because of its resources and missions, so I was thrilled with the new job opportunity.

I had been openly gay at AT&T with no issues whatsoever. Naively, I assumed that other workplaces would be just as accepting. This illusion was shattered at the start of my security clearance investigation, which zeroed in on my sexual orientation. I even had to call my mother in front of the investigator to prove that I was out to my family.

The investigators asked me to name my current and past partners. In the early 1990s, LGBT individuals were far more likely to be closeted than out. Just marching in a pride parade was an act of courage. For many of my friends, being questioned about their sexual orientation by a government representative was downright terrifying.

A networking group of our own

Don Hall and Darla Granzow founded the LGB employee networking group (no “T”s were openly recognized at the time) at Sandia’s California lab. Very few LGBT individuals were out at Sandia Labs, so our group was extremely cautious. Meetings had generic titles to avoid accidentally outing members when others viewed their calendars. People worried that associating with the LGB group would negatively impact their careers.

This atmosphere continued into the early 2000s. Many Sandians out in their personal lives stayed closeted at work for fear of discrimination. Being closeted requires constantly acting like someone you are not – choosing words carefully, avoiding gendered pronouns, being conscious of body language, and taking extra care when mentioning places you’ve visited or events you’ve attended. For some, it was easier to lie and refer to a husband or wife instead of a same-sex partner.

One colleague, after a very long career at Sandia Labs, decided to come out in his last year before retirement. I was honored when he said he was inspired by my example. That someone older and more experienced would look to me as a leader was profound.

After coming out at work, he said his work life changed drastically for the better. He had felt tense and anxious every day about being outed —  guarding himself against revealing personal details and hiding his true reactions to offensive jokes and statements. He realized how much emotional energy maintaining this façade had consumed. Seeing what a difference this made for him, even for a year, has motivated me to continue being brave and working to push the culture.

Sandia Labs joins Albuquerque Pride Parade

ABQ Pride Parade
Members of the Sandia Pride Alliance Network, families, friends, and allies made a festive day of it at the annual Albuquerque Pride Parade.

Sandia Pride Alliance Network (SPAN) began in 1987 when employees met under the name Q-Lambda. In 1995, it became a formal networking group whose vision is to develop a safe, hospitable, supportive, and productive workplace for all employees regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, veteran status, physical/mental abilities, and marital status.

 “I am proud of the important work you do every day in ensuring that our Laboratories present a welcoming and accepting environment for all individuals,” Labs Director Steve Younger said in a message to SPAN members. “I am equally proud that you will be representing Sandia National Laboratories in the greater Albuquerque community.”