JUNE 1, 2022
Contributed by: Chris Ditty, Senior Financial Advisor. This Pride month, we are lifting up the voices and mission of our Q&A Pride Network here at First West. #togetheragain

“The more steps that we can make in opening people’s eyes to the fact that, no matter who we love, there’s no difference between us, the better. We don’t have to agree, but we are no different.”

In 2019, a call went out for a new Employee Network Group (ENG) at First West that would create a space for people to come together around the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. I couldn’t wait to sign up. I’ve always been passionate about human rights and considered myself an ally, and I was eager to be involved in forward-thinking actions at First West.

We began as a small group with big ideas and a lot of gusto. Out of the gate, our attention was on how to amplify the internal and external recognition of Pride Month at our credit union. Instead of branches taking a grass-roots approach (which is still a welcome boost), we worked to instill a company-wide practice of demonstrating our support during June. I was so satisfied to see my company go to a new level and commit to actively support the queer community.

As our ENG grew, so did our desire to help spread awareness about 2SLGBTQIA+ experiences and rights. As the kid in Sunday school who always asked a lot of questions, and that’s empowered me to become a vocal ally. I couldn’t comprehend why, because of who someone loved, they didn’t have equal rights to adopt a child, buy a house together, or be considered family. I believe there’s great power in understanding, and the value of asking questions led our ENG to our first bog event: an anonymous “Ask Anything” workshop for our employees. This session removed any trepidation or embarrassment of asking a “wrong” or “silly” question, and created comfort as we educated employees about how to be accepting and create safety for others.

This conversation was vital because people need to know that they’re accepted and they matter – regardless of whether the whole world agrees with them. They still matter.

It’s important for us at First West to be upfront about our support for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community because there are many people who need to know that they have support to be be who they are – to be their authentic self at work and throughout their day. It blows my mind that people still have to fight to present themselves authentically in 2022. Our ENG is helping people be upfront by spearheading a company-wide change to incorporate pronouns in our email signatures. This was a significant achievement in sending a message that, as allies, we’re not judging others by who they love or who they are.

I’m proud to be an ally and use my voice and perspective to speak directly to those who might marginalize someone who is 2SLGBTQAI+. It’s a huge contribution that I, and any ally, can make to relieve some of the heavy lifting involved in making change. I also encourage people to get involved in their local community Pride Month activities. It’s a direct way to learn more, celebrate and support. It’s because of people being active and using their voices to create safe spaces that I see many positive changes happening. More people standing up and speaking up for the 2SLGBTQAI+ community and letting others see that that they’re safe around you and in the spaces that you share. You never know who could be struggling with their identity, so commit to speaking up when “jokes” or comments could hurt others.

Here at First West, our Q&A Pride Network is continuing to take affirming steps by bringing a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Terminology Workshop to employees this June – as well as championing the introduction of expanded options for gender identity in our banking system. As an Employee Network Group, we’re glad to have receptive and supportive leaders and colleagues who are eager to learn more. Our future activities will continue to answer questions and expand understanding related to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community so that we’re all more open to others and First West continues to be a place of belonging.

When I started learning how to be an ally, I didn’t know it all – I still don’t because things change all the time. And that’s okay. But it’s important to put yourself out there and learn, which you can do by visiting any local or virtual bookstore or surf the Pride Month websites to see what the conversation is about today.

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