Celebrating Pride: Honoring the Journey to Authenticity

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At the heart of Pride is the desire to exist exactly as one’s self and be accepted as such.

June 2023

In some cases and places, that remains elusive for many in the LGBTQ+ community. Here at State Street, we cheer alongside those who openly celebrate Pride, and support those who are still fighting for an authentic life.

As a company, we are committed to fostering an inclusive, diverse and equitable work environment where every individual feels valued, supported and empowered to be their authentic self every day. From State Street Pride and Friends, a global network of company leaders focused on LGBTQ+ employee and community support, education and advocacy, to the “Count Me In” self-identification campaign – that allows employees to voluntarily share their information for gender, race, disability status, sexual orientation and preferred pronouns – State Street strives to provide a safe and supportive environment where employees can live authentically and reach their full potential.

We continuously review our programs, policies and benefits to ensure we are always driving progress, awareness and industry best practices. State Street has been recognized as a Best Place to Work by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) for six consecutive years, and maintains a 100 percent rating on HRC’s Corporate Equity Index.

“As a global organization, we value, respect and thrive on individuality. Every individual’s unique perspectives, talents and background not only strengthen the firm’s positive work culture, but also drive our innovation and success,” said Donna Milrod, Executive Sponsor for State Street’s PRIDE network focused on LGBTQ+ support and advocacy.

Below, State Street employees from around the globe bravely share their personal stories, and the challenges and triumphs they faced on the journey to authenticity – as well as their hopes for the future.

"When you feel different, you have all this extra baggage you carry all the time."

Jamie Whitney

SVP and Head of Alpha Legal Boston, Massachusetts

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Fresh out of law school and buried in student debt, Jamie Whitney was determined to make a good impression at the Boston law firm that had just hired him. But it was 1994, and the mixed ethnicity gay man was terrified to be himself.

“Few in society were openly out, and zero were openly out at my law firm,” Jamie recalled.

That forced Jamie to maintain a dual identity – constantly navigating between his straight male work persona and his authentic self in social settings.
For three years, he successfully juggled two separate personalities and found professional success along the way. Still, Jamie craved a life of authenticity, and went on to a new company to start anew. But at the new job, old fears persisted.

“I still felt like I could lose my job if I came out as gay,” said Jamie. “When you feel different, you have all this extra baggage you carry all the time.”

In the end, he came out only to a select group of colleagues. “Employers back then were not really supportive of gay and lesbian people,” he explained.

Things began improving in the late 1990s, Jamie recalls, when television shows like “Will and Grace” brought gay issues into the mainstream and changed attitudes about homosexuality. When he arrived at State Street in 2002, he found a supportive environment and no longer felt he needed to hide. “Now it doesn’t even pop into my head,” he said about feeling different or uncomfortable in the office.

For Jamie, a supportive and inclusive environment is key to belonging and thriving in the workplace. He feels fortunate to have that at State Street, where he has achieved a number of firsts, including becoming the first black Senior Vice President of Legal. In addition to providing legal support for the company’s Alpha business, Jamie supports diversity and inclusion efforts within the community.

Despite the tremendous progress he has witnessed in his nearly three decades as an attorney – two of those at State Street – Jamie admits the recent rhetoric about and against the LGBTQ community in America is worrying.

“Even though we’ve progressed so much just throughout my career, I find it so concerning that people seem to care so much about transgender people and issues,” Jamie said. “My hope is to see more compassion and less judgment in the world. The key [to] Pride is acceptance, and we can only get there without judgment. Try to pause, step back and put yourself in that person’s shoes.”

“I’m finally confident in my own skin.”

Javad Abbasi

Senior Officer, Alpha Delivery Portfolio Services Hyderabad, India

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For Javad Abbasi, the journey to authenticity has been long and lonely. Until recently, the 37-year-old hid his true identity from family and colleagues.

“Thirteen years into my career and I finally have the confidence to tell people. I am finally confident in my own skin,” said Javad, who identifies as a cisgender gay man.

Strong societal and cultural norms made coming out extremely difficult. India’s traditional society expects everyone to enter into traditional marriages, and that often forces queer people to be closeted, he explains. Plus, homosexuality was illegal in India until 2018.

Though an openly gay lifestyle is still not widely accepted, particularly in small rural towns, Javad is encouraged by the country’s changing attitudes toward homosexuality. India’s top court, for instance, has previously ruled favorably for the LGBTQ community and is now considering the legalization of gay marriage.

“While many gay people in India are still closeted, it’s also true that recently the number of people who have come out has grown exponentially. And that is happening through a lot of education taking place in India, including films that are bringing LGBTQ rights and issues to the mainstream.”

For Javad, the supportive environment he found at State Street when he arrived in 2019 was key to his decision to reveal his identity.

“Thankfully, organizations like State Street offer a good platform. It has a wonderful work environment for LGBTQ individuals. It is very welcoming. I don’t have to be scared. Slowly and steadily I started coming out to more people I work with,” he said.

In fact, it was a visit to State Street London that gave him the courage and boost he needed to begin living his authentic life.

“My visit to the London office coincided with Pride Month in the UK. It was like a sign from above. People proudly displayed their Pride flags at their desk and freely expressed themselves at the office. There was an openness about being yourself there,” Javad recalls.

That experience, he says, was life changing. It emboldened him to come out not only to colleagues, but also his sister (he plans to tell more family members soon) and has since begun volunteering with State Street’s Pride India Employee Network.

“The society that we live in creates barriers for you to be out and to live a gay life. But I am forever hopeful that it will soon change,” he said. “I know there is probably someone in my office who will be empowered by reading this, and I hope it has an impact.”

Javad looks forward to the day when he and the entire LGBTQ community in India can proudly display their true colors at work or at home without fear of being judged. Until then, he will keep speaking openly about his experience and supporting initiatives – both at State Street India and in the community – that empower LGBTQ+ people, especially youth.

“In an ideal world, children would not be bullied or teased for being effeminate, like I was when growing up. In an ideal world I could marry the person – a man – that I love here in India and explore the world together. Today, that's not possible… yet!”

India’s Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage is expected in the coming weeks.

“Everyone wants a place that is free of judgment.”

James Rowell

Head of Business Analysis for Investment Administration Insourcing Services (IAIS) Munich, Germany

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Growing up in Boston was good for James Rowell’s professional and personal life. The 41-year-old says the city’s progressive culture and its diversity positively shaped his experiences and enabled him to live an authentic life.

“I have lived and worked in Boston, lived and worked in Ireland and Germany, and traveled to many other places always as openly gay,” James, who identifies as an African American cisgender gay male, said. “I’ve only received positive responses throughout my life as well as my career within State Street, both as African American and an openly gay male.”

As someone who had the backing of his family when he told them he was gay and whose first and only employer – James started at State Street right out of college – fully embraced him, he acknowledges he is a lucky guy and has made it his mission to advocate for those who are not as fortunate.

After only his first year at State Steet in Boston, James was offered an expat assignment at the Dublin office in 2004. His childhood dream was to live and work in Europe, so he jumped at the chance. James says he was immediately embraced by his managers and colleagues in Dublin, as well as many of the Irish people he met outside of work. In 2011, he landed a promotion at State Street Munich. James’ German managers and colleagues fully welcomed him, too.

Some people he encountered outside of work were not as accepting, however. One encounter in particular rattled James and prompted him to take action to uplift marginalized communities in Germany. James and a group of about eight African American expat friends were at a gay club in Munich one night, when police arrived to investigate a theft. James said the police officers immediately questioned and searched him and his friends. They found nothing, but the experience was humiliating and has haunted him since.

“This was the first time that I felt how racism can ruin not only a good time, but someone's life. I don't think I've recovered from that because I never experienced that in America,” he said.

While the incident is seared in James’ memory, it has not stopped him from being his authentic self. Rather, it has emboldened him to promote progress among Germany’s communities of color, and work to advance LGBTQ+ issues. He went on to launch the State Street Pride network in Munich in 2017 with the help and encouragement of a State Street mentor.

“I’m constantly living between the African American and LGBTQ communities. That incident propelled me to do more in those two spaces,” he said.

Though James is comfortable living as an openly gay African American male in Europe, where gay rights are well established, he is troubled by what he sees happening in the United States, from the restrictions on drag shows to the banning of books that discuss gender identity.

“All the visible progress that was made when I was growing up, I feel like it’s all being swept back,” he noted. “It makes me think about the children who are growing up in these pivotal times. They might not get to experience the freedom that I had to be my authentic self.”

An authentic life, according to James, starts with a safe, supportive environment. “Everyone wants a place that is free of judgment,” and he says he is fortunate to have that both at home and at State Street.

Though the LGBTQ+ community has made immense progress in the decades since the Stonewall Uprising in 1969 and there undoubtedly is much to celebrate, the fight for true inclusion and equality continues.


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