Pride Month brings forward a mixture of feelings about my own coming out story. I reflect on the stark differences of the world we lived in when I started my career at AT&T over 29 years ago, and the culture of acceptance we’ve built to date. Coming out and embracing my authentic, true self was initially daring so many years earlier. I was honest with myself, and my family, decades ago; but then found that nearly 25 years later I was dealing with a repeat of a “coming out” again in the workplace. While I never hid, I had been unforthcoming about my true life outside of my closest circle. So, I made a conscious decision to strip my armor and embrace my uncompromised truth.
As a leader at AT&T, I felt responsible to tell the whole truth and remove any possible vagueness in my vitality; respect in a meritocracy has always been critically important to me, and I feared my people couldn’t fully trust my standing up for them if I didn’t entirely stand for myself. I didn’t make a dramatic announcement, I just stopped pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I stood in my whole truth so everyone could always trust me.
As we celebrate Pride Month, this period represents an opportunity for both a collective celebration of resilience and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community. It’s also a personal celebration of self-love and affirmation to live without restrictions and share our reality in a bolder, brighter and louder way.
The power of the LGBTQ+ community is not in our numbers, it’s in our value as key contributors. LGBTQ+ employees own our reservations; even though our culture evidently still holds fear. I’m proud, however, to be in a position to pay it forward and be a beacon for change.
Barbara Gittings, a prominent American activist for LGBTQ+ equality, once said: Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.
A strong believer in the power of amplifying diverse voices, I’m particularly grateful to play a role in the career development of our next generation of leaders. By serving as one of the Vice Presidents on the advisory council for LEAGUE at AT&T, one of the first LGBTQ+ and ally employee resource groups in the nation, I’m able to mentor a group of strong, diverse LGBTQ+ employees whose work touches different industries and local communities. Additionally, in my role as Culture Executive Sponsor within AT&T Global Enterprise Business, we are continuing to build an inclusive and safe workplace for all employees by helping create results-driven programs based on their feedback.
I also recognize my advocacy efforts need to extend outside the workplace to have enduring change. Which is why in my personal capacity, I work with organizations like Frameline, a nonprofit with the largest global LGBTQ+ content, to provide free LGBTQ+ films and educational curriculum to middle and high schools in all 50 states. This in turn creates more visibility and representation for many in the LGBTQ+ community who would otherwise feel unseen.
And because uplifting young professionals is my true passion, I lecture in the School of Business at the University of San Francisco (my alma mater) and mentor LGBTQ+ graduate students seeking to find their clarity. It’s recurrently a highlight of my year to build personal connections with the students and to hold each other accountable to exemplify meaningful capacity as truthful humans and vibrant leaders.
In recognizing the power of representation, these words ring true to me: 1) never underestimate the power of love, 2) no action is too small, and 3) each action adds up to promote real, lasting change. We don’t need to be militant, just poised. Be out and be proud. Everyone knows someone who is LGBTQ+, whether they are aware or not, and our willingness to self-declare removes stigma and fear. Advocate for integrity and inspire others to create impact within their communities. Be yourself! Your best self.
Michael J. Colaneri
Vice President of Global Business – Retail and Enterprise Solutions
Visit the AT&T Turn Up the Love campaign this month and throughout the year for additional information on how to get involved, support, and engage with local LGBTQ+ communities.