INL has taken a strong public stance in support of inclusion, however many people are still hesitant to share that they are part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. The local community and laboratory are filled with wonderful, kind people who have built the foundation for an inclusive culture, but still, until now, only one employee felt comfortable being completely open to colleagues and the general INL community about being gay at work. Only one.
Pride Month, celebrated every June, is about encouraging people to be open and free to be who they are. At INL, the guidance from senior leaders is clear: When people are free to be themselves, they do their best, most innovative and creative work. Our diverse population contributes to our success. We need an inclusive environment to be a world-leading national lab.
In the spirit of inclusion and openness, three employees who’ve never shared broadly that they’re part of the LGBT community, courageously share their perspectives on what it’s like to be LGBT at INL and in a traditionally socially conservative community.
Why now? All three employees said they’ve felt a shift in our laboratory culture toward inclusivity. They know leadership has their back and won’t tolerate discrimination of any kind.
All three should be commended and supported for being brave enough to share their authentic selves.
MEET HOLLIE GILBERT, PROJECT MANAGER FOR THE OFF-SITE SOURCE RECOVERY PROGRAM
Born and raised in Idaho, Hollie Gilbert is a fifth-generation Idahoan who has worked at INL for 34 years. While she was still in high school, she got her first job at the Naval Reactors Facility (NRF) washing dishes in the cafeteria.
“I’ve worked at pretty much every INL facility and had lots of different jobs,” said Gilbert. Many at the lab may remember her time as an archaeologist, but her current job is a project manager for the Off-Site Source Recovery Program, part of the Energy and Environment Science & Technology directorate.
Although she’s been out since she was 18 years old, for many years Gilbert kept her personal life hidden from her colleagues. “At work, I was closeted and felt the threat of needing to keep my lifestyle to myself,” she said. “I knew employees who were literally put through the wringer while trying to apply for clearances. This only supported my fear of keeping my personal life private.”
Gilbert said since that time in the mid-1980s, the culture at INL has significantly changed. The change started with some bold initiatives led by Human Resources’ Inclusion and Diversity team and Prism. “If it wasn’t for the groundbreaking efforts of Theron McGriff and Arantza Zabala, I might still be closeted at work,” she said.
For instance, in 2000, Zabala, Inclusion & Diversity manager at the time, brought in motivational speaker Dave Pallone, the first openly gay Major League Baseball umpire, to speak to employees at the lab about the value of inclusion and being yourself.
“People were freaking out,” said Gilbert. “They obviously didn’t know I was gay. They said some pretty offensive anti-gay remarks and were outraged they had to go listen to a gay person talk.” Gilbert said she felt like standing up and shouting “I’m gay!” but felt it was too risky at the time.
Why did she choose to share her story now? Gilbert said she’s felt a shift in society, but also in the outward support from the INL management team and the general employee population.
“I have found amazing support from our upper management and my direct management,” she said. “I really do feel that management won’t hesitate to act if discrimination takes place.”
Gilbert also said little things, like seeing employees wearing the Prism rainbow lanyards, gives her a great feeling of support.
She is happily married and said she’s never tried to hide that she’s gay, but definitely didn’t advertise it. Now the cat’s out of the bag.
Her advice to other LGBT employees? “If you experience any negative feedback or discrimination, don’t hesitate to get management involved.”
Gilbert said unlike some other underrepresented groups, homosexuality doesn’t have a color – it’s not something you can necessarily tell just from looking at a person. For this reason, it’s even more imperative to be kind to everyone.
“We’re all human. We all have our own struggles,” said Gilbert. “Be compassionate and treat everyone with dignity and respect. We’re more alike than we are different.”
MEET CHRISTOPHER SMIGLIANI, MANAGER OF TESTS FOR THE WIRELESS TEST BED
Christopher Smigliani is a man of many talents. He’s pentalingual (speaks five languages – Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, French and English) and has lived all over the globe in some of the world’s largest cities. So, what brought him to Idaho? The opportunity to do a really cool job. Smigliani is a manager of tests for INL’s Wireless Test Bed in the National and Homeland Security directorate.
“My job is part project management, part business development, and part logistics and operations,” he said. It’s a mission-critical role where he gets to work directly with customers on cutting-edge wireless innovations.
Although he loves his job, his path to INL wasn’t something he’d planned growing up. Smigliani studied international marketing and French at Georgetown University, but “fell into” radio frequency (RF) engineering and cellular communications in the early 1990s. His first job in the telecommunications industry was serendipitous. “I was visiting Paris and sat next to some people in a restaurant who worked in the telecom industry,” he said. After chatting with them, Smigliani ended up scoring a job in the international engineering services department at a company called Lightbridge Communications Corporation (LCC) in France.
Now he’s spent 27 years, four at INL, working in the cellular and wireless technology industries for both industry and government.
Like many newcomers to Idaho Falls, Smigliani experienced some culture shock when he started working at INL. “I’d lived around the world in big cities and am originally from Miami,” he said, “so moving to a place with a more homogenous population was a big adjustment.”
He said being a gay man living in a traditionally conservative area is much different than other places he’s lived, but it’s been mostly positive. “The only experience I’ve had with someone being overtly discriminatory wasn’t because I’m gay and wasn’t inside INL, but out in the community,” he said. “My partner and I both speak Spanish and were talking in Spanish on a sidewalk together. Someone came up to me and said, ‘Why are you speaking Spanish? You’re white. Speak English.’” Smigliani said he was just shocked someone felt that comment and behavior was appropriate.
But in general, life is good. “I don’t scream out that I’m gay, but I also don’t try to hide it,” said Smigliani. “I keep photos of my partner in my cubical and share pieces of my personal life with my colleagues.” For instance, when everyone tells stories about what they did with their families over the weekend, he’s not hesitant to chime in and talk about his partner.
One thing he has noticed is people are more cautious in what they talk about and he’s careful to be sensitive when talking about his personal life. Smigliani knows some people haven’t come around yet and he’s OK being considerate of their views as long as everyone treats each other with dignity and respect.
Smigliani said he can still tell some people are dismayed knowing he’s gay, but in general, he’s had a positive experience at the lab. Even in just the four years he’s lived in Idaho, he’s noticed things are changing. People are starting to realize that LGBT people are just people too.
“Differences in people enrich our environment; both inside INL, and outside as well,” said Smigliani. “We all have something we can learn from someone else, no matter what our individual backgrounds are.”
MEET NICK CASE, PROGRAM COORDINATOR FOR THE INNOVATIVE NUCLEAR RESEARCH INTEGRATION OFFICE
Nick Case is not a showy person. He’s self-described as pretty shy and tends to stay out of the limelight. So being part of a feature story where he’s in the spotlight pushed him way out of his comfort zone.
“I’m doing this because I made a pact with Hollie [Gilbert]. I said if she did it, I would do it,” Case said.
Like Gilbert, Case grew up in Idaho. After he graduated from high school in Idaho Falls, he studied finance at Idaho State University, then earned his master’s in technology management at University of Idaho. He started working at INL as a subcontractor about 16 years ago and since then has worked in many areas, including contracts/supply chain management and Facilities & Site Services.
What inspired Case to open up? Besides solidarity with others who identify as LGBT at INL, he feels support from management. “Dr. Peters has motivated me to be open, and I know sharing concerns won’t result in retaliation,” he said.
Case said the climate at INL has changed. “It’s important to be yourself. If you’re looking for somewhere you can be open, INL is the place,” he said. Management really is serious about inclusion and will take action if discrimination occurs.
He’s been involved in supporting the LGBT community for many years, but until now has stayed behind the scenes and never wanted to draw attention to himself.
Case is one of the four original founders of Breaking Boundaries, a local nonprofit founded in 2002 that raises awareness and support for diversity of culture and ideas and holds fundraisers to provide support for those living with HIV/AIDS.
“Starting Breaking Boundaries was a big step for the local area. It kick-started LGBT inclusion efforts in the community,” said Case. Since that time, there’s now an annual Pride Parade, INL established the Prism Leadership Council for LGBT employees and allies, and other inclusive events have sprung up.
What can allies and others do to make members of the LGBT community feel included at INL? “You might not know that someone is LGBT, but chances are you know someone who is,” said Case, “so just be supportive and kind to everyone.”
All three employees had one common message: the world is changing and Idaho is changing with it. The INL leadership team, council groups like Prism, internal employee messages (iNotes) and feature stories all reinforce this message: The lab is serious about inclusion and has the power of lab leadership behind it. We’re all part of the INL team.