10 min read

June 1, 2022

Loud and proud: How LGBTQIA+ employees at AWS are 'out' in the workplace

Written by Life at AWS team

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Employees reflect on their personal Pride journeys and pressing issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community

Andrew S. started his career in the U.S. Air Force during the era of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the official U.S. policy that allowed gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans to serve their country only if they concealed their sexual identity (it was repealed in 2011). Andrew recalls feeling like he couldn't be his true self without the freedom to share who he liked, loved, or cared for openly.

Andrew is the director of Amazon Web Services (AWS) training and certification sales and development for Asian Pacific Japan. At AWS, he's openly himself around his colleagues and team and brings what he calls his "entire self" to work. That ability to be authentic is what Pride month, celebrated every June, means to him.

Celebrating Pride month is a deeply personal experience for the LGBTQIA+ community across AWS. Some participate candidly in official Glamazon events—Glamazon is Amazon's employee-led community group for the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies—while others take a more subdued approach. In honor of Amazon's 2022 Pride theme, "Pride Out Loud," AWS builders share what Pride means to them while also recognizing that not all members of the LGBTQIA+ community feel safe or supported to shout Pride from the rooftops.

Because these quiet or silent members either choose to or can't be fully out, Pride month is both celebratory and emotional. The community lauds the strides they've made while simultaneously recognizing how much farther there is to go.


Being "out" at AWS

Hexen W. is nonbinary and uses the pronouns they/them. Nonbinary is a gender identity that doesn't fit within the male or female binary spectrum; therefore their gender identity isn't exclusively man or woman. Hexen, a solutions architect in London, presents their identity differently each day. For example, some days they wear makeup and others they don't.

"I also have pronouns on most communications and strive to get others to do the same," Hexen said. 

Within AWS and Amazon, Hexen found an internal resource called the Transgender Toolkit particularly helpful for learning about company support, benefits, and mechanisms in place for LGBTQIA+ Amazonians. Hexen also found a group of other nonbinary and transgender colleagues to communicate with regularly. 

"The community here is so supportive—it's helped me find confidence in myself and enables me to be happier by being who I am," Hexen said.

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Luc T., an AWS inside sales representative in Singapore

Luc T., an AWS inside sales representative in Singapore, said coming out at work is easier than coming out to loved ones, plus it's a way to own your own story. Because being out is so personal to each individual—and often influenced by family and cultural norms or expectations—Luc said the LGBTQIA+ community at AWS also acknowledges those who can't or don't want to be vocal about this part of their identity. 

"Coming out is a personal choice, and we just listen to our hearts and what makes us happy,” Luc said. “At AWS, we make the investment and effort to create a safe environment for everyone to be themselves and bring their true talents. There's support for all employees at work, including career development and mentorship programs. Coming out at work is a pleasure. I can contribute my uniqueness to the company and connect with people genuinely."


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Leo J., a demand generation representative for AWS Latin America

Leo J., a demand generation representative for Latin America, said not all LGBTQIA+ people necessarily need to "come out." 

"You don't need others' approval. The only approval you need is from yourself," said Leo, who is a gay man. "Look inside yourself. Therapy is an excellent way to understand your feelings so you won't feel so anxious." 

As for anyone who has anxiety about being out at AWS, Leo has simple advice: There's no need to worry about that here. 

"I have never felt so safe and included as I do at AWS. Our culture and community includes us and is proud of us," he said. "This is a place where we can be who we really are and contribute our personal experiences to our jobs."


An LGBTQIA+ "best place to work"

Amazon has earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index for the fifth year in a row, ranking it among the "Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality." The advocacy group grades employers on protections for all employees, inclusive benefits, work culture, and corporate social responsibility. 

Parental leave is available for any type of parent, including those in LGBTQIA+ relationships. Amazon also provides medical benefits for same-sex domestic partners and transgender benefits in some countries, including gender transition coverage. 

AWS has an Inclusion Ambassadors program with chapters around the world that teach skills and tools for effective inclusion, diversity, and equity (ID&E) leadership. Thousands of active ambassadors work to amplify AWS's inclusion work and ID&E programs while also having a say in how AWS creates a more inclusive culture. 

There are company-wide trainings on interrupting unconscious bias, strengthening the work culture of inclusion, inclusion 101, and many others, in addition to regular live broadcast panel discussions, roundtables, and social events. 

AWS also partners with organizations like StartOut, a nonprofit that empowers LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs, and GLAAD, which advocates acceptance for the LGBTQIA+ community.

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Karie A., technical editor at AWS

Meg C., a senior executive coach and trainer at AWS, is a big fan of the AmazonSmile program, where Amazon donates 0.5% of eligible purchases to the charitable organization of the customer’s choice. There are more than one million organizations on the list to support. 

“When Smile started and given the volume of sales at Amazon, I wrote to every nonprofit I knew to make sure they took the time to be included in the list and promote it to their donors and constituencies,” Meg said. “And I still do that. I’m proud to say it’s up to almost $30,000 that I’ve contributed over many years via AmazonSmile.”

"We are not a perfect company; no one individual, no one business, can be. But it's vital that we work together every day to become more perfect," said Karie A., a technical editor at AWS who identifies as a transgender woman. 

Karie said working as a queer person at AWS is the best decision she's ever made. She feels wanted, valued, respected, and heard as a whole person with valuable lessons and tools that can help build a more just world. 

"Which is what Pride is about: being seen as all of me, that my sexuality and gender identity are inseparable from every other part of me," she said. "To ignore or harm those parts is to ignore or harm all of me. Working here has made me feel that I belong, instead of simply being tolerated. I think that's the most important gift anyone can be given."

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Meg C., a senior executive coach and trainer at AWS

Meg C., a senior executive coach and trainer at AWS, is a big fan of the AmazonSmile program, where Amazon donates 0.5% of eligible purchases to the charitable organization of the customer’s choice. There are more than one million organizations on the list to support. 

“When Smile started and given the volume of sales at Amazon, I wrote to every nonprofit I knew to make sure they took the time to be included in the list and promote it to their donors and constituencies,” Meg said. “And I still do that. I’m proud to say it’s up to almost $30,000 that I’ve contributed over many years via AmazonSmile.”


Weighing on LGBTQIA+ hearts

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Tina B., a technical sourcing recruiter at AWS

Without the collective efforts of the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies, Tina B. knows her life would be much different. In 2015, same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States, paving the way for Tina, a technical sourcing recruiter at AWS, to marry her partner. 

"I got married in October 2020 to my beautiful wife and couldn't imagine this not being a reality for us," Tina said. "I'm forever grateful for the members of the LGTBQAI+ community who never gave up and fought to get us where we are." 

Luc is hopeful that country-to-country wins for the LGBTQIA+ community can inspire other countries around the world to progress and acknowledge the community. Amazon's positions on LGBTQIA+ issues, which include supporting marriage equality, equal rights for transgender people, and the passage of the Equality Act in the U.S., can also inspire other corporations to support these causes. 

Karie said the very notion of gay pride is "inherently radical," and it's also about more than just validation. The need to advocate for equality—especially as the community continues to face legal and cultural challenges around the world in governments, houses of worship, the media, and other places— is a lifelong commitment for the LGBTQIA+ community. The safety of transgender youth is especially pressing for Karie in 2022, as some U.S. states enact policies that punish families for providing gender-affirming care for their children. "Pride is about standing up for ourselves. 

Pride is about being unapologetically ourselves and being unafraid and unbowed when our existence and joy offends the narrow-minded and cruel," Karie said.


'You belong here'

Dei'Marlon S., an associate account executive for emerging independent software vendors at AWS, recalls feeling conflicted throughout his childhood because of the way society defined "straight" and "masculine." Now, he feels empowered to break through labels and stereotypes to celebrate his individuality. 

"When I was growing up, I couldn't be in theater. I couldn't sing. I couldn't bake. And I couldn't do arts and crafts because it wasn't 'manly' enough. The most common preconceived notion is that all people of the LGBTQIA+ community act a certain way and fit into a box," he said. "However, I seek to not be defined by a social box, because even boxes bend when there is too much pressure on them."

Dei'Marlon loves that AWS leads with inclusion in its ID&E efforts. 

"Before you can have diversity of thought, experience, sexual orientation, you must first make way for inclusion. During my time here, I have felt nothing but included and even have the opportunities to create events and programming to make the experience that much more inclusive," Dei'Marlon said. "You belong here." 

As AWS strives to be earth's best employer—a new Amazon leadership principle added in 2021—ID&E remain at the forefront of the company's hiring, onboarding, training, and career development opportunities. Click here to learn more about Pride at AWS or to search open roles.


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