Serving with pride can be interpreted in a variety of ways to different people. Some serve proudly as Veterans taking care of Veterans. Others serve proudly as friends, family and supporters of our nation’s heroes. Many take care of Veterans proudly (such as women, African Americans, members of the LGBT community, or persons with disabilities); our differences make us strong and our solid commitment to serve Veterans joins us together.
I began working at VA directly out of college as a Veterans service representative at the Des Moines Regional Office. When I started, I wasn’t “out” because I thought letting my true and honest identity show would be difficult to overcome in the workplace and make serving our Veterans more of a challenge. I was dead wrong.
Instead, I noticed VA was a place where differences were embraced and celebrated. Judgments were based less on the color of your skin, your disabilities or sexual orientation and more on the many benefits I brought to the organization. I still remember during my first week at VA, being surprised that one of my co-workers had a picture of her and her girlfriend in her cubicle. How could she do this without fear of retaliation? What did it mean for her career goals? Would she suffer any consequences from being herself? These questions and many more danced through my head.
For the first couple years, I observed my co-worker and learned from her ability to accept herself and continue to serve proudly in whatever task she was given. By her actions, she helped me feel a little more at home, which allowed me to see that wearing a mask would only hurt my ability to serve Veterans in the best way I could.
VA’s commitment to diversity has allowed my co-worker to thrive and permitted me to be myself. Since coming out many years ago, I’ve now had the opportunity to speak openly and honestly with many straight and gay Veterans and help them with specific needs. I’m proud to be serving VA at a time in history where your ability to succeed in your career is not based on sexual orientation but your commitment to our nations Veterans. It has been an honor serving as the co-chair of the 2014 LGBT VACO Planning Committee and I look forward to a successful and worthwhile event!
Ryan Fiacco is a management and program analyst for the Veterans Benefits Administration’s education service, strategy and legislative development office.