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Opinion Updated: 06 July 2020
Celie Niehaus (BBVA USA)

How I’m recognizing LGBTQ+ Pride Month this year

BBVA USA's Chief Compliance Officer Celie Niehaus shares how she is recognizing LGBTQ+ Pride Month this year in light of national calls for social justice.

This year, I’m conflicted about “celebrating” LGBTQ+ Pride Month.

As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, nearly every June, I take part in Pride events, scheduled around this time of year to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which were led by Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender woman, and Sylvia Rivera, a transgender woman of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan heritage. (You can learn more about these forgotten pioneers here). The parades are an opportunity to call attention to inequality, advocate for human rights, and recognize that no matter who we love or how we identify, we are worthy of kindness, respect, and basic protections.

But this year, in the wake of national protests surrounding the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, Pride Month feels more like an opportunity to remember, reflect, and recognize those who may be forgotten, unseen, and losing their lives because of who they are. Personally, I’ve decided to remember the lives of transgender men and women who were murdered last year, the majority of whom are Black transgender women.

Behind the differences of race, gender, and sexuality is a beautiful and precious human life.

Behind the differences of race, gender, and sexuality is a beautiful and precious human life. By evaluating our own biases, being an ally, and promoting anti-racism, anti-homophobia, and anti-transphobia, we can help save those lives. Allies play a key role in raising awareness, leading by example, and being a champion. When I see or hear of parents, siblings, and family members fully supporting a child for who he/she/they are, my confidence is boosted that a brighter future is possible. Providing support in the workplace to a colleague whose child is LGBTQ+ can provide benefits beyond measure.

I'm proud of who I am today—I have a loving wife, Tabitha, and we’ve made a great life here in Texas. We’re thankful for my BBVA colleagues who welcomed us with open arms, and who have been wonderfully supportive and inclusive. But early in my youth, I recognized that I was different and that difference was something my parents couldn’t accept. Even though I was a good kid, I was a challenge to them, and eventually, they kicked me out of the house. When I look back at that time now, I realize my white privilege contributed to me being able to overcome the adversity I faced. I am one of the fortunate ones. My resilience, determination, and ability to push through fear and uncertainty come from that experience.

Earlier this year, before COVID-19 took over our daily existence, I had the privilege of sharing my story at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “Time to Thrive” conference, which promotes the safety, inclusion, and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth. I shared a message of hope and encouragement to an audience of more than 300 young people (and over 800 youth-serving professionals) that despite hardship and discrimination, things do get better.

In recent days, I’ve wondered if this promise is still true. I hold on to the hope that it is, but I recognize that hope is not a strategy; action is. I promise to take action, and I encourage you to do the same.  Together, we can create a better world that values life and is full of opportunities for everyone.

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