At Consumers Energy, we promote and support an inclusive environment that is safe, supportive and respectful for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and allies. In celebration of Pride month, our co-workers opened up about what pride means to them, how we can be better allies and LGBTQ individuals who have impacted their lives.

Tara L. Hilliard, Accounting Policy and External Financial Reporting
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Self-Identify: Straight woman

Can you describe what Pride means to you? To me, Pride is the joy of freedom for my transgender daughter to live in a world where she is loved, accepted, successful, and full of hope because of the LGBTQ advocates that have come before her to pave the way for a better future.

How can people be better allies? Being involved in Pride events and having deep and honest discussions with those in the LGBTQ community in order to make informed decisions as voters and difference-makers is a great way for people to be better allies. Doing these things helps to expand LGBTQ rights and societal acceptance.

Is there an LGBTQ person who has made an impact in your life? Who? Hands down, the biggest impact from an LGBTQ person is my daughter, Violet, who was born male at birth, and is trans female. Seeing first-hand the impacts of the world on your child makes it very, VERY real! She has opened my eyes to so many things since she came out to us at 14 years old, and has patiently talked with and educated us on the way her world works. She is my motivation for trying to make the world a better place for her and the LGBTQ community that she identifies with.

Is there a specific LGBTQ event/activity you look forward to every year, whether at work or outside of work? I love participating in the local Pride parade/festival in Jackson! When we marched with Consumers Energy’s PACE group, we saw so many local supporters. It was a borderline spiritual experience to see all of the supporters lined up! We even saw one person/onlooker crying…that spoke so much about the support of our community!

Is there an LGBTQ actor/actress that you enjoy? I won’t lie – I LOVE Daniel Levy from Schitt’s Creek. He hits my funny bone like nobody else (as well as my heart strings as his character, David, develops throughout the series as a pansexual, sweet, caring man).

Craig S. Plazony, G Engineer I
Pronouns: He/Him
Self-Identify: Gay male

Is there a LGBTQ person who has made an impact in your life? Who?
Harvey Milk. I didn’t know much about him until the movie about his life came out and it moved me deeply. I hadn’t been very close to the gay culture in my area and considered myself a bit of an outsider. After finding out more about his life and what happened, I took a much more active role – making myself known not just to the gay community but also those around me.

Is there a specific LGBTQ event/activity you look forward to every year, whether at work or outside of work? Pride parade in Chicago! I started making regular yearly friends and I love that area of town. I didn’t go last year and now I am full of regrets since it was canceled for this year. Next year, if it is going to happen, will be crazy but good I hope.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self? It’s OK if people don’t like you because you are gay. I was in the Military at the time and I started telling people close to me but keeping it secret from most in my life. People started finding out in my Navy group and I became a pariah to many people I thought were at least casual friends. Those type of people you really didn’t want to be a part of your life anyway, so it was good they showed themselves out early.

How can people be better allies? Support the political processes to make discrimination not based on who someone is. In Michigan, there is a group called Equal Michigan. Please consider donating to them or at least putting pressure on your local Politicians to support the bills Equal Michigan supports. No one should have to worry about them being denied services/housing/etc. because of who they love.

Tricia M. Eddy, Principal Rate Analyst
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Self-Identify: Cisgender Lesbian

Can you describe what Pride means to you? Pride is not all about purchasing rainbow attire and flying rainbow flags, but rather a reflection and celebration of the progress we’ve made, but still recognizing there is a very long way to go. I take Pride in being able to be my authentic self, but I know this is not true for everyone.

How can people be better allies? Educate yourself using resources such as PFLAG, HRC, etc. Don’t just say you are an “ally” but take action to show your support and respect of the LGBTQ+ community.

Is there an LGBTQ actor/actress that you enjoy? I love watching Ellen DeGeneres – she is so authentic, bold, and unapologetic in who she is and I aspire to be like her.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self? In terms of being a lesbian, I would tell myself to not hide the best part of me. If people do not want to be your friend because of how you identify, who cares, you will find people who love and accept you for you, and you will be a much happier person. Don’t give up and keep your desire and ambition in life because it will pay off.

Who was your role model growing up? My role model growing up was my mom. She is a full-time working mother of 4, the grandmother of 7, and somehow, she never misses a single event in our lives. She lives for our family and would do absolutely anything for them.

What is your favorite quote? And who said it? Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind —- Dr. Seuss

Shelly R. Ortega, Business Support Counsel
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Self-Identify: Lesbian woman

Can you describe what Pride means to you? Everything ~ I have experienced the evolution of the LGBTQ+ community and will continue to support a campaign for equal civil rights. Going forward I want my sons to be a part of a world with no judgement about who one loves and the freedom to do so.

How do you avoid, or help to mitigate, assumptions and stereotypes? I stay true to my moral compass and continue to defy a “set” rule of what it means to be a part of the LGBTQ+ family.

How can people be better allies? Please have an open heart as well as an open mind. Everyone wants to belong, and one simple act of kindness can make all the difference in someone’s life.

Is there an LGBTQ actor/actress that you enjoy? Dominique Provost- Chalkley as she just came out as Queer, but has always spoke of living with authenticity and integrity.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self? You were just discovering yourself, no less in the military during the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” era ~ I would say “Be brave and continue to be who you are meant to be.”

Who was your role model growing up? My maternal grandmother Josefina Esquivel Martinez. She was a beautiful blend of strength and love.

Liam M G. Salisbury, Building Utility Worker Specialist – Electrical
Pronouns: He/Him/His
Self-Identify: Trans man

Can you describe what Pride means to you? Pride means being myself and being in a community that accepts me for who I am. Pride encompasses many cultures, races, genders, etc. and it is so awesome to be in a time where such diverse culture is so accepted.

How do you avoid, or help to mitigate, assumptions and stereotypes? Because we never really know what others have experienced and how it has impacted them it is easy for people to make assumptions. By trying to accept each other we can grow as people. My mother-in-law said that while she may not understand being transgender, she knows it’s real. She said that she equates it to depression. She doesn’t understand it, but she knows it is a real thing. Just because we don’t experience the same things doesn’t make them non-existent or lacking in respect.

How can people be better allies? We can all be better allies of people who are different from us by realizing that just because we have differences (gender, age, race, sexuality, etc.) it doesn’t mean we don’t have common ground. We may have had similar experiences growing up. We may enjoy the same hobbies. To me, it is not about our differences but realizing our common ground that makes us allies.

Respecting our differences as well as the things that unite us make us stronger allies to all communities.

Is there an LGBTQ actor/actress that you enjoy? I have always been a huge fan of Sandra Bernhard.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self? Be true to yourself. Don’t try to be who the world thinks you should be. Embrace yourself and what makes you who you are and be that person. It will save a lot of heartache and depression by just being you and not what everyone thinks you should be.

What is your favorite quote? And who said it? “What one fears, one destroys” -Chief Dan George.

Brian T. Stevens, Supply Chain Support Specialist
Pronouns: He/Him/His
Self-Identify: Gay male

Can you describe what Pride means to you? Although there are numerous definitions of “pride,” I sincerely believe it is that confidence and self-respect we gain when the LGBTQ community comes together to build each other up so we may fearlessly be present and participating members of society as a whole.

How do you avoid, or help to mitigate, assumptions and stereotypes? Most of us know that the best way to avoid, or help mitigate, assumptions and stereotypes is to educate and have conversations (sometimes difficult one) with others. If I hear someone say a person is this or that, I always ask them if they know that person personally or whether they formed their opinion based on simple observation or from the opinions of others. If they do not know the person personally, I encourage them to introduce themselves and try and get to know that person a bit better.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self? Start saving money now. Although you will travel the world as a singer on cruise ships for 20 years, don’t blow every dime because you never know when you will be in that one location again. You’ll be much better off if you have something to show for those 20 years.

Also, you will be your happiest in your 40s. You will be so comfortable in your skin that you will finally be able to be your best self and live your best life. Society has changed and become more accepting of guys like you. Remain authentic.

Who was your role model growing up?  My father was the biggest role model in my early years. I thought he hung the moon, and I would follow him absolutely everywhere. He was a mere 27 years old and had already been married, had 3 kids, and divorced before he met my mother who gave him 3 more (including me through adoption). I got to see how hard he worked in the Air Force to put himself through college, med school, and specialization in neurology. He truly demonstrated hard work and determination and a work ethic like none other.

My first stepmother provided the much-needed discipline and taught me all my manners and how to be a true Southern Gentleman. Without her, I sincerely would not know how to behave in public and how to treat other people, especially my elders.

Trevor Thomas, Director, Customer Operational Communications
Pronouns: He/His/Him
Self-identify: Gay Male

Can you describe what Pride means to you? It’s about our visibility. For decades, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people have lived our lives in the closet due to stigma, shame and discrimination. For many people, that still occurs today – so celebrating our visibility is important to the fabric of the LGBTQ community. We’re not celebrating pride for fun, we’re celebrating who we are for the people that can’t do so – because they live in fear of being harassed, fired from their job, or kicked out of their apartment simply for who they love.

How do you avoid, or help to mitigate, assumptions and stereotypes? This is difficult but not an insurmountable task. Let’s face it: we all have stereotypes that guide us. Recognizing how we think and respond is a first step. I admit: it’s hard to un-train your core code from childhood but I can tell you it’s worth the effort. For me, I  grew up with racist roots in Marne, Michigan. I was in middle school when I first watched The Bodyguard – a movie with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. I told my parents I was going to marry Whitney and my mom responded with unkind words. I needed to go out of my way to evolve my thinking. As a freshman at Grand Valley, my professor offered a lecture on the premise that you are who you surround yourself with. I joined several campus social groups. And I’m fortunate that nobody in the group looked like me. My world expanded. Bringing it back to today: It’s on all of us to challenge ourselves to seek out new and diverse perspectives that will continue to evolve our thinking… and to encourage our friends, families, and communities to do the same. My bottom-line: Know how fortunate you are – evolve your thinking through listening and learning – and then evolve the thinking of the people you love.

How can people be better allies? Visibility matters. I would love to see an openly-LGBTQ officer at every Fortune 500 company. And it is important that people in the majority with privilege work to increase that visibility. When I was in grade school, I wished every day that my teachers or the jock on the football team or my best friend would take a stand and say: using the three-letter “f-word” is NOT ok. We must own our responsibility to diversity and inclusion. How do we do that? Let me give one idea you can implement right now. I was asked to speak in 2018 on white privilege in the workplace – and I went to the person who knows me best for his thinking: my boyfriend of several years, Brandon. Brandon is African American. Just that day he mentored a colleague who didn’t get a job and felt she was more qualified than other candidates. It’s a Fortune 500 company. The entire interview committee was white and outside of this person, the interview pool was white. So, while we could debate if there are other factors that could have been at play in the decision, Brandon said to me: just eliminate the possibility that race played a factor by creating diverse hiring committees. In that month, I had participated in two hiring committees. Both were all white and both interviewed all white candidates; one committee had five candidates and the other seven. My stand since that moment: I no longer participate in all white hiring committees or accept all white candidate slates.

Is there a LGBTQ person who has made an impact in your life? Who? Gerry Crane. I wrote my 2004 college journalism thesis on Mr. Crane and the need for LGBTQ education in our public schools. Mr. Crane was named his district’s teacher of the year and was a top performer for six consecutive years – until his commitment ceremony invitation was shared with the principal of Byron Center High School. After that, Crane was written up a half-dozen times in one quarter. At a concert, his final concert, each student in his orchestra presented Gerry with a rose in front of a packed auditorium. The next day the principal filed another performance review. The offense? One of the song selections Gerry picked was “Colors of the Wind” – the Academy Award winning song from Disney’s Pocahontas. The principal listed the behavior as “antagonistic.” Gerry resigned due to harassment. He died of a massive heart attack several weeks later at age 32. I’ve lived my life five years longer than Gerry and I think of him on my hardest of days.

Is there a specific LGBTQ event/activity you look forward to every year, whether at work or outside of work?
Lobbying for our rights! For 37 years, legislation to amend Michigan law and prohibit discrimination on the basis of being LGBTQ has been blocked by the Legislature. Each of us has the power to contact our leaders and ask they prioritize righting this wrong. Michigan is one of the few states where you CAN fire someone for being LGBTQ or kick them out of their house or deny them service. Sure, maybe it doesn’t happen at Fortune 500 companies too often. But more than 1,000 Michiganders called the Equality Michigan hotline because they work for a business without the compliance policies we enjoy at Consumers Energy.

They have no recourse. I’m oftentimes told they can just sue their employer. But it’s the privilege in us talking when we don’t remember, how much time and resources – and money – that would take while they have no place to sleep that night. And why should they accept that additional burden when we should all simply be treated just like everyone else: equal.

Is there an LGBTQ actor/actress that you enjoy? Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America.” In 2013, I worked for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and we collaborated with Robin to make a music video called “Overcomer” that later premiered on the show. You can view it here. It was the first time Gabby and Robin were releasing images from their time in the hospital. You can see on their faces you can do anything.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self? I struggled with mental health due to the conflict of being Catholic and asking myself if being gay was a sin. I would underline and bold in a letter to my 22-year-old self: God made me and he doesn’t make mistakes.

Who was your role model growing up? My mom. At 27, her motorcycle hit another motorcycle. Despite having a helmet, the front of her face hit the pavement and was sheared off. She didn’t have a pulse but a sheriff’s deputy performed CPR anyway and saved her life. She had more than 20 surgeries to rebuild her cheekbones, nose, eye sockets, install fake teeth and rebuild her lips. That took about five years. Yes, she is my role model.

What is your favorite quote? And who said it? Well done is better than well said. Ben Franklin.