“A good ally will listen to your experiences and needs so they can support you with their actions”
“It was my first real job,” says Kelsey Stobbs of her work at Walgreens, having joined the team at just 18. It began as part-time work at college back in 2016 when she joined the company as a Pharmacy Technician. Several promotions later, she found herself a Certified Pharmacy Technician and became an Administrative Assistant in Retail and Pharmacy Operations.
Kelsey’s story begins in Louisville, Kentucky, where she was born and raised. After her parents separated, she and her siblings moved frequently as they balanced living with her mom and visiting her dad at weekends. “We’re a multiracial family that grew up in a low-income household in undesirable neighbourhoods.” Kelsey recalls describing herself as the “black sheep of the family”. Her interests differed from her siblings, to whom she was frequently compared, but her small, tight-knit friend group offered a haven. “I eventually wanted nothing more than to be like everyone else,” she recalls. “It’s sad when you think about it. Fortunately, I don’t feel like that anymore.”
Just over a year ago, Kelsey joined the Pride Business Resource Group (BRG) leadership team at Walgreens. “I have the pleasure of driving engagement within the group, bringing our members together through discussions and social posts, and providing them with resources. I was inspired to step up when I realised how much of a positive impact the group had on my own life and work experience.” She introduced the sharing of ‘Member Spotlights’ in which members could introduce themselves and their stories. “Hearing other people’s stories is what initially spurred me into motion and getting involved – I know how impactful it can be. I wanted to allow our members to share their stories and speak about their experiences. It’s been incredible getting to hear these stories, and it means a lot to me that people entrust me with their words and stories. It’s incredibly rewarding.”
In addition to this, Kelsey also leads community outreach. Altruistic by nature and passionate about giving back, Kelsey spearheads the network’s participation in local Pride events, as well as setting up donation drives and volunteer opportunities for the team. “It’s just something I do because I love it. It brings me great joy when we’re out at a community event, and someone is pleasantly surprised that the pharmacy they go to is there.”
Kelsey knows exactly how impactful visibility can be – particularly having not seen any LGBTQIA representation growing up. “The LGTBQIA community was not visible to me when I was younger”, Kelsey remarks. “I grew up in a very religious household, and we attended a church that had pretty strong opinions on things like being queer, having tattoos, and so on.”
The impression she got was that being LGBTQIA just wasn’t something that was okay for Kelsey to be: instances come to mind of her and her siblings being told that a family friend was gay, that this was okay for that friend, but not for them.
It comes as little surprise that Kelsey subsequently felt she was “fighting” her queerness for years because of this lack of visible support. Suddenly, the years of wishing she was like everyone else made sense; only with acceptance did this change. “When I eventually came out, it went much smoother than expected. I came out to a few close friends, co-workers, and then my mom and dad. It finally felt like I had let out a breath I had held for so long.”
Encouragement and support came from Kelsey’s best friend, a gay man who supported her and introduced her to the LGBTQIA community. Spending time with him and his friends made her feel comfortable, welcomed, and loved.
Kelsey readily started to attend as many Pride BRG events as possible. The affirmation it brought as speakers told stories that resonated with her made Kelsey realise it was a safe space where she did not need to hide her identity at work. “Now I happily spend a lot of my time with other passionate queer folks and allies on our BRG board.” Workplaces must be safe for LGBTQIA staff to feel comfortable at work, Kelsey believes; with Walgreens striving for inclusivity with its non-discrimination policies and commitment to diversity and inclusion as a top priority, the business certainly does what it can to make that a reality. The network supports leadership to formulate policies, such as the trans and non-binary inclusion policy, and guides for staff on LGBTQIA-specific benefits.
Allyship is another focus of the BRG, particularly ensuring this is visible. “A wider goal of ours is to make sure people outside of the community have understanding and acceptance. Once you’ve provided a safe and inclusive environment, you have to branch out and make your allyship visible.” If LGBTQIA people can’t see you’re supporting them, Kelsey explains, how can they be confident that you do? “A good ally will listen to your experiences and needs so they can support you with their actions. An ally will equip themselves with the knowledge they need to understand you and your experiences.”
That visibility also includes LGBTQIA role models. “Representation matters. When you don’t see people like you in business, in specific roles or industries, you question whether that space is for you,” Kelsey says. By amplifying the voices of LGBTQIA people in business, more role models can be created to encourage those who come after them. “When we have the opportunity to bring queer people into spaces where they weren’t previously, we should be doing so.”
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