It was a warm day in June a few years ago when I found myself running down Market Street in San Francisco wearing a colorful set of platform boots. As I rounded a corner, my foot got stuck in one of the MUNI train tracks and I, of course, went flying several feet forward — a rookie move for a longtime city-dweller like myself.
As I stood up, dusting off the mounds of glitter from my bruised knee caps, I remember feeling unphased and determined to make it on time. I was meeting my husband and the rest of his coworkers for the annual San Francisco Pride Parade. We were fronting his company’s float and it was essential we all got into formation when our turn to march was signalled.
It’s been a long while since many of us have collectively gathered together in one place to celebrate Pride. The memory of that period in time — the energy of showing up and standing for a unified cause — is still very fresh in my mind. Although physical and social distance has forced us to find new ways to capture the spirit of the traditional Pride experience, it has also given us time to reflect on the feeling of Pride and how it’s more than just a parade — it’s something we can live 365 days a year.
A new outlook on the meaning of Pride
Pride has felt different these past two years. The pandemic forced many of us to recede into bubbles, and aside from responding to crises, managing family matters, or even just trying to maintain stability, participating in celebratory activities wasn’t just difficult — it seemed hollow compared to years past. But even before Covid’s abrupt intrusion into our lives, many people believed that Pride was losing sight of its identity under the weight of commercialization.
I began thinking about the roots of Pride, and how what started out as a commemoration of the momentous 1969 Stonewall Riots has turned into a corporate pinkwashing season over the years. And while it can be inspiring to see the continued mainstream growth of LGBTQIA+ culture, splashing rainbows across water bottles, socks, notebooks, and other “swag” for one month out of the year has gotten to feel somewhat performative, instead of being a true representation of our community that is supported every day — through both solidarity and actionable policy.
The show must go on(line)
I believe that the first step towards forging a deeper connection with one another begins with finding common ground. Which is why I appreciate the importance Blend places on creating a path for employees of all walks, backgrounds, and geographies to commit to a common cause. This construct enables the individual pieces of each of our lives to fall into place as we all log on to work together from our respective spaces.
Even under the best of circumstances, working remotely and sheltering in place was mentally taxing, and amidst the isolation, people needed something to celebrate. Although the pageantry of Pride had faded, the call for enriching experiences endured. The Pride@Blend Employee Resource Group (ERG) was faced with a few problems: our members were physically distant from one another, we were supposed to be practicing social distancing, and how could we celebrate when so much of the world around us didn’t mirror our excitement?
Pride@Blend exists to visibly celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community within Blend and beyond. Ultimately, in the spirit of our mission statement, the Pride@Blend ERG decided that Pride in the time of Covid didn’t have to be an either/or situation. We could still choose to celebrate in June and host fun events, but we would also commit to reexamining how Blend could offer Pride 365 support to our employees.
We took advantage of the digital limitations placed on us and moved forward with several virtual Pride Month events. Last year, we created “Cooking with Pride,” where ERG members and allies contributed their favorite recipes and new quarantine-inspired culinary discoveries to a virtual cookbook, which were accompanied by some personal insight into the author’s nomination. This year our ERG hosted a company-wide virtual Pet Drag Ball where people submitted pictures of their furry friends for categories like “Pride Float Realness” and “Club Kid Couture.” The slideshow was held on a live Zoom call and winners received Chewy.com gift cards.
Fostering community through commitment
In addition to these Pride Month events, we explored other ways to embrace the spirit of Pride throughout the year. Pride@Blend led an initiative to offer more employee support by expanding our healthcare benefits to include coverage for eligible pre-tax and some post-tax fertility and adoption assistance services.
Pride@Blend also brought in speakers who led captivating conversations on topics such as equality and activism in the religious and interfaith community, and we introduced a collaborative programming model with other ERGs, like our Parents@Blend group, who co-hosted intersectional sessions that covered subjects like how to parent a transgender child.
Even if “what” we do for Pride looks different today, the “why” remains the same: to uplift LGBTQIA+ voices. But amplification has to be a conscious and collaborative effort. In June, we partnered with Open House San Francisco, a community-based organization that provides housing for LGBTQ+ seniors. Open House helps enable elderly gay men and women to overcome unique challenges they face as they age.
Pride@Blend wrote letters to each of the seniors who were in isolation due to COVID-19. This year’s Pride theme was “The Families We Create,” which was inspired by Blendkind’s bond as a chosen family. With that at the forefront of our minds, Blend’s partnership with Open House helped seniors form non-biological familial bonds, which was especially important during such a scary time.
The experience through this partnership provided an important reminder. Pride is a feeling and a celebration, but it’s also an opportunity for us to continue our education of queer culture throughout the ages and a chance to recommit ourselves to our core principles — principles that can be applied on any given day throughout the year. For Blend, that means having an active presence among communities in need, extending professional opportunities through returnships and mentorships, and actively participating in supporting causes that matter.
Embracing the vivid color of change
Someone once told me that integrity means acting in the light as you would in the dark. At Blend, our goal to bring simplicity and transparency to financial services doesn’t stop after we spotlight issues in the financial services industry. Blend’s commitment to integrity means identifying and working to address issues, especially internally.
Inspiring change starts with showing up, and that is the core of what Pride means to me. Each day that we choose to show up for ourselves, for our colleagues, or for our customers is another day we get to live up to our promise of being a mission-driven business. And much like the practice of Pride, executing against our mission is a daily, monthly, and year-long commitment.