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What Pride Month Means to Service to the Armed Forces Program Manager Riley Swanson

“… Being an authentic human at the end of the day means you can excel in all areas of your life. It is better than being inauthentic.”

Working for an organization like the American Red Cross that supports Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) means a lot to Regional Program Manager for Service to the Armed Forces and International Services Riley Swanson. She says the mission of the Red Cross is to prevent and alleviate human suffering, which extends to the workplace.

“What people don’t realize is anytime you have to hide who you are, a part of yourself, it does cause you to know these little micro sufferings of not being able to be fully yourself and fully present in the world,” said Riley. “So having an organization that says we see you. We love you. We want to celebrate you. We want to learn more about you. We want to teach others about you and people like you and people different from you is just the most forward-thinking, inclusive way of saying that we see you. That is the most beautiful part that I feel valued, appreciated, and recognized.”

Riley feels comfortable discussing her lifestyle with her co-workers. “It’s not something to be ashamed of or to be afraid of, because the culture here in the Red Cross and how we approach it is to look at it and say we want to include you.”

As a result, Riley can focus more on her job knowing she has the support of her peers. “I mean, being an authentic human at the end of the day means you can excel in all areas of your life. It is better than being inauthentic. If you ever feel like you must hold yourself back, you are holding back more than just one component. It takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of emotional strain and mental strain trying to remember what you can and cannot say or how to act…It takes that stress and constant worrying off my plate so I can do my job and fully engage with my community, staff, and volunteers.”

Riley also credits her amazing family and supportive community. “I haven’t had to struggle in the same way that a lot of people have.”

Regarding Pride Month, Riley said, “It is more than just sexual orientation. It is about gender identity. It is about who you are and how you are, and that is also a process of evolution. You know, we do not just decide one day to be one thing and then that is how we are for the rest of our lives.”

Coming out at age 15, Riley describes it as a “beautiful growth process” where you “learn a lot about yourself, the people around you and how you can feel supported in that community…It would probably be pretty boring if we were all the same.”

Riley understands there are people who do not agree with her lifestyle or would not have picked this life for her, but she says, “Love is love,” adding her lifestyle does not have a negative effect on other people.

“I have seen the different signs and things people say such as, ‘I don’t support gay marriage’ and my favorite comeback is a little bit humorous, but it is like well then, ‘You don’t have to get gay married.’ We are not asking anybody else to become something or do something they are not comfortable with…

“We’re just trying to be our authentic selves and there’s so much love in that and it’s so much to celebrate that my hope for anyone, my comeback to anyone would really just be, you know, I hope someday that you can give yourself grace and understanding to see that we aren’t hurting anybody and you can live your life the way that you want to. Just allow us that same grace and that same respect.”

Riley and her fiancée Paige plan to get married in September. “Sometimes I get frustrated and think how hard it is to say spouse or partner instead of assuming the gender of my partner. But at the end of the day, I feel lucky to have the opportunity to educate people and share,” adding she has always felt safe with her identity and has not been threatened.

“I definitely think Red Cross does a lot for DEI between the training that we have and the PRIDE resource group that we have, which is phenomenal.”

She said any minority group deserves a “day, week or month to celebrate who they are, their culture and their identity.”

This story was originally published on the American Red Cross Arizona and New Mexico Blog.