Below are thoughts from two Tyson Foods employees, Kathleen and Kiersten. Though they attended school together years before, they reconnected through Tyson Foods. The below accounts are their shared experience of becoming close friends and allies.
Kiersten and I started working for Tyson Foods only three months apart. We had previously attended school together in Yorkville, Illinois. After 9 years of not being together, it was fun to have a familiar face in my new workplace, and I quickly began to sense and feel a part of the team atmosphere at Tyson. Whenever someone has a free moment here, you help others.
As we grew into our roles, we sought out ways to contribute more to the work environment. One of our associate managers told us about the Tyson Foods Pride Business Resource Group, and we both knew we had to be a part of it.
Along the way, I not only became an advocate for those in the LGTBQ+ community; I became an advocate for Kiersten.
Kiersten’s personal journey has been one I am proud to have been a part of. I was her confidant while she went on dates with men that she thought were compatible. I watched her experience disappointment after disappointment.
When she eventually found her current partner, I could sense the slight hesitation as she told me about her. But I was elated and so eager to get to know this person who made my friend so happy – who made her feel like herself.
I have been proud to be her ally, even when the road has been hard. Even when she has felt rejection and hurt by those closest to her. I wrote “Let Me Be Your Ally” as a tribute to her – and the story she is living.
Let Me Be Your Ally
From the eyes of an LGBTQ+ ally, I see the discrimination. I watch you proudly show your colors, just to have others push you down and kick you out. I watch businesses refuse you service because of who you love. I watch hate-filled people spit in your direction and use their fists as tools of hatred because they do not understand; because they refuse to understand.
From the ears of an ally, I hear the discrimination. I hear the words of arrogance as they call you names, as they tell you that you don’t belong. I hear the hate speech used to alienate you from the world. I hear your parents’ disappointment as you introduce them to your partner. I hear the heartbreak in your voice as you say it doesn’t matter what they think.
From the heart of an ally, I can only empathize with the discrimination. I can only imagine being scared to go out in public as myself. I can only imagine being rejected by a place of business because of who I love. I can only imagine being called names every day of my life. I can only imagine how it feels when your family refuses to understand you. I can only imagine the pain you go through every day.
Let me be your ally.
From the hands of an ally, I will fight for you. Should someone refuse you service, I will do what I can to provide. Should someone lay a hand on you, I will jump in the way to take the next hit.
From the voice of an ally, I will shout your true name. Should someone slur you, I will use my voice to defend you. Should your family reject you, I will tell you I love you. I will tell you I am proud of you, and I will offer you a spot in my family. Should your heart be broken, I will be here to support you and help you mend it.
From the spirit of an ally, I will make your cause my cause. I will go to the streets by your side. I will be there to support you. I will be there to listen. I will be there to love you. I will be proud of you.
Let me be your ally.
There I was sobbing in a crumpled heap on my bedroom floor, thinking about how in a brief phone conversation, I dismantled my relationship with my parents. At 27 years old, I decided to finally be myself, and that involved telling my parents I was in a relationship with a woman.
Prior to the call, I thought about how much my parents love me. I thought about how much they supported and guided me through life. I felt that this announcement would be no different, that they wouldn’t care who I’m with as long as I am happy.
I learned that unexpected news harbors unfiltered responses.
I think the initial pause was the worst. It felt like the oxygen had left the room. I remember how my ears started ringing and the crushing fear set in. The silence passed but the questions that followed left me breathless.
“How will you give us grandbabies?”
“You don’t want to get married in a church?”
“Are you sure you’re a lesbian? Don’t give up on guys just because you haven’t found the right one.”
“I don’t think you should tell us about anyone you’re seeing unless you are going to marry them.”
I tried to continue the conversation and tell them about my partner. I choked on the words since all I heard in my head was a voice screaming that my parents didn’t accept me, they didn’t understand me, and they believed I was confused. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I allowed myself to be vulnerable around the people who love me most, and they didn’t comprehend.
The call ended. I sunk to the ground and cried my heart out, but in that moment came surreal clarity.
I realized that for the first time in my life, I allowed myself to completely be myself. I made a choice to accept who I am and not fear what others think. I believe, in time, the people I love will accept me and my significant other. Even if that day never comes, I can only control my actions and the people I have around me.
Deciding to be my most authentic self was not easy. Despite the obstacles with my family, I knew I had one ally. This one person, who no matter what, would support me for who I am.
Kathleen is not only a strong ally for the public, but she was also my ally when I needed it the most. This speaks to how important it is to have allies both at Tyson and around the world. Allies play a huge role in supporting the vulnerable when they are trying to have to same rights as everyone else. They can be the voice when others have been silenced and can lead change when there is injustice.
This journey we call life is wonderful and painful, but all in all, the journey is what we make it. Love the people around you, be an ally, and celebrate that we are all on our own journey.
I believe Tyson gave us the opportunity to be there for one another – and to share in each other’s journey. It not only brought us together professionally but also gave us a space to show our support for one another. To be each other’s allies.