Every rainbow has orange: Celebrating Pride at BNSF
BNSF is working to create a fully inclusive environment where all employees can thrive and have equal access to achieve their full potential. One of the ways we’ve pursued this goal is through the formation of business resource groups.
Our business resource groups, or BRGs, are networks of employees committed to diversity and inclusion, professional development, and making a difference in the community. PRIDE+, one of our BRGs, is a diverse group of LGBTQ+ employees and allies working together to provide a community that brings a sense of belonging and awareness within BNSF.
“The members of BNSF's PRIDE+ have a shared vision of equality, empowerment and advocacy,” said Judy Carter, vice president and chief Human Resources officer. “Together, they focus on opportunities and challenges that affect BNSF's LGBTQ+ employees and policies and offer recommendations for improvement.”
Here are three of the PRIDE+ board members and their stories.
Jeremy W. Young
Jeremy W. Young is, above all, a railfan. “I love what I do,” Young said, thankful that he gets to work for something he’s passionate about. He’s been at BNSF for 17 years and is a sales manager for Intermodal Solutions within the Consumer Products business unit.
After being estranged from his father, Young used that experience to empathize with others and created his own family and community. He said, “I have the family of my choosing. Communities like PRIDE+ give employees a haven to get the support they might not have in other areas of their life.”
Young serves as the chairperson of PRIDE+. “I got involved because I wanted to make a difference,” he said. “For most of my career, I had lived a closeted life. I could count on one hand the number of people within BNSF who knew I was gay.” He didn’t want other people to have to go through the same experience.
Young first came out at work during a presentation after the launch of PRIDE+ at the company’s marketing Town Hall event, viewed by 363 people. “It was scary at first, but after I was done, it felt liberating. A weight had been lifted off my shoulders. For the first time ever, I could bring my whole self to the workplace.”
Young was shocked and comforted to find that the response from his coworkers was overwhelmingly positive. “I received nothing but praise and support. I saved every message,” said Young. He was finally able to talk about his husband and introduce him to coworkers.
“We know there are other LGBTQ+ employees who are fearful of judgment, lack of advancement opportunities, or even job loss, but PRIDE+ wants employees to be aware that BNSF supports and values the LGBTQ+ community.”
Young hopes to get BNSF more involved in community events around the network and educate others on how to be allies. “There’s still an element of hate and misunderstanding that exists in our world. After BNSF posted on social media celebrating Pride Month, there were negative comments. This just validates why we need Pride Month and a community of supporters.”
To all LGBTQ+ employees at BNSF, Young said, “You have a place here. Now is your time to bring your whole self – your true self – into the workplace where you are valued for who you are.”
Brianna Stefanski has worked at BNSF for seven years. She’s a supervisor in Hub Operations. She is also the network chair for PRIDE+.
“I decided to join PRIDE+ because when I started to come out, the atmosphere was difficult to navigate. I didn’t know where there was support, and I wanted things to change,” said Stefanski, who is transgender. She had struggled to be herself at work. When she did come out last year, some people didn’t take her seriously. Over time, however, she’s started to become more comfortable. “Day by day, people get to know who I really am.”
Through PRIDE+, Stefanski has been able to express herself to others. “Without that support network, I probably couldn’t have come out yet,” she said. In her interview for her current position, she decided not to hold back. “I was true to myself in that interview. When I found out I was selected, that gave me so much confidence.”
When reflecting on the past, Stefanski realized how hard it was to have to push away her true self. “Some people can bury their instincts, but I wasn’t one of those people. I hope one day people can realize this is not a choice. This is real,” Stefanski said.
“There are only a few times in my life when I have felt that I was whole. The first was my wedding day 19 years ago when we both said, ‘I do.’ Then eight and nine years later when I held both my babies for the first time. And the most recent was only a year ago when I was first gendered properly by a random stranger at a restaurant. Such small words as ma’am or sir may seem insignificant to most, but to a person who is transgender, they mean the world.”
Brooke Gaede is an environmental attorney. BNSF was a client for the law firm she worked at and recruited her in 2013, so she relocated with her wife and daughter to work at BNSF headquarters.
Gaede has been out her entire career. She joined PRIDE+ as vice chair to help make a difference for other LGBTQ+ employees at BNSF. Since then, she has seen LGBTQ+ employees becoming more open and comfortable, witnessed allies becoming more visible in support of their LGTBQ+ colleagues, and has helped the company get more engaged in supporting LGBTQ+ organizations in the communities along BNSF’s network. “BNSF is donating to groups it has never supported before. It’s an honor to be a part of that change,” said Gaede. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we’re making steps in the right direction.”
Having supportive leaders and allies in the workplace has been critical to Gaede feeling comfortable being out at work. “The power of allies has such a great impact,” said Gaede. When she was a young associate at a law firm, she went out for dinner with clients and a partner at the firm. One of the clients started to make a discriminatory comment about the server who came to take their order. Before the client could continue, Gaede’s colleague firmly asked the client to “please stop” and changed the subject. “It was a very meaningful and impactful moment when he spoke up. The power of someone with authority speaking up is immense,” said Gaede.
Gaede’s message to employees is: “I hope any employee reading this article leaves with a sense of wanting to join a business resource group that is meaningful to them. Getting involved in a BRG is both personally rewarding and has positive impacts on our diverse employees and on BNSF’s culture. I hope every BNSF employee understands the support that exists here and can see and feel the positive changes that are occurring.”
An influential group
BNSF leadership wholeheartedly supports the rapid success of PRIDE+. “We’re proud of the progress we’ve made. We’re encouraged that more of our employees feel comfortable sharing their stories, as these stories make all of us more aware of the unique challenges that LBGTQ+ employees face personally and professionally,” Carter said.
Roger Nober, BNSF’s executive vice president of Law and Corporate Affairs, often praises the amount of influence PRIDE+ has had since its recent inception. “The PRIDE+ group has had notable success in a short time,” he said. “First and foremost, their active involvement in our company is a highly visible symbol that we celebrate and welcome diversity. BNSF recently announced compensation and benefit program changes, and we have extended domestic partner benefits and offer same sex parental leave and adoption benefits. The PRIDE+ group emphasized the importance of having the PRIDE+ logo on a flag, which led BNSF to adopt a flag celebrating all our BRGs. They have also sponsored very well attended events that were all firsts for BNSF. Congratulations to the entire PRIDE+ membership and board for all they’ve accomplished and what they will accomplish in the future.”