Visiting Johnson & Johnson makes you realize how much one company can make up so much our everyday lives. With global brands like Tylenol, Benedryl, and Neutrogena, it’s no wonder that this company has such a large and diverse staff in the tri-state area alone. Last week, Live Out Loud gave LGBTQ and ally students from across NYC the opportunity to meet the people who market and develop these products, as they talked about being openly LGBTQ or Allied in the workplace. As it turns out, the employees of Johnson & Johnson are really just as caring as their marketing suggests.

From my perspective, the panel discussion was truly the heart of the program. The panelists were a group diverse in sexual orientation, gender identity, race, as well as professions. As a result, students were privy to many different sides of the story. The six panelists shared their authentic selves through candid stories, and students were captivated and moved by every one.

Panelists began by sharing what it’s like being out in the workplace. Jenna, a transwoman, shared the strong support she found at J&J and the groundbreaking steps they are taking to develop a corporate guide to transitioning in the workplace. Because there were no official corporate policies to follow, J&J decided to create them. Panelists also shared their best advice to students for coming out, and the consensus was to follow your gut, but more importantly wait until it is safe. The chair of J&J’s LGBT affinity group, David, shared how he decided not to come out to his parents until he was financially independent. When he finally came out they were the last to know, and while they were hurt by this fact, he explained that he wanted to wait until they were ready to give him the emotional support he needed. I thought this was a really important story for the students to hear, especially in a culture that places such an urgency on coming out.

I was also happy that allied students were able to hear from someone who can speak to the importance of standing up for others. Liz, a straight ally, shared how much she gets out of participating in Johnson & Johnson’s LGBT employee resource group. She encouraged students to view being an ally as an opportunity to educate others who might be too shy to directly ask LGBTQ people questions. Another panelist, Jenny, told a story of when she overheard an employee say “that’s gay”. To her surprise, someone stopped them and pointed out the offensiveness of what they said. I can imagine how inspiring this would be to a high schooler, for whom hearing derogatory phrases can be an everyday occurrence. In their shoes, hearing about co-workers standing up for one another like that would have inspired me to dream about my own future workplaces.

Behind the Scenes at Johnson & Johnson was a chance for LGBTQ and ally students to relate to successful adults who still confront similar issues and are still on their own personal journeys. From coming out to friends, to dealing with micro-aggressions, both generations were able to find common ground. J&J’s employees gave the younger students hope that they’ll be able to overcome their present struggles, and confidence to look past high school to the possibilities the future will bring.