FUSE is one of nine employee-led business resource groups at PPL. FUSE is dedicated to fostering a safe environment to promote equal and nondiscriminatory treatment of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) employees. During Pride Month, FUSE is unveiling a new campaign called Empowering PRIDE to help promote understanding, respect, resilience, and an appreciation for differences between employees. Kathleen Oswalt, community relations specialist at PPL and president of FUSE, is leading the charge and is sharing her personal story as a way to inspire open discussion, education, support and networking with peers.
Forty-six percent of LGBTQ workers say they are closeted at work. My name is Kathleen Oswalt, I am the (past) president of FUSE, and I would like to change this percentage.
FUSE was created 17 years ago, then called Glow, in an effort to advocate for equal benefits for LGBTQ employees at PPL. Our membership is made up of both allies and LGBTQ employees. Through the work of FUSE and Glow, we have championed policies that include nondiscrimination protections, domestic partner benefits, diversity training and transgender-inclusive benefits. Our work combined with PPL’s commitment to inclusion has earned a 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign Equality Index for three years running.
I started at PPL a little over two years ago. It just so happens that close to that time, I had met the love of my life… a woman. Everything was new to me and a little unexpected.
We all have walls built around us. Many of our walls are made of heavy bricks formed by other people’s judgements of us or judgements of ourselves. We maintain those bricks and allow them to define us. They become stronger and stronger until they are difficult to knock down. I know this because I had my own wall around me. A wall so large that I felt like a victim of my own life—a victim of my own degrading thoughts. Living like that was absolutely exhausting. Fact is, I wasn’t the victim; I was the problem. A toxic part of my own life.
Through my journey the past two years, I have knocked that wall down, brick by heavy brick. I am out now. Literally. And let me tell you, life is beautiful out from behind that wall. I credit FUSE and PPL as a vital vehicle in my journey to lead change not only within myself, but at PPL and in the community.
In October, FUSE partnered with the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce LGBTQ Council and Olympus to host STR8 talk. It was a panel of folks representing each letter of LGBTQ and an ally, speaking our truths and telling our stories. The amount of support we had at that event was humbling and truly amazing. We are thrilled that so many people came with open minds and hearts to learn, to understand, and to show support. In honor of Pride Month, we are participating in two more virtual STR8 Talks with the LVCC, and I am honored to represent the bi-sexual seat at the first event. FUSE is also launching a new campaign, Empowering Pride, to help empower pride within yourself and empower pride within others as an LGBTQ ally.
We all have different stories and different perspectives, and when those perspectives are valued and accepted, we can create new ideas. We can do a lot when we work together in a non-judgmental and accepting manner. For me, the freedom to be exactly who I am, out from behind my wall, makes my work life and personal life so much better. I believe the way we feel about others is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. We have the power to instill change by seeking to understand, even if it challenges our previous way of thinking. We have the power to treat all with kindness and mutual respect.
I write this as a thank you to PPL for giving me a safe space to work. I write this as a thank you to the hundreds of employees at PPL’s business resource group conference last year who celebrated and cheered at the news of my engagement to the woman I met two years ago. I write this to say to anyone reading it who may have that wall around them… it will be ok. I promise.
Together, I know we at PPL can lessen that 46% and make everyone truly feel safe to be who they are, and I am proud to be a part of that.
Click here to learn more about PPL’s commitment to inclusion and diversity.