Standing on the last of 19 floats in São Paulo’s LGBT Pride Parade, Victoria Medeiros looked around at the sea of people gathered in the Brazilian city for one of the biggest gay pride celebrations in the world and marveled at the scene.
“We could feel the energy of everyone jumping around, and you could see smiles everywhere,” she says of the June 18 event, which organizers estimated drew 3 million people. “You could see that everyone was there celebrating and feeling happy. It was awesome.”
Medeiros, a sales excellence manager for Microsoft, was among thousands of employees worldwide taking part in Microsoft-sponsored Pride events in 29 cities on five continents, the company’s biggest global Pride participation to date. Microsoft kicked off the global celebrations with a June 6 event in Redmond, Washington, followed by parades and other community events. Most U.S. events were held in June, designated as Pride month in 2000 by President Bill Clinton. Other cities are holding Pride events in July and August, with Taipei’s celebration in late October as the last of the Microsoft-sponsored events.
In Dublin, Ireland, Liam Mackessy joined the city’s Pride parade for the first time this year. An account manager for Bing Ads, Mackessy was usually out of town studying or working during Dublin’s previous Pride celebrations. He was living in France and keenly following the news in 2015, when Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. Last June, Ireland elected its first openly gay prime minister.
Mackessy, who started working for Microsoft full time last July, helped organize the company’s participation in this year’s Dublin Pride Parade, held June 24. He rode on Microsoft’s float, handing out balloons as the parade wound its way through the city center. Seeing the crowd of about 30,000, Mackessy felt a palpable change in his predominantly Catholic homeland.
“The atmosphere was just electric,” he says. “It was absolutely fantastic. Going back even a couple of years, you wouldn’t have seen that many people at a Pride parade. I think Ireland has come a long way, and Dublin Pride is a real testament to that.”
Microsoft’s participation in the event, Mackessy says, sent a powerful message. “The fact that we have such a strong presence in Pride is really good for everyone, for employees and prospective employees. It shows the current employees that Microsoft supports us in our sexuality, and for people at the parade — for young people who might be thinking about where they’re going to work — they can see that Microsoft supports people in the LGBT community.”
Though Pride parades are the most visible example of that support, Microsoft’s involvement with the LGBT+ community goes back decades. The company was one of the first worldwide to offer employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners and to include sexual orientation in its corporate non-discrimination policy.
Microsoft has recently fought anti-LGBT+ bills in several states, including a proposed initiative in Washington that would have required public schools to maintain gender-segregated bathrooms and allow businesses to set their own bathroom policies. The initiative was abandoned last week after failing to attract enough signatures to make it onto the November ballot.
Supporting the LGBT+ community is part of the company’s broader focus on diversity and inclusion, says Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft executive vice president of Human Resources.
“Diversity and inclusion are embedded in how we think and operate, and are key to our success both now and in the future,” she says. “To recruit the best talent, we must create an environment in which everyone is welcomed and valued. And to create technology that empowers the world, we need a workforce that reflects the diversity of the world.”
Medeiros is part of the São Paulo chapter of GLEAM, Microsoft’s employee resource group for LGBT+ workers. She started working for Microsoft as an intern at age 20; it was her first job, and Medeiros wasn’t sure if she should tell her coworkers she’s a lesbian. Getting involved with GLEAM, she says, helped her become more comfortable and open at work.
“When I could share that part of my life, I just felt free to create and generate more ideas with all of my peers,” she says. “I didn’t have to hide anything, because I don’t think anyone else is judging.”
Medeiros helped GLEAM organize a talk for employees about gender identity and sexual orientation and was the point person for Microsoft’s participation in this year’s São Paulo LGBT Pride Parade.
“Being part of the group internally, and the responsibility for making sure that Microsoft and its employees were at the Pride parade, was a huge accomplishment and made me feel really proud,” she says.
Microsoft’s culture was an “eye-opener” to Racquel “Bebe” Gonzalez, a Microsoft learning specialist in Houston, Texas. Gonzalez previously worked for another large tech company and never spoke of her female partner at work or brought her to company events.
“I just thought that’s how it was,” she says. “We would have a lot of events at my old job, and people would be bringing their spouses with them. I would just tell my girlfriend, ‘Well, I have a work event,’ and she kind of assumed she couldn’t go. So I would go to these events by myself for many years.
“It was hard in two ways. It was hard for myself, denying that I had somebody at home, and it was also hard for my girlfriend, that she would have to stay home and feel like she wasn’t part of my life,” Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez started working at Microsoft in 2009 and was struck by the company’s welcoming culture, from the insurance for same-sex partners to Microsoft’s support of her volunteer work for a local organization that helps LGBT+ youth. After the 2016 killings of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Gonzalez watched a video of CEO Satya Nadella expressing his support for employees in the aftermath of the massacre and felt moved and grateful.
“I remember getting that video and showing my store manager, and us just looking at it in disbelief and saying, ‘Man, we work for such an amazing company,’” Gonzalez says. “And we just felt really proud in that moment.”
Gonzalez has previously participated in Houston’s Pride parade with Microsoft, but she brought along her family this year for the first time — nine in total, including her mom, sister and girlfriend. As Gonzalez rode on the Microsoft float, her girlfriend’s nieces walked in front, holding the Microsoft banner, while her beaming mother passed out Microsoft swag and gave high-fives to paradegoers.
“I was really excited that they all showed up,” Gonzalez says. “It was a huge deal for me.”
In Seattle, Kody Peralta was hesitant about being in the Pride parade. It would be a first for the 18-year-old, a consumer product adviser for Microsoft Stores, and he was wary about being out in such a public way. Peralta had also worried about coming out to his Microsoft colleagues, thinking they might see him differently, but their reaction put him at ease immediately.
“I remember being petrified to tell them, and they were like, ‘Cool, so you’re gay. What do you want to get for lunch today?’” he says, laughing at the memory. “I was like, ‘You’re kind of stealing my moment of having this really dramatic coming out story, but OK.’”
That acceptance, Peralta says, removed the stress of hiding who he was at work and strengthened trust with his colleagues. So he swallowed his fear and joined his coworkers on Microsoft’s float, standing front and center as the parade made its way through downtown Seattle on June 25.
“It was absolutely amazing,” he says. “I met a lot of people in the company who were very supportive, and I also felt that Microsoft truly does care about who I am and what I want to be.
“Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person in every organization, and they really take that to heart,” Peralta says. “They want to empower their employees, and I really did feel empowered at that moment, that I have this entire team here to support me and support others like me.”
For Mackessy, Pride is particularly special. He met his partner at Pride in Paris three years ago through a mutual friend. It was raining that day, he says, and the man happened to be the only one around with an umbrella.
“So I made friends with him and I stayed underneath the umbrella all day,” Mackessy says. “Here we are, three years later. He moved to Ireland and is also working at Microsoft now.”
Lead photo: Participants gather for the Seattle Pride Parade on June 25, 2017. Images by Dan DeLong.