One of Microsoft’s directors of government affairs kept his authentic self quiet and closed off for too long. Now, he’s working to make that path easier and safer for fellow LGBTQ+ people.
By Candace Whitney-Morris
John Galligan spent half of his adult life as a closeted gay man, a time he describes as not truly living. In fact, he said he didn’t start to live his life until his early thirties.
“I was trying to be something I wasn’t,” he said. “And that slow release of power and energy, it’s exhausting and was always affecting my work. Being very good at acting like something I wasn’t . . . it’s the art that I’d perfected.”
That all changed when Galligan met his partner, now husband, 20 years ago, who helped him accept who he was, to live as a gay man proudly, and to even confront some of his own prejudices about what he assumed people could or couldn’t handle. “I thought I was protecting people by not confronting them with who I was,” he said. “I was wrong.”
The past two decades with his husband have been a journey not only of love and fun, he said, but also in helping Galligan be more accepting of his own sexuality, who he is, and who he could become.
Galligan is now out and active in his community. He’s also a senior director for Microsoft’s global government affairs team, working to protect and advance the rights of all people, including those who are LGBTQ+ and who don’t feel safe or welcome.
Across the globe, the cultural views and tolerance around being gay still vary widely. Galligan’s team focuses in part on making sure LGBTQ+ employees are safe and supported within the walls of their workplace wherever they live.
“Microsoft can be a safe place for people to bring their authentic self, even if the outside world is hostile to them, even if their friends and family might not accept them,” he said. “They can come to a place that will accept them not just for who they are but also for who they can be.”
“I thought I was protecting people by not confronting them with who I was. I was wrong.”
Because Galligan knows what it’s like to not live his truth at work, he’s determined to help Microsoft support the rights of its employees and live up to its values of empowering every person on the planet—even when the outside culture is slow to adapt and when equality for LGBTQ+ people is lacking.
Before moving to Seattle, Galligan and his partner lived in Singapore, where there are still laws criminalizing homosexuality. And while these laws are rarely enforced, he did feel the discomfort of living in ambiguity. “The middle path is in some ways the most uncomfortable because it doesn’t challenge you to actually go out and confront systemic intolerance.”
That’s why it’s important to him that he doesn’t get too comfortable—that he remembers what some LGBTQ+ people and employees face and does what he can to help. Working in a company where the culture is attuned to human rights near and far reminds him of what inclusion feels like and what to strive for in his advocacy.
“Microsoft can be a safe place for people to bring their authentic self. They can come to a place that will accept them not just for who they are but also for who they can be.”
“I’ve never felt, in any way, excluded [at Microsoft]. I think that’s a tribute to the company, but I also think that’s a tribute to the tens of thousands of people who continue to move the company increasingly toward a diverse and inclusive environment.”
Galligan reminds himself all the time that there’s still so much to fight against. But when feelings of powerlessness threaten to steal momentum, he focuses on the power of individual contribution.
“I think the most weak and ineffectual thing we can do is to not think about what can be done on an individual level. I may not be able to change laws, but I can be proud of who I am and show others to be proud of who they are.”
He hopes that being a visible, comfortable, and confident gay man will inspire others to also be themselves and to take up the fight, because “being out and proud is not a cliché,” he said. “It’s a call to action.”
“Everyone can make a contribution, even if that contribution is to be yourself and use whatever influence you have to make the world and workplace more inclusive, more diverse, and more welcoming for everyone.”