‘There are great things out there for you’: Q Johnson went from hiding her true self to helping others embrace who they are

The Microsoft retail store employee faced a lack of acceptance until she found a community and the support to be herself 

By Natalie Singer-Velush

 

Q Johnson knows what it’s like to not be fully accepted for who you are. She felt the tension as a teenager, growing up in a family that didn’t tolerate the idea of same-sex love. After she graduated high school, her mother found out she was gay. “She told me, ‘That’s not allowed in my house. If you’re going do that, you need to leave,’” Johnson said. When Johnson returned from a trip out of town, she found that she’d been locked out of the house. She couldn’t get her belongings, and she had nowhere to go.

Then Johnson had to conceal her reality while she was homeless, living in her car and trying to get back on her feet after being rejected by her family. When few people were around, she would shower at night at her 24-hour gym, hiding her homelessness, and she ate meals at her job at a fast-food restaurant.Q Johnson while she served in the military.

 

Not long after that, Johnson met the love of her life and joined the military. But in 2011, prior to the US Supreme Court’s 2013 reversal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, her marriage to her wife wasn’t recognized. So, she was required to live on base in the barracks with other unmarried soldiers. She kept an apartment off base with her new family—her wife and daughter—walking a tenuous line between desperately wanting to be fully herself and having to be the pretend version of herself that was required to do her job.

Eventually, her hidden life was discovered, and to be with her family Johnson left the military and her identity serving her country behind.

She decided she would try to reinvent herself in Oklahoma City, where she grew up, and maybe this time things would be different.

“Technology’s always been a passion of mine,” Johnson said. “I saw an inventory control position open at a Microsoft store, and I applied. I’ve been here two years. Coming into a new job, you’re nervous; you don’t know what to expect. Right when I interviewed I learned someone I would be working closely with is a lesbian. So I was like, it’s ok. I was relaxed—at ease, you know? I later learned other people working around me were gay, too. It was a relief.”

It was the first time in a very long time that she felt accepted for who she was, that she felt like she could just be Q.

“I felt like I could come in and be myself. I didn’t have to worry about judgment from my family anymore.

“You shouldn’t have to go to work pretending to be something you’re not. I shouldn’t have to be ashamed of being married to someone of the same sex. I should be able to come in and say, ‘This is my wife. This is my daughter.’ Here, I’m comfortable being myself.”

Now Johnson speaks to groups of LGBTQ+ military members and veterans, who often attend anonymously, telling them her story and helping them see that it’s possible to come out of hiding, to live a happy life and be fully accepted.

“There are people out there facing similar things. Talk to them; get that support. Don’t give up on your life because there are great things out there for you.”

“There are people who suffer from PTSD of all different types, who face the same things I face. I can go share my story and just, you know, just be human,” she said.

“It took me a long time to be able to share my story without crying. And it was my wife who told me, ‘You know, if you let it out you might feel better.’ And I thought, well if I’m going to let [my feelings] out, maybe there are other people who feel like me. Talking about these experiences with veterans is so important. It’s giving something back to them, after they serve their country.

“Being able to walk into a room and not be judged is so important. Because that’s who we are at the end of the day.”

Nowadays, Johnson says, she finds strength from her struggles and feels empowered to help others around her as much as she can. And she’s done hiding.

“I would say to anybody going through the same types of things I went through: Just one day at a time. It may be tough, whatever the situation is. But don’t get your hopes down, because it gets better. There are people out there facing similar things. Talk to them; get that support. Don’t give up on your life because there are great things out there for you.”

 

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