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NEWS | July 25, 2023

NSWCPD’s LGBTQ + Allies Employee Resource Group Hosts Panel Discussion for Command’s Pride Month Celebration

By Joseph Fontanazza

The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer + Allies Employee Resource Group (LGBTQ+A ERG) hosted a panel discussion about subjects pertaining to the LGBTQ community for the command’s Pride Month celebration on June 22, 2023.

NSWCPD Chemical Engineer and LGBTQ+A ERG Co-Chair Juniper Sweeney provided the event’s opening remarks.

“The LGBTQ community has a long and complicated history with the United States armed forces with many setbacks, including some discriminatory policies, but we have also had many triumphs in the face of adversity. We have fought for our right to proudly be our authentic selves while helping to further the U.S. military’s mission to protect this great Nation and our allies across the globe,” said Sweeney, who is non-binary and uses both she/her and they/them pronouns.

Engineering Manager Steve Ellner served as the panel discussion moderator and he reflected on the command’s progress on LGBTQ allyship since his first days with NSWCPD to help kick off the conversation.

“I’ve been working for NSWCPD for 21 years and when I started, an event like this wouldn’t even be something you would conceive of happening,” Ellner said. “Now we are here today, and we have five panelists in front of you who are all proud members of the LGBTQ community and strong contributors to our workforce. They are also all leaders in their own right.” The longstanding NSWCPD employee identifies as an ally to the LGBTQ community and uses he/him pronouns.

The panel consisted of Mechanical Engineer Tania Teissonniere-Almodovar, Software Service Agent J.J. Garcia, Mechanical Engineer Monica Huang, Machinery Silencing Research and Development (R&D) Branch Manager Michael Grady, and Corporate Communications Division Head Scott Harris.

Teissonniere-Almodovar, whose preferred pronouns are she/her, began her employment with NSWCPD in 2015 and spoke about the command’s progress on LGBTQ inclusion since she was hired.

“I wasn’t completely out when I started here because of the fear of being judged or having people think differently of me, and I was also working through my own acceptance process,” Teissonniere-Almodovar said, noting that when she began working at NSWCPD eight years ago the LGBTQ+A ERG wasn’t even founded yet.

She continued, “[Since I’ve been out] I haven’t felt any type of immediate threat or judgment from my colleagues, and I appreciate that there is something like this that offers higher visibility. Like everything else in life, it is a work-in-progress, but having somewhere where we can express ourselves is a big step forward.”

Ellner steered the conversation to address the barriers that NSWCPD’s LGBTQ personnel currently face and Garcia, whose preferred pronouns are they/them, gave some critical recommendations.

“It’s not as much about overt hostility, but it’s more about a cultural normative that we need to bring forward. It’s smaller things like everyone should have their pronouns in their email signature and when you meet someone ask them ‘What are your pronouns’ or even ‘How do you want to be addressed?’” Garcia said, advising, “Everyone has their full legal name showing [on their identification badges], but that may not be what they want to be called. Maybe they have a nickname or maybe they are changing their name so it’s smaller cultural things that need to be changed now.”

During the Q&A segment, an audience member also posed a question about the challenges currently facing the LGBTQ community, and Huang, who uses both she/her and they/them pronouns, provided a poignant example of a time she had to overcome bigotry.

“I was in Mobile, Ala. during the middle of COVID for work travel. Mobile is a very conservative town, and I was treated with racism and was not able to feel comfortable being open. When I was just hanging out with some co-workers trying to grab a drink after a long day on the ship, I was literally turned down service in a bar,” Huang said.

She continued, “That was very not okay, but from that, I made myself louder and prouder … that was my way of challenging it. Also, I had a co-worker who was right there and said she ‘was going to report the bar to Google reviews’ and that’s a perfect example of an ally. I felt like I didn’t even need to protect myself instead the people around me were like ‘You should speak up and you should be able to express exactly who you are and be who you are in public.’”

Grady and Scott also shared their experiences, but from the perspective of employees who have been serving the U.S. Navy for a longer period of time.

“You see a big generational shift and I’m glad that Juniper [Sweeney] included different age ranges [on this panel] because you see Scott [Harris] and I came out at a different time and are more private and the rest of the panel came out when things were maybe a little more accepting and you’re more open,” said Grady, whose preferred pronouns are he/him.

Harris then delved into his more unique experience about how the U.S. armed forces almost lost his talent permanently because of past discriminatory policies.

“I was a Navy Commander when I came out working for U.S. Space Command … unfortunately back then, that meant I would face involuntary separation and it did not matter that I was a military commander of 17 years,” Harris said. “I had a three-star Admiral who went all the way to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy making the case for early retirement, so talk about an affirming moment. His request was ultimately denied and at that time, if you were kicked out for being gay, you only received 50 percent of your separation pay. The Admiral fought that as well, but lost out in the end.”

He added, “I could have been a real poster child back in 1999, but I chose not to do that because I wanted to keep serving in the Department of Defense (DoD). Following my separation, I was immediately hired as a civilian working for the Office of Naval Research and I’ve been serving my country out and proud ever since. I have no regrets and I’m glad I made that decision.”

Harris, whose preferred pronouns are he/him, also serves as the Command’s Champion for the LGBTQ+A ERG. He provided closing remarks for the panel and shared a quote from Sweeney in his speech that stuck with him during a past event.

“This isn’t the only time [the LGBTQ+A ERG] does things. We get together for lunch every month and you don’t have be a part of the LGBTQ community to be part of the ERG, in fact, all of the ERGs welcome everyone. That just makes us stronger and better and more inclusive.” Harris said.

He added, “I’m thinking back to the Allyship event last December which Juniper did such a nice job with and something she said really struck me in terms of allies… She said ‘Allyship is intentional, it’s strategic and it’s continuous. If you are identifying as an ally, it’s something that you are doing every day. You’re out supporting the folks in your organization, allowing them to feel more welcome, and stepping up to support them especially when there are misinformed or bad actors who are talking over or mistreating them.’”

NSWCPD employs approximately 2,800 civilian engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel. The NSWCPD team does the research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition support, and in-service and logistics engineering for the non-nuclear machinery, ship machinery systems, and related equipment and material for Navy surface ships and submarines. NSWCPD is also the lead organization providing cybersecurity for all ship systems.