In honor of Pride month, we wanted to highlight a handful of our LGBTQIA+ staff and share a little bit of their personal stories about what Pride means to them. We're so glad that we're able to work with such a talented and diverse group of staff members. We loved reading what they had to say, and hope you will too!
Robin Deering (She/Her/Hers)
Program Advisor, IES internships
“It’s so hard to define what Pride means to me because it is ever changing. When I was younger, growing up in Rhode Island, Pride wasn’t really much of anything. It felt like an event happening far away, for other people. It wasn’t even something I was aware I could be a part of. Being bi, you often feel in the middle of things a lot, and that feeling of things not really being for you, can often linger. But that’s what makes Pride so great. It’s never fixed, it’s always growing and evolving to include more people and identities. Pride feels like one big month-long party but as everyone (should) know, the first Pride was a riot. The evolution of Pride does not mean forgetting where we started and where we still need to go. It’s a time for so many things, a time to reflect, a time to learn and educate, and a time to celebrate the whole spectrum by uplifting those who so often are overlooked.”
Robin now lives in Chicago, where Pride Month is actively celebrated by the community. From festivals in Boystown [Northalsted] to drag shows at neighborhood bars, and, sure, even the rainbow merch at Target [eye roll], to spending a Saturday perusing queer YA literature at the local, independently owned bookshop and outdoor celebrations with family and friends, for Robin, Pride Month extends beyond June. One month isn’t long enough to hold everything that Pride has to offer!
Sofía Franco (She/Her/Hers)
Internship, Community Based-Learning, and Volunteering Assistant, Internship Department, IES Abroad Barcelona
Sofía has always appreciated the meaning and celebration of Pride, but recently it took on a new, more personal meaning for her:
“To me, Pride means courage and the strength to be who you are without fear. Feeling proud of your identity in front of your friends, family, coworkers…the whole world. Pride celebrates diversity, difference, and non-normativity. Pride requires courage, it requires going against the current in a world where being different can be considered a threat. The meaning of pride has taken on a totally different meaning for me, in recent years when I discovered my bisexual identity. Pride has no age, gender, race, or social class…pride is universal!”
And when it comes to Pride Month, Sofía’s town of Barcelona really puts on a show: “As a very vibrant city, during Pride month Barcelona holds large events, conferences, cultural activities, trans vermut celebrations, movies... all over the city. Officially, the celebration starts with an opening ceremony on the 22nd of June and ends with a huge parade one week after. But you don't have to wait for the official date, a couple of weeks before Barcelona starts celebrating Pride month! Each year there is a selected theme to provide visibility and awareness to a specific collectivity. This year Barcelona Pride is dedicated to Lesbians, with the motto “Lesbians, visible and powerful!” 💪🦄 So let's celebrate it!”
Hannah Yindra (She/They/Theirs)
Program Advisor: Buenos Aires, Milan
Hannah recognizes that while pride is about feeling free and celebrating as much as you want without fear, proud doesn't always have to be loud. Pride can be found in the everyday - like joining a book club or discussion group or donating to or volunteering with a local organization.
“Pride is freedom. Pride means the ability to break apart from social structures and ways of existing that don’t serve my truth. Pride means feeling powerful and empowered enough to choose an existence that feels right to me, even though everyone might not understand or support it. Existing as a queer person is difficult at times of course, but mostly it makes me feel alive. Like I am fully experiencing the world and the people around me without limitations or fear. Pride means community. It means friends that are family. It means, wearing whatever I want or being the loudest person in the room and not caring. Pride means feeling joy that is not separate from the harsh realities of human existence. It is sadness, happiness, pain, and celebration. Pride is freedom."
“Pride for me is not always loud. Sometimes it is a parade, and sometimes it is going to the bookstore down the street to join in on a reading group or book discussion. When I lived in Chicago it was donating my time to places like Brave Space Alliance. Currently, it is exchanging books with my neighbors who have a free library down the street from my house and exchanging crop top compliments.”
Lee L'Hote (He/Him/His)
Assistant Vice President for Academic Programs
Pride, to me, is the celebration to be my authentic self and love whom I choose to love.”
Lee grew up in Kentucky, where he felt he had to safely guard his sexual orientation from everyone he knew. “I did not know anyone openly gay, and homophobia was rampant there. There were very few role models or positive representations of the LGBTQIA+ communities in the media, and the AIDS Crisis was reaching a deadly peak.” Although Lee had a good sense of his sexual orientation since his early teens, he never shared his story with anyone until his junior year in Salamanca. “My study abroad experience in Spain was the central turning point for fully embracing my identity as a gay cisgender male.” In Salamanca, he quickly met a few members of the LGBTQIA+ community and had professors who introduced him to the works of important Spanish gay cultural icons. It was his weekend trips to Madrid, however, that had the most positive impact on him. “I found a large LGBTQIA+ community that socialized, supported each other, and fully embraced the fight for civil rights.”
“Pride is a time to recognize the tremendous progress we have made to reduce the discriminatory barriers facing LGBTQIA+ community members and honor the queer activists and allies who have fought hard for those rights. Finally, it is a time to embrace every community within the LGBTQIA+ umbrella and fight against discrimination not only from outside of these communities but also from within.”
Ben Mack (He/Him/His)
Associate Vice President, International Recruiting & Marketing
Ben’s story started in regional Australia, where he grew up. “Like many gay youths, I was faced with challenges of self that would force me to sink or swim, and I sunk so many times. But today, I’m married to my wonderful partner of nearly ten years, Thiago. The road to contentment is challenging and can often loop back on itself, but nothing beats a life of authenticity.”
When asked what Pride means to him, Ben said, “Pride tells us of the work done, and the work still to do, to develop the LGBTQIA+ community worldwide. We’re all amongst the first to live in a time where we have inter-generational LGBTQIA+ role models demonstrating authentic life beyond the hetero-normative. Our community exists because of the hard work and sacrifices of generations before us.” He finished by saying that “Pride is a chance to acknowledge the extraordinary importance friendship and community plays for LGBTQIA+ people, express appreciation for how far we’ve come, and consider what we can still do to further the cause for equality and strength of the community.”
Chantal Omloo (She/Her/Hers)
Center Director, IES Abroad Amsterdam
Chantal is from the Netherlands—a country renowned for its early introduction on access to marriage for all, having just celebrated its 20th anniversary of marriage equality. “It probably followed [the early legalization of marriage equality] that we began to take rights for granted and perhaps became a little blasé about it. We have a saying: ‘act normal, that’s crazy enough’ and I think that this has made the LGBTQIA+ community less visible and activistic [in the Netherlands]. And that includes me.”
When asked what Pride means to her, Chantal said that she began to really appreciate and value Pride only in more recent years. “It probably came with the arrival of my three sons. I have the responsibility to help them grow up like compassionate, tolerant people. So, alongside being a celebration, pride is also a promise to the future to safeguard the inclusion of this community.”
By hearing the stories of our students and learning about activism on their home campuses, Chantal has become more acutely aware that it is also important to be a positive role model for the generations that follow. “The generation before my generation has done so much groundwork. We cannot let it go to waste! As I write this, one reads about fellow EU-member state, Hungary, introducing anti-LGTBQ legislation, you realize that you can never be complacent.”
Jason Schroeder (He/Him/His)
Jason grew up in a medium-sized town in Indiana, but spent all 13 years of grade school at a tiny township school that turned out his graduating class of 52 students – all of which were people Jason had known since age six. “Everyone knew everything about everyone. It was not the setting I wanted for coming out.” It took moving away to college, becoming friends with the "art students", and living in his first big city while studying abroad in Wellington, New Zealand for him to feel comfortable coming out as a gay man. “Those experiences allowed me to finally grow into the identity that I had hidden for so long.
To Jason, Pride means having a community of people who love you and accept you for your uniqueness, regardless of the hate in the world. “The LGBTQIA+ community is a collection of a million different niche identities that all come out in support of one another. Being gay, for example, couldn't be more different than being trans, but we all belong to the same community because we care about acceptance and love for ALL diversity groups (not just our own) that traditionally have struggled to find the same acceptance and love in their home lives and communities."
“It is important to remember that the freedom that we have today is a gift that was given to us by trans women of color, like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, in the late '60s. It is our responsibility not to forget about this demographic on our journey toward full acceptance and equality.”
Chris Van Fleet (He/Him/His)
Senior Manager for Office Services
“Pride, to me, is a celebration of how far the LGBTQIA+ community has come in gaining acceptance and legal rights and protections. It is also a remembrance. From the Stonewall riots in ’69, to the AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s, to the more recent legalization of marriage equality. We must never forget the so many who gave so much; those who fought, and who died for the rights and freedoms we currently enjoy.”
Chris spent most of his childhood growing up in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. At age 16, Chris was introduced to a whole new world when he stumbled upon his first Pride Parade while visiting West Hollywood. “It felt like I’d died and gone to Disney World for adults. It showed me there was a whole world of people out there that were just like me. Since then, I’ve never looked back.” Chris met his husband in 2016 and, though COVID-19 interrupted their initial plans of a destination wedding, they got married in September 2020 in their living room with just their dog and two cats in attendance.
Chris hopes that Pride can serve as a rallying call for the community. “From the earliest days of the gay rights movement, some of our strongest allies have been people of color and people from the trans community. We need to keep fighting, because until ALL lives matter there is still work to be done and a debt to be repaid.
“The road to contentment is challenging and can often loop back on itself, but nothing beats a life of authenticity.”Ben Mack, Associate Vice President, International Recruiting & Marketing