— By Theresa Duque
Every June, Berkeley Lab festoons the main Blackberry Gate entrance with the rainbow flag, reminding employees and visitors that this month is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. In honor of the Lab’s LGBT community, the following portraits of Andrea Mercado, David Schild, and Amanda Krieger celebrate a diverse and inclusive workforce where employees are free to be themselves.
Andrea Mercado (left)
Years before Andrea Mercado joined Berkeley Lab as a senior research associate in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division, she didn’t feel free to be herself — a lesbian Latina with a passion for math and buildings.
When she came out as lesbian during her junior year at UC Merced, she soon realized she didn’t have any lesbian or gay friends who would understand what she was going through. So in 2008, in the heat of anti-same-sex-marriage Proposition 8, Mercado formed the Lambda Alliance, the first LGBT organization at UC Merced.
The Lambda Alliance became a safe place where the UC Merced LGBT community as well as their family and friends could gather to learn about important issues, socialize, and comfort each other in times of uncertainty.
Today, thanks to Mercado and Lady Idos of the Diversity and Inclusion Office, Berkeley Lab has its own Lambda Alliance, which aims to enhance the Lab’s work environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and questioning employees and allies (LGBTIQQA). “One of Lambda’s mission statements is to highlight the fact that the Lab is an inclusive and diverse community, and to celebrate that through our club,” says Mercado.
David Schild (center)
While growing up in Austin, Texas, David Schild, a staff scientist with the Life Sciences Division, always knew he was gay. He didn’t come out to his family until he left home in 1969 to attend college at Cornell University. His parents were quite accepting, but they still worried about their son. After all, 1969 was the year of the Stonewall riots. “My mother was concerned not so much about my being gay but whether or not I would have a future life in which I would be happy. However, things quickly changed after Stonewall,” he says.
During his freshman year, Schild joined the student-activist group, the Gay Liberation Front, and became more aware of the struggles of gay equality and the importance of coming out. Being open about his sexual identity, and the events of Stonewall, planted a seed for personal and political awareness that has never left Schild. Today, he helps represent the Life Sciences Division on the Lab’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, and is a member of the Lambda Alliance.
As an openly gay man, Schild feels that much of the progress for LGBT rights in terms of same sex marriage, domestic partnership, and health care comes from being open and out with everyone he meets. “This is what has made such a difference for the LGBT community. When I go to a conference, I tell people that I’m gay. These are scientists I may not know well, but I think it helps. If they haven’t met other people like me, they now have at least one person that they’ve met.”
Schild has witnessed how his coming out empowered not only him but also someone very close to him: his mother, who was an active member of PFLAG — Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Before she died in 2010, she bestowed Apple’s Austin office with a PFLAG award for being one of the first companies to recognize domestic partnerships. “Being out has a ripple effect throughout society. My coming out to my mother inspired her to become part of this organization that encouraged companies to recognize domestic partnerships. This is one of the reasons why gay marriage is now allowed in many states,” he says with pride.
Amanda Krieger (right)
Amanda Krieger, an integrated circuit designer with the Engineering Division, had already been questioning her gender identity as a man — an identity she had lived with for more than 40 years — when the UC Workplace Environment Survey showed up in her inbox. “When I got that survey last year, I had already started my transition as a trans woman, and I thought, Wow, look at all these questions about gender identity and sexual orientation! What if I just answer them truthfully?” she recalls. Completing that survey made Krieger feel like she had found the decisive piece of a very large puzzle that said, “You can do this. You can go to work and be the person you want to be.”
Krieger’s decision to come out as transgender wasn’t an easy one. While growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she had always felt a deep desire to be female, but didn’t know how to express it. Because she had not met anybody else who was transgender, she assumed her feelings weren’t normal. “It was always clear to me that I was very confused about what this feeling was and that it didn’t seem acceptable at all,” she says. And so Krieger lived her life as other people perceived her — as a heterosexual man.
But as the years went by, Krieger realized that she could no longer deny who she really is. “I’m at an age where I thought, I’m either going to be 60 years old and be extremely unhappy for the rest of my life, or I’m going to completely change my life. I’m proud of the man, father, and husband that I was at the time, but it’s hard to explain to people that this person, who is an affectation to you, is the real me. Amanda is the one that is happy,” she explains.
Krieger and her partner have two sons — the oldest one just finished pre-school, and the youngest one is now three years old. When Krieger came out, her oldest son was just starting his second year of preschool, and they worried about whether her coming out would make it difficult for him to fit in. It didn’t. “Everyone at his preschool was awesome. They were all really supportive,” she says.
Krieger’s family has also been a source of strength and acceptance. While her sons still sometimes call her “dad,” they also acknowledge that she’s female, and lovingly call her “mom 2.” Recently, Krieger’s oldest son spontaneously declared during class, “I have two moms because Amanda’s a girl.” And, to her complete surprise, Krieger received her first Mother’s Day card this May.
Krieger has been out as a trans woman for more than a year now, and she credits the inclusive and diverse environment of UC and Berkeley Lab for making her feel accepted at work. Krieger has also found comfort in a network of transgender support groups around the Bay Area, and in the Lab’s Lambda Alliance. Despite being Lambda’s first trans member, she has found the club to be a valuable resource for a group of people who are actually quite diverse among themselves. “I want to be in Lambda to represent my voice,” she says. “I’m here now, and I have a mission. My mission is to make the best of myself and try to impact the lives of other people.”