This year has caused many of us at EF Education First to pause and reflect. Progress starts from listening to and learning from each other to create space for everyone—no matter who they are, where they live, who they love, their spirituality, or the color of their skin. So, in celebration of Pride this year, we asked LGBTQ+ staff to share reflections on the meaning of progress in their own words. Their thoughtful responses reflect the hopeful optimism core to everything the EF community stands for.
Christopher ‘We celebrate every single step forward’
Growing up gay gave me a front-row seat to seeing what unites people, what divides them, and where you get caught in between. What you represent, what you share, what you express can bring out the best and worst in others. Your existence polarizes. Governments may respect you or want you gone, neighbors may vandalize your home or invite you in theirs, families may embrace you or send you packing, classmates and colleagues may be hateful or kind.
Awareness of your own difference often arrives early—the choices of what to do about it last a lifetime. Blend and be diminished? Shine and be a target? Own it and thrive? As a society, we move forward here, backward there, repeated across the world. Progress is lumpy, volatile, and often opportunistic. We celebrate every single step forward. The more we become ourselves, the more we become to others.
Now 50, I have learned for myself that progress means showing up. Unapologetically and respectfully. As educators, we dedicate our lives to opening minds and modeling possibility, and we uniquely have a global audience ready for positive social change. It starts by saying this is me. As fellow southerner and legend Dolly Parton said so well: ‘Find out who you are and do it on purpose.’ Words to live by.
– Christopher, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, EF Corporate Solutions, Lucerne
Leah ‘I need to continue to raise my voice’
To me, progress means that work has been done. Progress isn’t a force that just happens; cultures don’t just change; laws don’t just get written. Progress should be celebrated, but we should remember that any time we read the word “progress”, it’s written in the ink of the suffering of those who had to put in the hours marching on bridges, powering through fire hoses and throwing bricks outside of their gathering places.
What does progress mean to me? It means I need to continue to raise my voice to make sure that the people behind me have it better than me.
– Leah (she/her/hers), Product Manager, EF Go Ahead Tours, Boston
Ilaria ‘Progress is letting go of old constructs’
In a society that is still working on accepting differences in sexuality, gender, skin color, and more, progress is the rising of curiosity and will to understand differences in people, opposite to the blind judgement we all grew up around.
As I started understanding more and more and finding myself in the midst of all the labels, it has been heart-warming to see the rise in popularity of different pride flags, meaning there’s space for everyone to express themselves.
Progress is letting go of old constructs to replace them with new, open options.
It’s new parents refusing to define their baby’s gender with a pink or blue color scheme.
It’s disclosing your identity without shame or fear of consequences.
It’s your grans replying to this disclosure with a simple, yet so powerful ‘Ok, ok, but are you eating?’
It’s a child dressed as ‘batman ballerina’ at a carnival.
It’s the simple realization that some things we will never be able to understand because we don’t experience them ourselves, but that doesn’t make them any less valid.
It’s ‘They’ being the 2019 word of the year.
Pride is standing by your identity in a world that thrives on an antique, binary concept.
Progress is letting go of old concepts that may work for 90% of the population, but not you.
– Ilaria (they/them/theirs), IT Analyst, EF Education First, Lucerne
Jean-Yves ‘I don’t need to hide who I am’
“Progress for me means that I don’t need to hide who I am and who I am within my life. It is time in 2020 that we, LGBTQ+, can be open on our relationship as would anyone else be in an office environment.
So often in the past, I had to hide who I really was, because my co-workers would not accept my story and would not recognize that I exist as I am.
I feel lucky to be in a company where I can openly say that I am partnered with a fantastic man and talk about struggles or happy moments like everyone else. That feeling of inclusiveness is so warm; it really changes the game when it comes to selecting a company to work for.”
– Jean-Yves (he, him, his), Academic IT Manager, EF International Language Campuses, Zurich
Adrienne ‘Educate others displaying prejudice’
For me, progress means choosing to share my identity with others and being met with unconditional support. Progress is when I stop hearing comments like, ‘It’s just a phase,’ and ‘at some point, you need to pick a side.’ Progress is supporting the entire LGBTQ+ community because if you do not stand with all of us, you do not stand with any of us.
For our allies, we ask that you always call out people that choose to discriminate against us. Correct people if they misuse pronouns. Educate others displaying prejudice. Learn that each individual’s journey is different, and it’s their choice whether to share their experience.
Finally, progress occurs when we stop trying to put each other into concrete boxes. Our identities are complex, unique, and sometimes indescribable. We do not owe anyone a specific label to be seen or heard.
– Adrienne (she/her/hers), Senior Program Consultant, EF College Study, Boston
William ‘Progress is not just about me’
Progress is unabashedly expressing my queerness without a second thought—not having to be conscious of hiding a part of me when I meet someone new.
Progress is me celebrating my Latinidad in tandem with Pride—not having to whitewash myself for the sake of others.
Progress is working for a company that reflects the diversity of my communities—not being told diversity, equity, and inclusion work ‘is not a priority right now.’
Progress is having my opinions valued—not shrugged off as being too sensitive or aggressive.
Progress is allies using their privilege to amplify historically suppressed voices—not just paying lip service or being performative.
Progress is believing, unequivocally, Black Lives Matter. As members of the LGBTQ+ community, we owe it our Black sisters, brothers, and gender-nonconforming siblings to support them in all aspects of their identities. As we look forward, we must never forget the work of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and the countless other Trans activists of color that led the way for so many of us to experience this so-called ‘progress.’
Ultimately, progress is not just about me. Progress is not complete until equity is reached for all.
– William (he/him/his), Multimedia Brand Manager, EF Creative Studio, Hong Kong
Tyler ‘Progress means educating everyone’
Progress means detailed awareness of where we have been, joyous celebration of how far we’ve come, and solemn recognition of what remains to be done. Progress means educating everyone about all of the above.
– Tyler (he/him/his), Account Manager, EF Corporate Solutions, Boston
Sean ‘We can do more’
Progress means learning from the past, improving the present, and creating a better future. Things have come a long way in the LGBTQ+ community, but each letter in the initialism hasn’t had equal progress. So progress to me means that we can look at things like the decriminalization in the past and say we can do more. Looking at the passing of rights such as anti-discrimination laws and marriage equality and asking, does this apply to all of us or just some of us. Looking towards the future and taking the necessary steps to ensure everyone is making the same strides forward and not only some of us. Progress, to me, means always to be moving forward.
– Sean (he/him/his), Senior Director of Enrollment, Hult International Business School, London
SB ‘Progress is being able to live as our most authentic selves’
To me, progress is seeing the trans flag displayed just as often as the traditional rainbow Pride flag. Progress is seeing more and more people adopting black and brown stripes on their Pride flag, so that the black, indigenous, people of color in our community are represented. Progress also means adapting in the face of adversity. Thanks to COVID-19, we can’t have Pride festivals like we are familiar with. But when hundreds, thousands of members of Boston’s LGBTQ+ community attend marches and protests for black trans lives, we are demonstrating just how proud we are, that we will not back down and watch in silence as members of our community die.
For me, personally, progress is going from a closeted 20-year-old student to a young professional who isn’t afraid to share their gender identity and pronouns in a team meeting (nervous, but not afraid). During Pride Month 2019, I felt so much support and love from our affinity group, LGBTQ+ @EF that I took the step to come out as non-binary to my parents.
My biggest celebrations of progress are these moments in which I feel like I can genuinely be myself, that I don’t have to hide who I am just because some people may not understand right away. Progress in the workplace looks like people’s pronouns in their email signatures, sounds like everyone in a professional development session sharing their pronouns as they introduce themselves. Progress is being able to have appropriate conversations with colleagues about binary language, the importance of pronouns, and my own explanation of who I am regarding my gender identity. Progress is being able to truly show myself to the people I love, the people I work with, and the whole world around me. Progress is being able to live as our most authentic selves when the past would’ve rejected us. Progress is rejecting the systems and institutions which denied us in the first place.
– SB (they/them/theirs), Shipping & Logistics Coordinator, EF Education First, Boston
Jessica ‘There is always more work to be done’
As a young gay woman growing up in New Hampshire I never thought I would see the progress that has been made toward rights for the LGBTQ community. It far surpasses what I thought would ever happen, and while we still have a long way to go the progress is inspiring. I never thought my marriage would be recognized on a state level, let alone a federal level. When I got married in 2011, I was married in Maine when it wasn’t even legal and had to sign my marriage license in New Hampshire that morning before my wedding.
Having my marriage recognized legally was important, but it didn’t change the fear I was living in knowing I could still be fired simply for being who I was. I had no idea how my deeply rooted emotional scars would be triggered by the Supreme Court, delivering their ruling on June 15th for the language in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extending to the LGBTQ+ community. A flow of emotions and feelings flooded around me.
Throughout college and my early career, I encountered hate and bigotry too many times to count. It was so extreme that I created a secondary Facebook account to protect myself. It’s something that I’ve maintained throughout my whole career as protection for myself and to ensure I was always recognized for my work and not judged for my sexual orientation. Over the years, it was something that was a running joke in terms of which Facebook account someone was ‘friends’ with; Jessica A. (work) or Jessica (personal). What most didn’t realize was WHY it was created in the first place. I needed to feel protected and have a separation between my work and personal life.
What changed it all… EF—and, more explicitly, my first annual review in 2012. I never used the word wife and always said spouse. I never shared what I did on the weekends or anything too personal about myself. My manager showed me compassion, showed me that it was ok to completely be ME at work, showed me that EF does not judge and would support ME… not just Jessica A. I’m fortunate to work with people that make me feel loved and supported. There is always more work to be done, but I will forever be grateful for the support I’ve received from this company. It takes one challenge away from my day-to-day life.
– Jessica (she/her/hers), Vice President of Marketing, EF Go Ahead Tours, Boston
Danillo ‘Progress means everything!’
For me, progress means everything! Progress is moving forward, looking at situations with a different perspective, and analyzing everything to create conditions for a better future than the past.
– Danillo (he/him/his), Corporate Responsibility Manager, EF English Live, São Paulo
Alison ‘I want to feel not only safe but respected’
Progress means kids not being afraid of their own friends and family when announcing who they are and who they love. It means people able to accept yourself fully and not suffer higher risks of depression and anxiety. Progress is both personal and political—we will need more access to rights in healthcare, family development, and bodily autonomy.
I want to feel not only safe but respected.
Progress will mean no longer being erased from history, but instead, being at the center of building the future.
– Alison (she/her/hers), Senior Tour Consultant, EF Educational Tours, Denver
Kathy ‘Progress means people don’t assume’
Progress means people don’t assume when I say that I am married with two children that I have a husband. Progress means that Switzerland will pass the Marriage for All referendum.
– Kathy (she/her/hers), Tour Director Manager, EF Ultimate Break, Zurich
Hugo ‘It has taken time to get us to where we are today’
In the LGBTQ+ context, progress to me means looking at what things were like back in the 80s and 90s as I was growing up in my hometown of Recife, Brazil, and seeing how different everything is now. Things are very different and in a positive way. Yes, there are still several challenges here and there, but much progress has been made not just in terms of social acceptance, but legal protection. As I was growing up, it was unthinkable to see a same-sex couple holding hands out in public, let alone show any other display of affection. Up until 1985, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder in my country. Little progress was made in the 1990s, but the whole nation tried to make up for that in the 2010s, when same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples became legal as well as any discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ became a crime. It has taken time to get us to where we are today, but we can see progress over the years, and that’s something that must be celebrated.
– Hugo (he/him/his), Managing Director of Olympic Affairs, EF International Language Campuses, Seoul
Nic ‘The ‘work’ will never be done’
Progress means recognizing that there is no ‘finish line’ for support and allyship. It’s a journey, not a destination. Progress is recognizing the ‘work’ will never be done because there will always be ways to improve this world for the people we care about and for ourselves.
Progress is recognizing the wrongs in history and trying not to repeat them. And it is also making our own mistakes, acknowledging them, and learning from them faster than we ever have before.
– Nic (she/her/hers), Senior Tour Consultant, EF Go Ahead Tours, Denver
Chanel ‘We are all trying hard to understand each other better’
Progress means that we are all trying harder to understand each other better and challenge and question our own behavior every day. We need to ask ourselves: what can I improve so that minorities feel more included, understood and accepted. The big change lies within the small things, like how we talk about LGBTQ+ people, how we react when we learn that our opposite is in a same-sex relationship, how we root for queer couples on TV just as much as we root for straight couples.
It’s simple, small things like this that make us feel included. I think the ultimate goal of progress – and this probably applies to most minorities – is that these topics may still be talked about but not fought about anymore. This is what progress means to me.
– Chanel (she/her/hers), Digital Content Coordinator, EF Academy, Zurich