HRC spotlight: Volunteering saved Jessica Bair’s life

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Getting involved with the Human Rights Campaign in Los Angeles helped Jessica Bair live her authentic life. It also helped saved her life.

Bair was contemplating suicide as she struggled with living a “double life” -- hiding who she really was to her family, friends and her employer. She was assigned male at birth, but always identified as female.

“When I was thinking of killing myself, HRC helped me come out when I was ready,” Bair said. “By coming out, I lost all fear. Losing fear and letting go of the guilt has allowed my life to just blossom.”

Bair had just moved to Los Angeles from Houston 10 years ago when she got involved with HRC – the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights and civil advocacy group. U.S. Bank is highlighting the work of HRC volunteers during Pride Month and beyond. The bank recently became a national partner of the HRC and has scored a perfect 100 on its Corporate Equality Index as a best work place for LGBT people.

As she became more engaged with HRC, Bair learned about all of the legislative work the organization has done to protect LGBT rights – and it helped her figure out how to protect her own rights before she came out at work.

“I used some of HRC’s resources on coming out at work in an anonymous proposal I sent to the company’s Human Resources VP, about why they needed to add LGBT protection,” Bair said. “I articulated the business value to my company on why inclusion is just good business. They changed the policy four days later.”

Bair, who was a vice president at the time, came out at work as transgender and a lesbian shortly after the policy change. Her colleagues’ reaction? “They had a company meeting to express their support for me,” she said.

Bair served as Criminal Investigation Command special agent in the U.S. Army, before going into computer forensics early in her career.

She now works for Cisco Systems Inc. in cybersecurity, as senior manager of business development in the company’s Security Business Group. She leverages her unique experience to help Cisco partners to develop effective cybersecurity programs.

Like U.S. Bank, Cisco has been listed as a “best place to work” on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index for many years.“There are a million job openings in the world I’m in,” Bair said. “I would never go back and work for a company that wasn’t inclusive.”

In the 10 years since she came out, Bair has been heavily involved in HRC, volunteering for events and serving on several committees. She first volunteered at the Pride celebration in Los Angeles and then got involved in HRC’s political action committee. She served as the HRC Los Angeles Steering Committee Co-Chair, and was on the HRC Board of Governors and Executive Committee for several years. A major donor herself, she works to fuel HRC’s mission by obtaining additional contributions.

Bair says volunteering at HRC is a lot work, but it’s a labor of love.

 

“My life is amazing,” she said. “Being authentic is so peaceful and empowering. My work was the last place I came out. It’s liberating to have only one life to live. If a company does not appreciate you enough to let you be yourself … I personally wouldn’t work there.”