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What Does It Mean to Be an LGBTQIA+ Ally? What Does It Mean to Be an LGBTQIA+ Ally?

The fact is, anyone can become an LGBTQIA+ advocate and ally, as Reed Harris's story makes clear. Meet the straight man who co-leads the largest consumer-facing LGBTQIA+ initiative at Johnson & Johnson—and follow in his journey.

At first glance, Reed might not appear to be the likeliest evangelist for LGBTQIA+ causes. But then, advocates and allies don't always come from the most diverse places.

In Reed's case, the place was suburban Michigan, where he had “basically a sheltered upbringing. I went to an all-guy, Catholic high school, and my parents were fairly conservative."

So when Reed, alongside his best friend from childhood, arrived at the University of Michigan for freshman year, Ann Arbor in his eyes might as well have been Byzantium.

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Growing up in the suburbs, I just was not exposed to a whole lot. Ann Arbor was a liberal town. I remember seeing rainbow flags for the first time and not knowing what to think. I didn't have any previous experience or frame of reference.

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That changed when his long-time best friend—and college roommate—came out as gay a few weeks before graduation. Reed embraced his friend.

"This is someone who you think you know everything about," he recalled. "So, while I was sort of shocked at first, it really opened my eyes by showing me: This is the same person you care about. He just loves differently than you."

Embracing a Broader Community

Moving to Los Angeles after college, Reed saw something he hadn’t seen in Ann Arbor, “a richly diverse and thriving LGBTQIA+ community,” in his words.

And that led to an epiphany of sorts. Reed realized that his experience with his friend in college hadn't been only a personal, particular and private one. It had bigger implications—”the personal is political,” as the saying goes. Reed realized that his feelings toward his friend were a mandate to extend that same spirit of warmth, welcome and inclusiveness to everyone.

So when Reed joined Johnson & Johnson in 2010, he quickly joined Open&Out, one of our LGBTQIA+ employee resource groups.

"I became friends with a lot of people in the LGBTQIA+ community through my work with Open&Out," Reed recalled, "and naturally I wanted to support them." So when, three years later, a unique opportunity came along, he jumped at it.

That opportunity? Help build and grow CARE WITH PRIDE®, a Johnson & Johnson initiative launched in 2011 to openly champion love, equality and care for all people within the LGBTQIA+ community. The volunteer initiative engages Johnson & Johnson employees and has supported a wide range of LGBTQIA+ nonprofit groups and other Pride organizations.

Eventually, when the founder of CARE WITH PRIDE® stepped down, Reed was tapped to co-lead the initiative.

"I saw it as a way for Johnson & Johnson brands to engage with and support this vibrant community," Reed explained. "I also felt everything we were doing aligned perfectly with the values in Our Credo. Part of what makes me so proud of this initiative is that it's led by volunteers. I'm continually inspired by my co-leads, Laura Sloane and Bianca Soler, our executive sponsor Mike Marquis, and the rest of the individuals on the team who help shape and grow it year after year."

Becoming an Ally

Excited to co-lead CARE WITH PRIDE®, Reed also admits that he initially experienced some self-doubt.

"Don't get me wrong, this was a huge responsibility, and I’m not an immediate member of the LGBTQIA+ community,” he explained. “So I worried, 'Will I be able to adequately represent all of these people—and truly serve their needs?'"

Reed proved more than up to the challenge. To date, he's marched alongside more than 1,500 Johnson & Johnson employees in 40-plus Pride parades globally, helped sponsor the largest gathering of LGBTQIA+ families in the world and launched our first-ever Pride products in retail—plus, a whole lot more.

Somewhere along the way, Reed has also come to think of himself as an "ally." But what does the term mean, exactly?

The answer, for Reed, is pretty simple: "Being an ally means standing up for others. It means that I believe everyone has a right to be treated equal and fairly."

In that vein, Reed is adamant that, while there has been encouraging recent progress around some LGBTQIA+ causes, much work remains to be done. His colleague and fellow Open&Out participant Tiffany Broyer brought that point home: "Knowing what we do about the higher risks of homelessness and death in the LGBTQIA+ community is part of the reason our team is always looking for ways to engage with people, to be more involved with Open&Out and Pride and to really make an impact," she said.

For now, a lot of Pride activities are on hold due to COVID-19, but Reed said he and the team are exploring digital alternatives. "We're hosting our own virtual Pride kickoff event and maintaining our commitment as a corporate sponsor of Pride parades and events, whether they are postponed or canceled. We're also sending CARE WITH PRIDE® packages to LGBTQIA+ families. We're trying to do everything we can."

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For me, personally, as an ally, it's important that I'm out there in the community, that I'm public and visible. And I really hope that it motivates others—that anyone who's a believer in a message of love, equality and care for all will join in and participate, too.

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Be Your Authentic Self With Us Today

At Johnson & Johnson, we pride ourselves on having built a culture of inclusivity where everyone feels like they belong. Of course, we couldn't have done it without the drive and heart of Reed and countless others like him. If you're looking for opportunities where you can grow in your career while being your authentic self, you'll find a welcoming home here.

In the interim, be sure to join our Global Talent Hub. It's a great way to stay in touch, learn more about life at Johnson & Johnson and get updates on jobs specifically tailored to your background, skills and interests.

Happy Pride Month from all of us at Johnson & Johnson!

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