Jun 29, 2022

Nurturing LGBTQ+ inclusion in cybersecurity: 5 questions with activist Mark Travis Rivera

Blog Header – Blog – Pride 2022

“The question is are you willing to limit the discomfort of unknowing, or are you willing to be curious and open to learning new ideas and new concepts?” 

–Mark Travis Rivera

Armis puts diversity and inclusion in the workplace at the forefront of our company values. Our leadership team firmly believes that people should be as comfortable expressing who they are at work as they are at home. And we also realize that it’s not enough to document our values and call it good; we need to actively nurture them.

To encourage thinking and conversations about inclusion, and celebrate Pride Month, Armis hosted an employee town hall with Mark Travis Rivera, an award-winning activist, author, choreographer, speaker, podcaster, and writer. During the townhall, Mark shared insights about his journey as a Latinx, queer, disabled, and gender non-conforming man and how he learned to embrace his identities to become a successful professional storyteller. Mark also answered questions about everything from his impressions of diversity in cybersecurity to what to do when you accidentally misidentify someone’s gender orientation. To push the inclusion discussion forward in cybersecurity, and to help everyone do more than just ‘discuss’ inclusion, we’ve included a select portion of the Q&A discussion, including valuable tips and resources, edited for clarity and brevity, from our town hall.

Question #1: What are your impressions of diversity in the cybersecurity community?

I love that question because my first love is black, has always been openly gay, and he is on a very solid and interesting career path that started in the Navy. So I do know that the cybersecurity industry is a little bit more accepting and open.

But I also recognize that you all could benefit from a lot more diversity. And it’s hard because, systematically speaking, people of color and marginalized people just don’t have much access to cybersecurity courses, and they’re not encouraged to go into the STEM field. I would  love for you all to pioneer the development of some kind of pipeline for marginalized identities in cybersecurity, because there is a need, and it could be very lucrative for marginalized people to enter this kind of field. And it all starts with you getting the word out and being willing to mentor and sponsor marginalized people to enter the field.

Question #2: What should you do after misidentifying someone’s gender orientation?

I experience this all the time. People often guess that I am a she/her, but I use he/him. The thing is that people are willing to be forgiving if they can tell you are not intentionally mislabeling them. How you handle the mistake is what matters most. Being overly apologetic or making it about your feelings just makes things more awkward. Just validate their experience, sincerely apologize, and course correct moving forward.

If someone’s in the middle of changing or transitioning, it’s okay to ask them something like, “I want to make sure that I know your pronouns and that I’m addressing you accordingly,” but understand that they may not know yet.

Question #3: What are your favorite queer support and social media resources?

There are, of course, big organizations like the human rights campaign. When it comes to projects for suicide prevention and things like that for young LGBTQ people, I encourage you to start thinking about your local communities and how you can support grassroots LGBTQ organizations within in your communities.

So, if you’re in California in the bay area, there’s an organization that I’ve been giving to and supporting called DEM BOIS, which is a black trans-man-led organization that provides economic support for gender affirming surgery for trans-masculine identified persons of color.

In the south, there’s Southern Fried Queer Pride. And there are other major organizations throughout the U.S. and UK.  There’s also Sins Invalid, which is a great disability justice organization that intersects with queer and trans rights. No matter their color or where they’re from, LGBTQ people are often isolated and definitely need support and resources. “Marking the Path”, my podcast, is also available on Spotify, if you would like to hear more.

Question #4: How are perceptions changing across generations?

In my work for a national nonprofit, I have a lot of interactions with Generation Z. We have found that Gen Z is one of the most progressive generations and will be entering the workplace with higher expectations of corporations to live out their values and be more inclusive…But members of Gen Z and younger generations are also committing mass shootings and we’re living in a society where white supremacy is rampant… So it’s not that they don’t see the differences in color and gender and sexuality, I think it’s that they are more willing to examine their own biases and I think they’re also more willing to exist in the gray understanding. 

So for older generations, the question is are you willing to limit the discomfort of unknowing, or are you willing to be curious and open to learning new ideas and new concepts? It wasn’t that trans people never existed before the last 20 years. It’s that the visibility and language for our identities has finally been brought to the forefront.

Question #5: How do you deal with intra-community rejections?

I often get you’re not Latino enough because you don’t speak fluent Spanish, or not man enough because you wear makeup and dresses and high heels, or you aren’t disabled enough because your disability is no longer as visible as it used to be.

People will ask you to hierarchize who you are to  find a connection with you, or to demean an aspect of your identity. But there is no separating any part of who I am. When I hear people say things like those, I reply that I am disabled, and your opinion of me isn’t going to change that, and I am Latino and your opinion of my Spanish isn’t going to change that, and my outfit doesn’t make me more or less queer. I’m all those things in totality and so I think It’s really important to call it out when that happens. In her book Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown said, “The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.” I really take that to heart because I understand that authenticity is a muscle you have to constantly work, flex, sharpen and improve on.

Conclusion: Spread the LOVE

It’s undeniably a complicated world out there. And we all have work to do to make it a better place. When it comes to making our LGBTQ+ community feel safe and valued at work, Rivera’s best advice is to turn toward LOVE. 

  • Listen to LGBTQ+ people about their experiences in the workplace.
  • Observe how current policies limit inclusion and hinder performance.
  • Validate LGBTQ+ people and how their authenticity enhances the company culture. 

Embrace change and use your power and influence to improve systems, policies, and company culture.

Learn more about Armis, our mission, and our core values.

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