We still live in a world where acceptance and understanding for the LGBTQIA+ community still varies greatly. Antoun has experienced first-hand the importance of creating safe spaces for individuals to express their true selves. His journey of coming out in Syria and joining Roche in Belgium taught him about the crucial role we all play in fostering safe and inclusive environments.
“Losing my father to COVID-19 marked a turning point for me. I regret not having a true father-son moment to tell him who I really am. I am certain he would have loved me as I am. So after he passed away, I didn't hesitate to come out to my mom and brothers. As expected, love was the answer.
When you come out, you don't come out alone. The whole family comes out with you, when living in a society where the topic is taboo isn't easy. I left Syria and started my life in Europe, but my family remains there, and they are coming out every single day.
During my journey to coming out, there are three particular stories that have touched me deeply. First, I was moved by how easily my close Syrian friends accepted me, and it helped open the door for me to come out to the broader society.
Second, the Roche Belgium HR team helped me understand that at Roche, discrimination is not tolerated. They made me feel comfortable to share the true version of myself, so I felt ready to come out as gay during our first job interview and shared that I have an amazing boyfriend.
Third, I witnessed a fellow LGBTQIA+ community member from my country be bullied on social media for coming out and celebrating his marriage. His bravery despite the consequences inspired me to be more open and help society understand that we exist and have the right to be happy and ourselves.
Joining Roche and starting OPEN Belgium helped me understand the importance of allies. A colleague who heard my story promised to do her best to ensure her children could freely express themselves. Every little bit counts. Sharing stories opens the door to necessary discussions about diversity and inclusion, not just for the LGBTQIA+ community but for everyone.
For example, I felt valued and supported when casually chatting with colleagues and they ask if I have a partner, rather than asking if I have a wife. Unfortunately, I also know Roche colleagues who work in countries where being LGBTQIA+ is a crime. This reminded me of the need to create safe spaces for all employees.
Organisations like Roche play a significant role in fostering inclusive environments. They can achieve this by educating employees and managers on the importance of safe workplaces, informing new employees about the company's commitment to diversity and inclusion, and providing channels for employees to voice concerns anonymously when needed.
Achieving a future where LGBTQIA+ individuals are fully embraced and represented in society and the workplace is a long process. But each person can contribute to this vision through allyship and spreading love. By working together to create safe spaces and foster understanding, we can accelerate the journey toward a more inclusive world.”