Pride Month Spotlight: Progress, History, Future

Clouds with rainbow iridescence

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month. We asked a few members of the AMS community to give us their thoughts on pride, community, history, and the path forward. Sign up for the Coriolis Committee’s Ask Me Anything Zoom discussion about being LGTBQ+ in the Earth System Sciences (June 26, 2 p.m.) here.

This is part two of a two-part post. Read Part One to learn more about our contributors — Kandis Boyd, Mike Augustyniak, Jerrica Decker, Tevin Wooten, Declan Crowe, and Brad Colman — and their history with the AMS, LGBTQ+ community and advocacy, and coming out.

Our Pride Month blog post contributors. Clockwise from top left: Kandis Boyd, Declan Crowe, Mike Augustyniak, Jerrica Decker, Tevin Wooten, Brad Colman.

How have things changed for LGBTQ+ people in the field over the course of your career?

Brad: There have been dramatic changes, nothing short of remarkable and beyond my wildest dreams when I was growing up. I was just starting to recognize my own sexuality during the Stonewall Riots in 1969. We now have anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ+ people in the workplace and society. Corporations have been strong agents of change with the adoption of inclusive and welcoming policies. One of the most dramatic changes I have observed, and personally feel is one of the most important, is the gain in visibility and representation of the LGBTQ+ community essentially everywhere one looks: politics, TV, academia, corporate, sports, and in many religions. As AMS president, I was proud to be able to bring my husband, Peter, to the annual meeting in Baltimore and introduce him to the AMS community. These dramatic changes have further enabled a number of supportive networks, like our own AMS BRAID and Coriolis.

Kandis: If you asked me 30 years ago what my career would look like, I would have told you a very different story than what I actually experienced. I’ve experienced more changes than I can count — and that is a good thing. Change is inevitable and the best way to embrace your career is to be prepared for change, embrace the unknown, and be a constant learner to build your skills and experience.

Declan: My professional career started just before the pandemic, and there have definitely been changes that I’ve seen since then. For example, people have been more willing to connect with others online, which has helped foster an inclusive space for those who may not encounter accepting spaces in their lives. Also, the pandemic spurred a huge amount of education about the LGBTQ+ community; it’s easier now than ever to take some time and educate yourself about the different parts of the community!

I’m proud of how far AMS and the weather, water, and climate enterprise has come from the time I’ve been involved. I’m also excited about where we can go to make sure we continue to create and support accepting spaces for everyone, both during this Pride month and in the future.

Declan Crowe (with Brad Colman at far right) addressing a packed room at the 15th Annual Coriolis Reception, held at the AMS 104th Annual Meeting.

Mike: I am fortunate to have the support of all my friends and family, as well as (by and large) the community in which I have lived for the last 15+ years. My way of expressing gratitude for this good luck is to help others by being a resource and mentor, when possible. Others did it for me in the past, and now I feel a happy obligation to pay that forward.

What challenges still need to be addressed, both within and outside AMS?

Kandis: Speaking as a Queer Black Woman, intersectionality is a topic that needs much attention. Individuals who belong to multiple marginalized groups — such as people of color, 1st generation graduates, people with disabilities, people marginalized based on their gender or age, and immigrants — add complexity to the conversation and often face compounded discrimination issues related to their intersecting identities. … There are many places and spaces where LGBTQ+ individuals don’t have the same legal protections, are bullied and harassed, face health disparities, are victims of hate crimes, and as a result are at a higher risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide. AMS can be a beacon of light and be a voice to the voiceless for these all-important topics.

Mike: Figuring out who you are, and coming out if you wish, is a challenging but life-affirming experience for many, though some pay a heavy price for it. As the majority, members of the straight community need to be just as vocal and active in their efforts to improve the environment and rights of the members of the LGBTQ+ community, as LGBTQ+ members are. To quote Arthur Ashe: Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

Tevin: I feel that AMS should be more proactive and vocal in advocating for minority communities. I acknowledge that AMS is standing up for marginalized individuals, but we should be much better at also reaching early childhood and high school individuals, and not being solely a sector for working professionals. In order to change the environment, we must seed and water the foundation.

Declan: Historically, many people haven’t realized the fact that all minority communities face a collective struggle, and it is up to us to work together and fight for what is right. I encourage everyone, particularly within the AMS and other professional societies, to educate themselves on the dangers of ignoring intersectionality, as well as how to listen and amplify voices that have typically been suppressed.

Also, LGBTQ+ people face a huge issue when it comes to having their identities respected, especially our transgender/non-binary communities, who often go by names and pronouns that are not respected in professional spaces. Encouraging everyone, regardless of identity, to identify themselves with their pronouns will help normalize proper pronoun (and name) usage. Additionally, AMS at-large and its members can work to actively educate themselves on the different identities that fall within the LGBTQ+ community, so that they are ready to amplify the voices of community members.

Brad: There are still legal inequalities and workplace discrimination issues, as well as unique and critical healthcare disparities and intersectional challenges, where we still need to make considerable progress. One activity from my tenure as AMS president still stands out in my mind: the Transgender, Non-Binary, Gender Non-Conforming, and Ally Event at the 2023 Annual Meeting in Denver. To listen to these brave individuals share their challenges and life journeys was both educational and inspirational to me.

Another area of remaining challenges has to do with global perspectives. We are by nature a global profession. Many of us travel abroad for conferences and field studies. Sadly, members of the LGBTQ+ community face difficult decisions about traveling to places where they may face violence, persecution, and legal sanctions. As such, efforts to promote global equality and human rights for LGBTQ+ individuals remain ongoing and vital.

What advice would you give other LGBTQ+ people in weather, water, and climate-related fields?

Jerrica: My advice is to be your authentic self because there are lots of people in the AMS who celebrate who you are, and be sure to look for Coriolis events at the annual meetings.

Kandis: First: befriend, network, support, and advocate for people both in and outside of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Second, celebrate your identity and be your true, authentic self at all times. 

Third: be visual and educate yourself about all things weather, water and climate – be an inspiration to others.

Declan: Find a community of LGBTQ+ people and allies wherever you can! It’s nearly impossible to deal with the struggles we face, both as individuals and a community. The good thing is, we don’t have to do it alone! Not every space will be accepting, but whenever you can, live your life to your truest form and find the people that are willing to do that alongside you.

Tevin: To other members of the LGBTQ+ people in the weather, water and climate community, I would say to remember why you’re in this field. Ultimately, it should be to protect vulnerable communities. That’s what matters most … let your expertise and experience be your guide.

Brad: First off, everyone should strive to be authentic and respect both yourself and others by embracing diversity. I recognize this is easy to say but not always easy in real life and I encourage anyone who is struggling with the process of coming out to set their own pace and to seek support if they ever feel it would be beneficial. Not everyone need share this information in their professional life, it is a personal decision. I recognize, however, that those who do so play an important role in supporting others either directly or indirectly. Finally, don’t forget that in the current environment, the large majority of our colleagues are supportive allies.

Mike: Having a support network – even if that’s just one other person – makes navigating all of life’s challenges easier. Invest in yourself by building your network!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Kandis: I thank AMS for leading the way to advance the LGBTQ topic for everyone. The Coriolis Committee is sponsoring a webinar to address many of these topics on June 26th – “Ask Me Anything.” I hope everyone takes the time to participate in this all-important topic

Jerrica: To me, pride is about providing a safe place for people to explore and be their authentic selves.

Brad: I’m incredibly excited by how far the LGBTQ+ community has come in the fight for equality and acceptance. While it’s crucial to stand up for our rights and be proud of who we are, it’s equally important to recognize that not everyone may be on the same journey or at the same stage of acceptance. Just as growing comfortable as a gay man was a decades-long journey for me, others in our community and beyond have their own journey and their own pace. We live in a wonderfully diverse world, filled with people from all walks of life, and it’s important that we respect that diversity. Let’s continue to be proud of who we are, [while being] mindful of the impact of our actions on others. Let’s strive to be inclusive, respectful, and supportive of one another, regardless of where we are on our individual journeys. Now, let’s celebrate Pride Month!

Featured image: “Iridescence” by Joshua Intini was an entry in the 2023 AMS Weather Band photo contest.

Pride Month Spotlight: Finding Community

A rainbow over a city, shown from above

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month. We asked a few members of the AMS community to give us their thoughts on pride, community, history, and the path forward. This is part one of a two-part post.

Our Contributors

Kandis Boyd 

I’ve worked in the federal government since the age of 19 and will celebrate 30 years of continuous service in August 2024. I’ve held over a dozen positions ranging from meteorologist to hydrologist, program manager, subject matter expert, deputy director, and director. I’ve also held positions in the non-profit sector and academia. I have degrees in Public Administration, Meteorology, [and] Water Resources, and certifications in Project Management (PMP) and Logistics, Transportation and Distribution (CLTD). My pronouns are She/Her/Hers and I identify as Queer/PanSexual.

Mike Augustyniak

I’ve been a broadcast meteorologist for WCCO in Minneapolis since 2008, and am an AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist and Certified Consulting Meteorologist. I’ve also appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, CBS Evening News, CBS Mornings and the BBC. I received both my Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in atmospheric science from the University at Albany. I am the Outgoing Commissioner on Professional Affairs for AMS. I identify as a gay cis man.

Jerrica Decker

I was born and raised in northwest Ohio. I graduated from OSU with my bachelor of science in 2008 and earned my masters in meteorology from OSU in 2010. I have been a meteorological systems engineer for weatherUSA since 2012. My current work ranges from data management to processing data sources. I am male to female transgender.

Tevin Wooten

I’m currently a morning meteorologist at NBC Boston. I have degrees in broadcast journalism from the University of Arkansas and a meteorology major from Florida State University. Previously, I worked with The Weather Channel as an on-camera meteorologist. I identify as gay and use he/him/his pronouns.

Declan Crowe

I am a recent graduate of NC State University in Raleigh, NC, with degrees in both Meteorology and Spanish. I’m pursuing a path of Emergency Management, and will be attending Millersville University starting in Fall 2024 to earn an MS in Emergency Management. I’ve performed numerous types of research related to both winter weather and tropical meteorology; my work has been featured in the NASA IMPACTS project and at the National Hurricane Center. I identify as gay and genderfluid, and I use he/they pronouns.

Brad Colman

My background includes a nearly 40-year career as an atmospheric scientist in our public sector with NOAA (both in OAR and NWS) and then about a decade in the private sector, ending with Bayer and the Climate Corporation supporting global agriculture. Currently, I’m the 1st past president of the AMS and actively involved in a number of other boards and volunteer activities. I am a gay male with pronouns he/him. While it took a while for me to come to acknowledge it growing up in the 60s and 70s, I now know this was my identity from early childhood.

What has been your experience working on LGBTQ+ issues, or with LGBTQ+ organizations, within or outside AMS?

Tevin: I’m currently on the Culture and Inclusion Cabinet and the current chair of BRAID. The experience is rewarding but it’s also extremely taxing. We are attempting to rewrite several decades of injustice in the weather, water and climate enterprise. Our job is to now interpret and apply forecasts to marginalized communities that have been traditionally overlooked. In my work life, along with meteorology and forecasting, I report climate stories with an environmental justice lens.

Declan: I am currently the Chair of the AMS Coriolis Committee. I came into this role in January, after working with the Committee for a year before. I’ve been very happy to work with such a great group of people who are all dedicated to improving LGBTQ+ visibility and acceptance in AMS. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet a lot of LGBTQ+ community members and allies during my time with Coriolis, who have shared the joys and difficulties with me of being LGBTQ+ in the weather, water, and climate enterprise. These connections have served as motivation for me to continue to extend our outreach and promote acceptance of our community in all spaces.

Kandis: I have served on the Coriolis committee for several years and I have also worked with LGBTQ+ teams/committees in and outside of the workplace. As for my thoughts on the experience, it depended on the space: most LGBTQ+ experiences have been positive, but there is still much work to do because a large sector of our community opts to remain anonymous for safety reasons. The Coriolis group is a great group and I hope that their work will filter into all aspects of the AMS community — using pronouns, all gender bathrooms, and addressing workplace bullying and harassment. Yes, some meetings and events fail to be LGBTQ+-inclusive.

Brad: I have tried to be both supportive of, and be involved with, LGBTQ+ issues and groups in the AMS. It was one of a few personal priorities I set for myself moving into my role as president. We are very fortunate that the AMS has been very proactive in this area. We have the Culture and Inclusion Cabinet, BRAID, and Coriolis. In contrast to my concerns years ago about who might see me at a gay event, I am now both excited to be there and to see many allies from our broader AMS enterprise there as well. At our recent Annual Meeting in Baltimore, I was privileged to speak at the 15-year celebration of Coriolis. Seeing the huge turnout from AMS members of all ages impressed upon me the value of the steady work so many people in our community have done over the decades. 

Jerrica: I am involved with AMS Coriolis and I am on the board for my hometown pride organization. I have done some work with advocacy.

When did you come out in your professional life? What made it easier/harder?

Brad: For me, coming out, especially professionally, was a decades-long process. Through graduate school and my early NOAA career, I only shared this private information with my closest and most trusted colleagues. As I became more comfortable being gay, I expanded my “in-the-know” community. This was challenging and tiring — Who had I told? Who knew via the grapevine? What was I risking by telling? Nonetheless, I was very fortunate and, my personal growth aside, I never felt I experienced discrimination. Eventually I was comfortable sharing this detail with colleagues and friends, and perhaps more importantly, I began to recognize that I might be helping others by sharing this aspect of my life with my professional community.

Kandis: I told myself that I would wait until I reached a certain level in my career before outing myself. I think that was the biggest mistake I made during my 30+ year career, because for so much of my life I led a dual life and constantly had to code-switch to assimilate. It is physically exhausting constantly reshaping your thoughts and actions to meet others’ expectations. So my advice to everyone is to show up and be your true authentic self from Day 1.

Mike: As for many, my coming-out process started in my personal life – family, friends, and eventually co-workers – and occurred over some months. During that process, I found it more challenging to tell long-term acquaintances my truth because, in my mind, I was asking them to readjust their understanding of who I was in a pretty major way, and with very little notice. While peoples’ reactions were almost universally positive and accepting, the process was still stressful for me. Consequently, at the age of 30, when I moved away from my hometown and first two jobs as a broadcaster, I decided to treat my new job and new city as a clean slate – starting from day 1 as “out.” This decision was absolutely the right one for me, and for my new home, where I can proudly represent the LGBTQ community in a very public and positive way.

Jerrica: I came out to my business partner in 2018, and he was very accepting.

Tevin: While I’ve always identified as queer, I came out mid-early career. This was strategic but also out of fear. Because my career is public facing, coming out has made it much easier to relate to viewers and my audience, and show that it’s okay to be my authentic self.

Declan: I’ve been lucky to have been out my entire professional life, but to varying levels depending on the situation. One of the things that has made being out easier has been surrounding myself with LGBTQ+ community members and allies who contribute to supportive and uplifting spaces. Obviously I’m not able to do this all the time, but when I do, I find that I am able to thrive both personally and professionally. In the same token, being around closed-minded individuals often makes it harder to express myself fully, particularly when these individuals have a lot of sway in my future career path.

What was it like finding your LGBTQ+ community, and why is that important?

Mike: AMS has provided a sense of belonging for me in multiple ways, an important one being the vibrant LGBTQ+ community within. For me, the chance social interactions that take place at AMS conferences and meetings have made the biggest impact. Realizing that an admired scientist has more in common with you than just your chosen field has been a very powerful thing. It *was* difficult to find my LGBTQ+ community in the early days of my career. Whether it was the era (early 2000s), my geographic location, my mindset – or, more likely, a combination of all these factors. I am grateful for those doing the work to expand and make the community more visible and welcoming. It has been my goal to be a small part of that change.

Tevin: I’ve had an overall positive experience. A lot of that is self-induced, because I try give off good energy, in hope that it returns. But I also try not to give attention to negativity.

Brad: Across many AMS programs and meetings I get to experience firsthand an active and engaged LGBTQ+ community that is the result of the hard work and commitment of many AMS members and staff over many years. Needless to say, they are a fun and welcoming group!  Today’s experience contrasts sharply with my experience decades ago when there wasn’t a welcomed LGBTQ+ community. Any gatherings were done in secret and privately arranged. Early efforts to publicly organize were resisted.

Jerrica: In my experience it has been very easy to find LGBTQ+ community within the AMS and in central Ohio.

Declan: I’ve had many positive experiences where I’ve felt connected to the LGBTQ+ community within AMS. During the pandemic the Coriolis Reception was held on Zoom. Before I knew it, I felt like I was reconnecting with a bunch of old friends who understood the joys and difficulties of being part of the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve stayed in touch with many people I met in that Zoom call!

At times, it can be very difficult to find an LGBTQ+ community, particularly in smaller spaces where the focus is not on identities. Obviously, not every conversation needs to revolve around identities; however, I believe it would make it easier to find an LGBTQ+ community in every space if identities became a more common subject in weather, water, and climate spaces.

Join us next week for Part 2!

Featured image credit: Asker Ibne Firoz, “Rainbow over the city,” entry to 2023 Weather Band Photo Contest.