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Celebrating National Coming Out Day & LGBTQ+ History Month

On October 11, we celebrate National Coming Out Day, which supports members of the LGBTQ+ community. To further commemorate this day and build upon the recognition of LGBTQ+ history, October was selected by educators as LGBTQ+ History Month in 1994. To learn more about LGBTQ+ history and major events, click here.

To celebrate this important day and month, we are sharing the stories and experiences of four members of our LIFT employee resource group, which is dedicated to supporting members and allies of our LGBTQ+ community. We invite you to read their stories below as they reflect on the courage it takes to live authentically.  

If you are interested in joining LIFT or another ERG, please visit Teleskope to join and get notified of ERG happenings and events.   


Read Our Employee Perspectives

 

Erica Krauss, General Manager in Washington, D.C.

Tell us a bit about yourself.  

My name is Erica Krauss and I am the general manager at The Batley in the Union Market Neighborhood of Washington, D.C. I have worked with Bozzuto for eight and a half years. My beautiful wife of two years, Rebecca, and I live in Alexandria, Virginia with our two adorable cats that like to think of themselves as dogs. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos, riding my bike, boxing, and cooking.  

Can you describe your first or one of your first experiences coming out?  

The first person I came out to was my best friend. It was over the phone while I was anxiously awaiting my first date with another woman and needed someone to calm my nerves. My friend was absolutely accepting and mentioned that she had a feeling I may eventually come out. With that, coming out is a constant process and my sexuality has not always been well received. Having a positive initial coming out experience has always been helpful when others were not as accepting. 

What was it like coming out in the workplace?  

Coming out in the workplace was nerve-wracking for me especially in a customer service environment. Bozzuto has always made me feel like I could be my authentic self; however, we also interact with residents, clients and contractors who might have different views. When I was engaged to be married, I remember enduring a bout of advice from a well-meaning resident who gave me pointers on how I should treat my future husband. While I did not have the heart to correct the resident at the time, I did surprise them when I showed them my wedding photos.  

Do you have a favorite saying or piece of advice related to belonging and inclusivity? 

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson   


Mariah Gardner, Executive Concierge in Washington, D.C. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

My name is Mariah. I work at Modern on M as the executive concierge. I enjoy adventure and seeing the world. I’m extremely grateful that I’m in a point in my life where I can freely do this as a queer individual with my partner/best friend.  

Can you describe your first or one of your first experiences coming out? 

When I came out to my family, they were very supportive. They wanted to ensure whoever I love just treats me well. My friends knew longer than my family did, and they all were supportive and rooting for my happiness.  

What was it like coming out in the workplace? 

After I told my family, I was fearless with telling anyone in the workplace. I never received any pushback from my coworkers, but even if I did, I am confident with who I am.  

Do you have a favorite saying or piece of advice related to belonging and inclusivity? 

Do not run away. Run headfirst in the face of your fears. For me, if you fear others accepting you for who you truly are, run headfirst into those fears.   


Darryl Howard, Director of Resident Concierge Services in Washington, D.C.

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

At first glance, I’m probably not what you would assume to be a “Midwestern boy,” but I grew up jumping in ponds and creeks, cow-tipping, driving American muscle cars and “drag races” (no pun intended).  My mother is a baker so most of my childhood was spent hanging around the bakery, learning the nuances of baking, catering and party planning. Birthday parties and family events are never dull when you have a mom-chef/event planner/caterer in the family—you never run out of food, that’s for sure! Despite learning her tricks and techniques and my way around a kitchen, I was always more of the adventurer and explorer in my family.    Travel became a passion of mine at an early age. When I was six years old, we took a family vacation to New York City and Niagara Falls. It was at that point that I knew there was more to the world and it was mine to explore! Since that tender age of six, I’ve traveled to 23 different countries and 39 states.  Attending college in Miami, Florida (from a little town in Ohio) also helped open my eyes to diversity and different cultural experiences.   Besides traveling, some of my other passions and hobbies are flying trapeze, yoga, dancing, cooking, entertaining at home and spending time with my family. My fiancé, our dog and house projects hold my attention these days. 

Can you describe your first or one of your first experiences coming out?  

My grandparents have been a major positive impact on the way I view equality, pride and love.  They have been married for 71 years, raised eight happy, loud and funny children and have the biggest hearts ever. When I came out to them, they were beyond supportive and accepting of me—that’s the example they’ve shown for our entire family.      

What was it like coming out in the workplace? 

I came out during college, so by the time I joined the workforce, I had a pretty solid foundation to stand on. However, you never really know how accepting people will be at work. Luckily, At Bozzuto, I’ve always felt welcomed and accepted. 

Do you have a favorite saying or piece of advice related to belonging and inclusivity? 

My grandfather once told me, “It’s your life, only you can live it, so live it well. Make the most of it and then share it.” He probably had no idea how impactful that was to me at the time, but that statement has helped shaped my life and make me the person I am today. 


Henry Ferguson, Director of Resident Concierge Services in Washington, D.C.

Tell us about yourself. 

My name is Henry Ferguson and I am gay. I came out in the midst of the first wave of the AIDS epidemic—a time when the world hated homosexuals. Many believed we were dying from AIDS, the “gay disease,” because it was what we deserved simply because of who we are.   In the early 80s, I began doing drag as Holly. Holly gave me an opportunity to become someone else, a person that I loved and was proud of, compared to Henry, who was ridiculed throughout school and not loved by his parents for being gay. Don’t get me wrong, my parents loved “straight” Henry very much. They just couldn’t accept “gay” Henry. Holly became pretty successful and well known very quickly. She stayed in the drag world for several years. Since I stopped entertaining, I have been known to reappear for very special occasions.   The late 80s and early 90s were a blur. Clubbing and hanging out all night became a norm. Then in 1994, a friend from DC offered me a job. I commuted for a few months until I decided to make DC my home. I have never looked back. DC felt right. I liked that in DC being gay was more accepted. Same-sex couples could walk around holding hands in the DuPont neighborhood. DC was home. Just far enough away from my family to not get dragged into their drama and close enough to visit anytime I wanted.   Since I came out, I have lived openly, meaning I live as a gay man in every aspect of my life. Living my life this way has been liberating and difficult at the same time. My name is Wirt Henry Ferguson, and I am gay.  

Can you describe your first or one of your first experiences coming out? 

When I graduated from high school, I moved to Texas, where my sister lived, to “find myself.” I had a few encounters with men. I couldn’t call them dates because I was straight. Two years later, my sister’s husband was reassigned to a post in England. I moved back home so I wouldn’t be alone in Texas.   I reconnected with a high school friend and we started going out a lot. Then one night, she suggested we go to a dance bar. She informed me that it was a gay bar and wanted to know if I was okay with it. I didn’t care. This became our regular spot. I really struggled for the next few weeks. I knew I felt more comfortable there than I felt in other places. I had been with a few men over the years. However, I never reciprocated because I had to maintain my straight status. I really struggled trying to understand why I was so comfortable at that club because I couldn’t be gay. My dad had always told me that those people were the worst and should be abolished—that they were very sick people that should be put away. I couldn’t be gay, and yet I was very comfortable around them. I felt a sense of belonging that I didn’t get anywhere else, including home. I started saying to myself that all the evidence is there. I am gay. My dad is wrong. There is nothing wrong with these people. My people.   This internal dialogue lasted for a couple weeks. Then on a Saturday night, Fiona and I had just left the club. I looked over at her and said, “Fiona, I think I am gay.” That was the most difficult sentence I have ever said, and the most liberating. It felt like a huge heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Fiona responded with, “It’s about [expletive] time. I thought I was going to have to make you say it. By the way, I’m gay.”  

What was it like coming out in the workplace? 

I started my career path in retail, which is very tolerant of gay men, even in the early 80s. Since initially coming out, I have been out at every place of employment. I never had to tell anyone. They just figured it out for themselves. If asked, I always told the truth. No one was ever surprised. Being gay, I always felt like I had to work harder, do better and excel at everything work-related just to prove that I was enough, that I deserved the promotion or that I was just as good as the next guy.   I have been fortunate that every company I have worked for has been at least tolerant of gay men. However, no company compares to the acceptance, inclusion and equality that I feel on a daily basis at Bozzuto. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel like I am looked upon as Henry, the gay guy. I know I am looked upon as just Henry.   

Do you have a favorite saying or piece of advice related to belonging and inclusivity? 

My favorite phrase is one that I have tried to live since the first time I heard it in high school. The phrase is from Act 1, Scene III of “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. “This above all: to thine own self be true.” This phrase has a completely different meaning nowadays than it did when he wrote it. It is my belief that no one and nothing can do harm to you as long as you follow your ideals and values. A person should live their life with honesty and integrity. You should know what is right or wrong and look within to make the right decision. Do not allow others to steer you from your path. 

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