May 31, 2012
As an openly gay woman, Sonya Nichols says she had never experienced discrimination — at least not directly. Her former employer was not “gay friendly,” but the environment wasn’t explicitly hostile.
“It was more like ’don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and so I didn’t,” says Nichols. “Many people there knew I was gay, but we just never talked about it. It didn’t feel like discrimination; it just didn’t feel authentic.”
When her former employer’s hiring policy was changed to specifically exclude members of the LGBT community, Nichols decided to leave her job of 12 years and apply for a position at Trinity Community of Beavercreek, a United Church Homes community in Dayton, Ohio.
“I had heard they were really open and inclusive,” says Nichols, who is an activity aide at Trinity. “I had always wanted to work here, so I made the switch. When I got here and found out it was true, I was very happy.”
That was a decade ago. Today, Nichols is celebrating. On May 10, the United Church Homes board of directors voted unanimously to include sexual identity and gender expression in its hiring, admissions and care policy nondiscrimination statements. Now others will know what Nichols knows: United Church Homes welcomes everyone.
Because inclusiveness has always been a part of the United Church Homes culture, the vote is largely symbolic but important nonetheless.
“I am proud of the level of openness, welcome and hospitality that already exists for all people in our communities,” says the Rev. Kenneth V. Daniel, president and CEO of United Church Homes. “I’m also very proud to be affiliated with an organization that has taken this kind of public ethical stance.”
Nichols, who is 53, believes the stand has made a difference for members of the LGBT community.
“New employees are amazed when they come here and find out it’s true,” she says. “Here, I’m cared about not because of my sexual identity, but for the quality of work that I do.”
In the late 1990s Trinity established diversity training for employees and residents. The result was a deeper understanding of differences among people.
“In a true community there are many differences in people and in thinking,” says Laura Farrell, Trinity’s administrator. “Residents and team members know we are an open and affirming community, as are all United Church Homes campuses. Here, they can continue living their lives and being who they are. We embrace the whole person.”
“I no longer feel like I have to hide something,” says Nichols. “I can be myself.”