Out and Proud

CultureSemrush Team

June 12, 2023

8 min read

As a way to embrace and celebrate Pride Month, some of our colleagues opened up and shared their personal stories. Jett talks about the importance of family support in his life. Olga confesses that her way to acceptance went through denial. Alina shares that she was able to understand it’s okay to be queer through her active advocating for the LGBTQ+ community. And Patryk explains how he managed to overcome societal judgment over time. These stories have one in common: they promote tolerance and authenticity, as well as the courage to face a society that is not always on your side.

Story from Jett, Sales Executive

I always knew that I had a rainbow in my blood, even as a kid. Luckily, my whole family has been very supportive. They nurtured me to become the best version of myself. I didn’t even have to come out, because my family taught me that being myself is already enough, as long as I continue living my truth with pride and kindness.

That being said, I have to admit that growing up is not always so colorful; as a young queer, I had struggles too. This allowed me to see the struggles of others, have compassion and empathy, and most importantly, have the courage and heart to reach out a hand of support to people like me. As a person who identifies as part of LGBTQ+, in 5 years working professionally I have witnessed discrimination and bias which unfortunately still exist in some workplaces. This may come from microaggressions, such as insensitive comments or jokes, or more overt forms of discrimination.

I am at a point now where I am able to just be and love who I want. The fact that I’m openly queer also helped me in my journey in finding myself and a sense of my well-being. In some cases, being true to myself has also become an asset, particularly not only as a part of LGBTQ+ community but also a part of Asian and POC (People of Color) community that comes from a different backgrounds and perspectives. These have also made a positive impact on my professional life. I am forever grateful that I was surrounded by the right people.

If I could go back in time, I would  advise my younger self that it may come to a point that you don’t know what you’re doing, and that’s okay. Just don’t stop growing. Allow yourself to fully accept and embrace every aspect of your being—even the parts that are flawed or messy—and embrace both your inner and outer self, and watch as your authenticity spreads like a wildfire.

Story from Olga, Head of Global Recruitment

When I was still in school, I must admit I wasn't very tolerant towards LGBTQ+ people. I used to crack jokes and make degrading remarks without realizing how hurtful they could be. Looking back, I deeply regret my actions and the potential harm I may have caused. I think it was my way of unconsciously resisting the fact that I was different myself, an attempt to create distance.

Nowadays, I have a great deal of sympathy for the LGBTQ+ community, especially for those individuals living in countries with zero tolerance for their identity. It's an incredibly tough experience, particularly for teenagers.

Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community greatly broadens one's personal horizons. It opens up the understanding that the world is vast and full of unknowns, extending far beyond the conventional frameworks. When you find yourself outside of the commonly accepted norms, you naturally start questioning other societal expectations.

I've grown a lot in the past few years and become much more open with people. Joining Semrush four years ago played a role in this shift. There’s this incredible atmosphere of trust, openness, and acceptance that I've never experienced before. It's like a breath of fresh air! But still, until recently, I felt uncomfortable talking about my orientation in the workplace. It was ingrained in me that discussing personal matters, including my LGBTQ+ identity, was something I should avoid, even in casual conversations. Perhaps this contributed to me becoming more introverted over time.

I can proudly identify as a member of three minority groups: LGBTQ+, women, and single mothers. As a result, every work task and project presents itself as an opportunity to demonstrate to others that I have worth, that I am just as capable as anyone else, and that I can bring valuable contributions.

If I could go back in time I probably wouldn’t do things differently. If my career path led me to Semrush, then it indicates that I did everything right.

Story from Alina, Sales Executive

I was 6 years old when I realized that I might be gay. Of course, I couldn’t clearly communicate “I’m gay,” but there was this feeling. I remember how I was standing in the doorway at my grandparents’. Grandpa and I were watching Xena: Warrior Princess—we always watched it together—and on my way to the kitchen, I stopped and turned towards the TV. I saw Xena on the screen and I thought, “Do I want to be her or be with her?”

I went to college in the States, where it was more of a friendly environment for gays than in Russia where I grew up; and yet, I couldn’t fully accept it because of an immense internalized fear of being gay—self-hatred, not knowing how to date and how to be OK with it. I happened to have a fantastic psychology advisor in college, Dr. Mara Aruguete, who was so open to the subject of LGBTQ and to people in general. Without me telling her, she knew I was wondering about LGBTQ matters. We had lots of conversations and debates and did a lot of psychological and social research on LGBTQ themes. That made a whole lot of difference in my self-acceptance.

I was a part of the LGBTQ org on campus and did numerous public talks about the subject. While I was presenting myself as an advocate for other people in the LGBTQ community, in fact, I was trying to convince myself that it is OK to be gay.

In the US—especially in California where I spent 4 years—people are much more open; they are much more educated on the subject, they have friends or know gay people. West Hollywood is the Gay Capital and you can feel it from a mile away. It’s colorful, it’s loud, people are kissing, holding hands, dancing, there are rainbow flags everywhere—the place screams GAY! It’s awesome.

I am also grateful to have experienced my home country, where it wasn’t exactly this way. The contrast between the two environments still reminds me of the importance of people’s determination; it reminds me that I’ve done a great deal of work; it reminds me that change is real. Finally, it reminds me to be grateful for my opportunities, for my experiences, and for my achievements because not everyone else has it the same.

I remember how it can be and I know how it is.

If I could go back in time, I would say to my younger self: Do what you like. Life is given to us to enjoy, experience, and learn. Don’t be afraid to lose and take risks. Every failure is a fantastic experience. Go for it!

Story from Patryk, Head of Sales

I was 17 years old when I realized that I'm gay. Well … I can say that I felt that something was different about me. I didn't particularly appreciate talking about girls as much as my peers did. I respected them, enjoyed spending time with girls, and even had very true girlfriends at that time. They were also the first people I shared with that I thought I was queer.

That was my last year living in a little town before moving to Warsaw, and I desperately wanted to keep it quiet because the truth is that many people had been gossiping about me for many years. The worst years were those in secondary school. It was hard for me to even walk the corridor in school because some students would yell at me. I was pretty confident about myself, but I hold a grudge because no one, especially not teachers, offered me a conversation, or to help me understand and discover myself. Maybe if this happened, I could have avoided looking up in "test for being gay" on Google and escaped thoughts about how I would let my family and society down.

I did face uncomfortable situations in the workplace, too. Some years ago, I remember my manager entering the room and noticing I was on the phone. She asked: “Who are you texting with this smile on your face?” and then added, ”If you prefer boys, we are okay with that.” She looked around the room to have a connection with others. Then she approached a person sitting next to her, "We are okay with gays unless it is about our kids."

At that time, I was in a relationship with a boy. No one knew about us, only a couple of friends. Her words impacted me. I didn't know what to say. I felt so many emotions at once that I became speechless.

I spent the next few years being shy about admitting anything about my personal life, whom I spent my free time with, and who gave me butterflies. Not only at work; I was also not brave enough to talk to my parents about this. Luckily for me, I soon began to meet open-minded, considerate, and great people in my professional life, and it helped me accept my true self.

Today, I'm 100% open. I do not hide being gay. With my husband, we are invited to many different business or family events and we never act as friends, but as husbands. Since that situation with my manager, I have also looked at companies' values. I'm attentive to how people speak and behave, and I do not hesitate to react if I notice any signs of homophobia.

If I could go back in time, I would say to my younger self: You have to be true to yourself to be successful. Authenticity is a critical component of being happy in professional and private life.

These four stories are just a few of the many narratives here at Semrush. There are certainly even more of those in your social or professional circle, in your neighborhood or city. While at Semrush we strive to create an environment where all employees feel comfortable and safe, some places may lack the resources or initiative to support this. One thing is important to keep in mind: to always be considerate, no matter what, and embrace the uniqueness of all. It’s the way to grow and develop.

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