Verity Credit Union President and CEO, John Zmolek, Pens Moving Letter on Gay Pride

The letter, which went out to Verity staff, details Zmolek’s experience as a gay man and rallies support for the LGBTQ+ community.

6/30/2020

Over the last several weeks, many leaders in the Credit Union Movement have issued statements to reinforce and more clearly declare their commitment to support social justice. From learning more and speaking out against racism, to having uncomfortable conversations that challenge — and change — the system, credit unions are having intentional conversations about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

During LGBTQ+ Pride Month, NWCUA Board Chair and Verity Credit Union President and CEO, John Zmolek, penned a letter to his staff to share his journey as a gay man. This moving and courageous letter is an example of the heartfelt conversations that are needed to understand each other as humans. Thank you to John for sharing his life experience, so that we all may better connect and respect one another.

Below is his letter:

Dear Colleagues:

picture of John Zmolek

Verity Credit Union President and CEO, John Zmolek.

I am a gay man, and I am proud. A simple sentence, but my journey to saying that and feeling safe to say that has been complex. This week is Pride Week in Seattle; the week the LGBTQ+ community would march through the streets of Seattle, celebrate (with Verity) at the Seattle Center among many other activities. I regret that there will be no big celebration as this has been a time where I remember and celebrate my journey through life as a gay man.

I marched in my first Pride Parade in 1979 (I really hadn’t intended on doing so, but that’s a longer story). I held a balloon in front of my face so no one could take a picture of me. I was fearful that my photo might end up in a newspaper. Back then, even in San Francisco, it was still legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ+. It wasn’t until after I joined the staff of Verity (then NW Federal) that I felt secure enough to share my sexual orientation with co-workers. That was 1991, but it wasn’t until 2006 that LGBTQ+ people in Washington were protected from being fired. That’s why I celebrate the Supreme Court decision last week to ban job discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation. Until last week, it was still legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ+ in more than half the states.  Now, finally, LGBTQ+ workers across the US can no longer legally be fired for who they are and who they love.

When I first kissed a man back in 1976 (yup, he’s my husband), I felt my life’s hopes collapse. I believed I could never have a job in the public eye, that I would never be married, that I would never have kids. That all those assumptions would prove to be false still astonishes me. In 1997, only 44% of the US thought gay and lesbian relations between consenting adults should be legal. Now 73% believe gay and lesbian relationships should be legal. What pushed such a wild swing?

I believe that the power of telling our story is what pushed gay rights forward. As more and more of us mustered the courage to share our story, share our pride in who we are and who we love; denying us the right to marry became personal, denying us the right to work while being openly gay became painful not just to us but to our friends, family and co-workers. I left Iowa after graduating from college. Because of my story, my sister, my niece and nephew, my mother-in-law and friends, who remained in Iowa, all took active roles in the fight for gay rights in that state. It may surprise you that Iowa was the second state in the nation, years before Washington, to allow gay marriage. 

During these past several weeks, I think about the power of telling stories. In this case, my responsibility is to truly hear the stories of persons of color so that, just like my family and friends in Iowa did for me, I can truly be an ally in the fight to dismantle the legacy of racism in our communities.

I will miss marching in the Pride Parade this year (balloons now fly high above my face), both for the joy and because the work is not done until all LGBTQ+ people feel safe on the streets and in their lives. I will miss even more spending time with some of you at the Verity booth at the Pride Fair.  However, I am full of pride in the last few weeks of how we have come together to march, to tell our stories, to support each other and support our communities as we continue on this journey to build vibrant communities: communities where all feel safe, opportunity is equitable and justice abounds. There is much work to be done, but we’ve got a good start.

John