June is Pride Month, a time for us to celebrate the love we have for each other and recognize the role we all play in affirming everyone’s right to be their true self. To reflect on those values, we spoke with two United employees who are members of the LGBTQ+ community so they could share their stories and help us look toward a future we can all be proud of.
M. Gallegos is a Senior Coordinator of operations at Indianapolis International Airport. Growing up in Utah, M. faced discrimination from a young age for his sexuality and Latinx and Native American ancestry. He now volunteers to mentor and support LGBTQ+ youth of color and is an active member of EQUAL, United’s resource group for LGBTQ+ employees.
Maya Tallman is a First Officer at United who just celebrated her sixth anniversary with the airline after flying for a regional carrier for 16 years. Maya knew from an early age that she didn’t identify with her assigned gender and came out to friends and family years ago, but she wasn’t ready to transition until recently and is now nearly finished with the transition process. She lives with her wife and kids in the Chicago suburbs.
In what ways do you feel welcome in the workplace?
M.: For me, it’s both in the ways that United uses its voice on LGBTQ+ issues and in how it puts those ideals into practice by giving employees a voice and creating pathways to advancement. When I entered the aviation industry as a young adult, our flight crews became a second family to me. My experiences demonstrated how aviation is more than an industry but also a community of people who understand what it means to take care of others and keep them safe and to help each person pursue their individual journeys. It’s not just a saying when we talk about connecting people and uniting the world!
Maya: When I got hired at United, I hadn’t transitioned yet and wasn’t “out” to my coworkers. I was still in that place where I knew who I was, I was comfortable in my own head, but in professional settings I was still male. I didn’t start as a visibly LGBTQ+ person; I became one about two years ago. I could not have asked for or hoped for it to have gone any better. Basically 100 percent of the people I work with, they get it. They understand that this is about the importance of authenticity to one’s mental health—the importance of being whole by having that alignment is so important for your mental health.
What advice do you have for your younger LGBTQ+ colleagues or those just starting their careers in aviation?
M.: Never give up, never be afraid to listen and learn from others, and always lead from the ground up. I am truly inspired by how LGBTQ+ youth keep pushing forward to make the vision bigger and more progressive, to include trans and nonbinary communities of color, to highlight the struggles of undocumented youth, and much more. They realize that it starts from the grassroots, and much of their hopes to create a better world come from asking questions and listening to the most vulnerable. It comes down to always learning. And that kind of persistence and spirit is exactly what leads to success in aviation.
Maya: One of my favorite adages is, You cannot be what you cannot see. For LGBTQ+ people, visibility is a very meaningful thing, because many times they are keeping stuff inside, not realizing that it’s OK to be this person you are. Growing up in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, I didn’t know any trans people. Having those examples, having the language is, I think, the future. Sometimes you can’t articulate what these feelings are, because you don’t see it outside of yourself. We have so much more today than we had before, and it’s because of these conversations. That’s what will get us there, as far as acceptance goes.