Celebrating and supporting family, friends and co-workers
Denver Water is proud of its diverse workforce. June is known as Pride Month for LGBTQ+ communities in honor of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, considered a crucial event in the LGBTQ+ rights movement. In honor of Pride Month, we're sharing the stories of Denver Water employees who are allies in the LGBTQ+ communities. You also can go here for more stories members of our diverse team who ensure the delivery of clean, safe water to 1.5 million people.
Throughout history, marginalized groups have faced discrimination, persecution and oftentimes violence due to perceived differences.
But standing alongside these groups are allies — people who join in support to raise their collective voices against injustice.
Meet three Denver Water employees who are allies for the LGBTQ+ communities:
Stephanie Jesperson knew several people who were gay when she was growing up in the 1990s, in the conservative community of Salt Lake City, Utah.
“I had a few friends whose siblings were gay. And as I got older, one of my closest friends was gay. I don’t even remember talking about it, it was just understood as a fact: They were gay. It wasn’t really a big deal. They weren’t any different from me,” she said.
The empathy and understanding Jesperson learned as a child would be pivotal later when an older family member revealed she was gay.
Jesperson’s mother-in-law, Marilyn, was in her 70s when she revealed that she was gay — after being married, raising children and later divorcing her husband.
Marilyn met Lisa after her divorce, while the two were in nursing school. They lived together for decades, never explicitly announcing their relationship, though their feelings for each other was evident to their friends and family.
“They were always inseparable, and we all saw their love for each other grow over the years,” said Jesperson.
In 2013, Marilyn and Lisa were married in Oregon, their marriage certificate serving as the “official” announcement and coming out to their family.
“Looking back now, it makes me so sad to know how scared Marilyn was for us to find out,” Jesperson said. “She carried her fear for so long, hiding who she was. This is one reason I try to do more and advocate for those in the LGBTQ+ communities,” Jesperson said.
To Jesperson’s niece and nephew, the pair were always known as “the grammies,” and when Jesperson’s own children were born, the term of endearment persisted.
“My two kids have never known anything different. We’ve always called Marilyn and Lisa ‘the grammies,’ and my kids feel especially lucky to have extra grandmas to spoil them.”
Jesperson believes knowing gay people, growing up with them, working with them and having them within her own family gives her a glimpse into their lives and struggles.
It also continues to reaffirm that we really aren’t all that different.
“I’m a heterosexual woman, but I can also be a voice for the LGBTQ+ communities. We’re all individuals and we need to support each other.”
When a protest against drag shows was organized in her south Denver neighborhood, Jesperson gathered some of her neighbors to counterprotest in support of drag. Draped in colorful feather boas, the group held signs of support for the LGBTQ+ community.
“I honestly couldn’t believe the hate and personal attacks people were yelling out. I really wasn’t prepared to hear some of those things — it was mind blowing,” Jesperson said.
Over time, Jesperson has seen a significant shift in the conversations around LGBTQ+ topics, particularly as her own children, ages 12 and 15, navigate adolescence.
“I am really awed by the confidence of the younger generation to be themselves and express who they are. The conversations they are having with their friends are so different from those we had growing up. They are so open. They talk about tough topics. They ask questions. And most importantly, they accept each other.”
Jesperson said she’s seen a similar shift at Denver Water, where she’s worked in the IT department for 17 years.
“I love the diversity we have at Denver Water, and I am glad we are talking about inclusivity. We have to continue to create a safe environment that encourages people to get to know each other. As we have more personal conversations, we can begin to understand each other and be better together.”
Katie Fletcher grew up in the 2000s in a middle-class Denver neighborhood with two gay couples as neighbors.
“Having gay neighbors sort of normalized it for me. I never even thought to ask questions. I don’t even remember having a moment of realization that gay people exist. They were just our neighbors and friends; we attended both of their weddings when they were able to get married,” Fletcher said.
In high school, when discussions around LGBTQ+ issues started in social studies classes, Fletcher realized for the first time that not everyone was as accepting as she was.
High school also was the time when she noticed her twin brother, Jack, wasn’t really into the dating scene.
“Jack and I had the same friend circles, and everyone was starting to date and go to homecoming dances and prom, but Jack just wasn’t into it. He didn’t really have to tell me he was gay; we were just always so close, and I knew,” said Fletcher.
When Jack came out to his parents in 2016 while in college, they were accepting, but also worried.
“My parents were not upset that Jack was gay, but they were concerned about his future and the challenges he’d face. I think every parent just wants their kids to be happy and loved. My mom and dad were definitely worried about how hard he would have to fight for the same rights and privileges that I have as a heterosexual,” Fletcher said.
While she’s always been an ally for the LGBTQ+ communities, the issues hit particularly close to home and have strengthened her resolve to fight for gay rights.
“I am vocal about issues around equality on social media. I donate to organizations that support the LGBTQ+ communities and make sure that when I vote, the candidates I select align with my values,” she said.
In addition to her work on Denver Water’s sustainability team, Fletcher works part-time as an event and wedding photographer. She uses this as another way to demonstrate her allyship to the LGBTQ+ communities.
“I make sure people know that my photography business is a welcoming place for everyone and feature couples of all kinds in my portfolio. I’ve learned that if you don’t tell people that you are a safe space, they will assume you are not,” she said.
Fletcher says her brother has been transformed since embracing and celebrating his identity.
“Jack’s really blossomed and flourished. He has a vibrant, energetic style and has a really cool group of friends,” she said.
But Jack still keeps his dating life very private.
“I think it’s because some of the guys he dates aren’t openly out yet or don’t want anyone to know they are gay. It’s heartbreaking that he has to keep so much of that private instead of being able to share his joy.”
But Fletcher has hope for the future.
“It’s still hard for some people to open up and share their stories. There are fears and stigmas around certain topics, and homosexuality is one of those topics. It’s so important for us to relate to each other, understand each other and get to know each other as people. It’s really all about having decency and compassion for one another.”
Tami Berry grew up in the 1980s in a diverse community in Denver, surrounded by all types of people.
“Black, white, Hispanic, gay, straight, poor, middle-class — we all just treated each other the same,” said Berry.
When some male students joined her high school cheerleading squad, other students made assumptions.
“They were perceived to be gay because they were participating in a sport typically for females, but they were just cheerleaders like the rest of us. We didn’t treat them any differently,” Berry said.
And she recognizes that her upbringing in a community melting pot of different cultures is not the norm.
“As a Black woman, I know how it feels to be called names or to be faced with unjust situations or judged based on misperceptions. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I feel everyone deserves to celebrate who they are.”
But when Berry started at Denver Water 35 years ago, difference was not something that was celebrated. And when she saw a co-worker facing discrimination because he was gay, she stood up for him and voiced her concerns.
“A few decades ago, Denver Water was not a place where you talked about things outside of work. Some of my gay colleagues were uncomfortable talking about their personal lives. I noticed them downplaying their personalities, trying to hide who they are. It wasn’t right, and I made sure to not only call attention to the discrimination, I also made sure they knew I was an ally — a safe place where they could be themselves without any judgement,” she said.
Berry is happy to see Denver Water taking positive steps to build an environment that values diversity and encourages employees to embrace differences.
“If you persecute or condemn others and are closed-minded, then you lose the opportunity to expand your worldview and the chance to learn more about yourself.”
Berry encourages others to educate themselves and be open to talking to people who are different.
And most importantly, to stick up for others when you see injustice.
“The universe brings certain people into your life for a reason. We’re all just trying to live our best lives and I don’t believe we have the right to judge others simply because they are different from us,” she said.
“Everyone is on their own path. Let’s celebrate that.”