Don't tell anyone: Steph's story

Steph Hansen

Although 2020 was full of unexpected events – from a global pandemic, to economic instability, to a renewed call and movement for civil rights and equality seen and heard around the world – it has also given us the opportunity to reflect. At Suncor, it’s been a time of transformation and a call for us to come together to be different, be better and do better. 

In 2020 we announced our support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and our intention to do better. We take this seriously and as part of our long-term commitment to listen, understand and learn, we had three company-wide conversations about racism and discrimination, and we also heard directly from our employees about their lived experiences. 

We continue to share stories from Suncor team members, and this story reflects thoughts from Steph Hansen, a business process analyst and co-lead of Suncor’s LGBTQ2S+ employee inclusion network, Prism. Steph shares her coming out story and reminds us how we can all be allies in the face of racism and discrimination: 

At a young age I knew there was something different about me. It wasn’t that I really liked sports (hockey, softball and golf in particular), or that I had low self-esteem, or that I was bullied; I just never felt like I fit in. I never felt like I fit into society. When I was young, I didn’t know about the LGBTQ2S+ community and I didn’t know that it was okay to feel like you didn’t fit the gender you were born with. I also didn’t know that it was okay to like the same sex.

The reality was that it actually wasn’t okay to feel any of the above. Not only was homosexuality a term that, until 1990, was designated a mental disorder, but it wasn’t until 1996 that someone’s sexual orientation became legally protected as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. And just recently, on June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued a momentous ruling that protects gay and transgender people against discrimination in the workplace.  

When I look at those dates, I realize the reason I didn’t feel like I fit in growing up was because it was risky to identify as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, and as a young woman, information wasn’t readily available. I’ve been asked if I still think it’s risky to identify publicly, and my answer is still, “yes.” But when I was asked to write this article, I thought of my coming out story and the events that occurred days, weeks, months, and years after. When I started to realize that I like the same sex, I thought to myself, “shhh, don’t tell anyone. People won’t like you because of it, people will make fun of you and most importantly, it will hold you back.” I was 16 years old.

While my coming out story is one of positivity, not all of them are. I lost some relationships in my life, but I’m okay with that because, most importantly, I did not lose my family. I’m not going to tell you that my family was ready for me to bring a date home by any means, but they didn’t leave my side. They supported me in every way they could. In fact, the same year I came out, my parents supported me—their 16-year-old daughter—moving to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to play hockey. I didn’t have to leave because I came out. I wasn’t running away, and my parents didn’t send me away. Together we were facing our greatest fear with me moving to another country to live with a family my parents and I had only ‘met’ over the phone. But I do remember being told right before I left to “not tell anyone.” It’s only when I look back now that I realize those three words were said with love and to protect me.

What was supposed to only be one year away, turned into five when I chose to go to an American university. Those five years were life changing. I grew into my skin, I became confident in my sexuality, and I realized “don’t tell anyone” isn’t the answer. While I say that, unfortunately the answer still isn’t “tell everyone.” I may not feel comfortable holding my wife’s hand in certain places; we may not travel to certain countries where being LGBTQ2S+ is against the law; and I may change my words when I speak because I am still afraid of being discriminated against if I talk about my wife. But we’re getting there, and I feel very lucky to have a strong support system in my personal life and at work. We should all have this support.

There are many who have paved the way for me to be able to say I am a proud LGBTQ2S+ woman with a wife of 11 years and a supportive family. To them I say, thank you! I am also proud to say that I work for a company that realized a change is needed and that there is still a long way to go. Suncor is not only having the hard conversations, but also providing safe spaces to have them.

This is going to be hard and it is going to be uncomfortable—that’s growth. Let us all approach this time of growth and learning with an open mind and empathy.
- Steph 

We thank Steph and many others for their vulnerability and willingness to step forward and speak up. Together, we will be better. We are committed to continuing to listen, understand, learn, grow and support one another. We are stronger together.