Celebrating National Coming Out Day at Alto
October 11 marks National Coming Out Day, an opportunity to celebrate all those who have come out as LGBTQ+ and recognize the courage they’ve demonstrated by choosing to be their authentic selves. In honor of this annual celebration, we sat down with two Alto team members — Ben Romero (he/they), Business Operations Manager for Health Plans and Travis White (he/him), Senior Software Engineer — who generously shared their experiences of coming out as bisexual/queer. Here are their stories, in their own words.
What was your experience of coming out?
Ben: Like a lot of folks, I avoided coming out for most of my life. I grew up knowing that I wasn’t exactly straight and later recognized that I’m bisexual. I remember my entire experience around my sexuality being wrapped in shame. I would reluctantly conform to heteronormativity just to avoid the fear of being outed or questioned. It wasn't until college that I first felt like I could open myself up to the experience and validation that I deserved. By the time I graduated from college, I had a refreshed sense of my place in the world, but I was still hiding my sexuality from my family.
Five years after college, I was finally ready to be open with my family about being bisexual, and it was the first time I felt as if I had to “come out.” At the time I was engaged to my non-binary/queer partner. My family knew my partner as a woman, but my partner was also beginning to validate their nonbinary gender experience. All I could think about was how much of a disservice it would be to our identities as a queer couple if we started our marriage having to assume more invalidating heteronormative assumptions. I first told my closest family members — my younger brother and parents — who supported me unconditionally and showed me so much love. Not every family member was as accepting of my sexuality, which was really disappointing, but I had more than enough support from my chosen family to finally overcome the fear that I had held on to for so long.
Travis: I realized I wasn’t completely straight at some point in high school. Growing up Catholic, I was always taught that men are attracted to women and that being gay was a sin. So when I found myself attracted to both girls and guys during high school, I wondered what was wrong with me. I brushed it off and ignored that aspect of my sexuality for a long time, which I would later come to regret since it definitely fed into ongoing anxiety and depression in college.
I first came out to my closest friends during my junior year of college. By that point, I had fully accepted that I wasn’t straight, but I had never acted on my bisexuality. I had only dated girls, so my friends saw me as completely straight. I couldn’t quite figure out how to tell them, and it ended up happening organically while hanging out on a Friday night. We were playing a game around the table that required everyone to share something no one else knew about them. Something came over me and I decided to throw caution to the wind with a, “by the way… I’m bi.”
I came out to my parents several years later when I was working my first engineering job out of college, living in Silicon Valley and loving life. I knew that if they chose not to accept me, it was going to be their loss. After a night out (and an amazing prime rib dinner) when they were in town, I told them that there was something I wanted to tell them about myself - that I am bisexual. My dad’s first response was, “What does that mean?” I informed them that it means I am attracted to both men and women, though more recently, I’ve come to think of myself as being attracted to interesting people regardless of the gender they identify as. My parents were very supportive, but truthfully I had reached a point where I could be accepting of the worst-case scenario.
How did you feel afterwards?
Ben: I was most grateful for the sense of relief I experienced. Despite facing criticism and homophobia from some of my siblings after coming out, I couldn’t shake the sense of pride I felt from allowing myself to be unapologetically queer and visible. I’m finally allowing this part of me to flourish and grow. It’s liberating to be radically honest with yourself and others, regardless of what anyone else may think. I’ve now come to identify with the term queer in addition to bisexual. Part of the growth I’ve experienced involves unlearning so much of what I’ve been socialized to believe about the gender binary, and I’m just now starting to understand where I exist outside of it.
Travis: When I came out to my friends during college, we stayed up talking until very late into the night. I left feeling a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders — and so full of love and support from some of the people I was closest to.
And later when I came out to my parents, they accepted me with open loving arms, for which I’m grateful, but I was also prepared to move forward with my life even if they did not accept me as my true authentic self.
What resources, support groups, or communities did you rely on when coming out?
Ben: The isolation of being in the closet can sometimes lead to stories or expectations of yourself that aren’t necessarily helpful, or true. For me, as a bisexual, some of those expectations sounded like “I’m not queer enough,” “I don’t fit into the queer community,” or “people won’t believe I’m bi/queer.” I looked to my queer friends and even to LGBTQ+ advocates on social media and was relieved to find that they had many of the same fears about coming out as I did. I found that learning from other people’s experiences could help validate my own feelings, even if we had a different orientation or gender. As a queer Latinx, I also sought validation from people who shared similar intersections around my identity, which helped me navigate the concerns I had about coming out to my family.
Travis: My friends were very supportive so I was really able to lean on them. It was also helpful to just search online for other people’s coming out stories. Before I could tell my family, I knew I had to reach a point where I would be secure in my identity regardless of the outcome of that conversation. Part of the reason it’s so important to share coming out stories is because hearing other people’s experiences helps inspire you to do the same.
What advice would you give to others considering coming out?
Ben: Above all, put your safety first. Try your best to not take on the burden of guilt for not being your authentic self — that is not a reflection of you, but a reflection of how our environment can fail to provide the validation we deserve. Take your time and build your comfort with folks who will validate your experience. There’s a whole community of people who will back you up and care for you if someone you come out to is hurtful or invalidating.
Travis: Do it if, and when, you’re ready. You can never control how others will react, so just accept that other people’s responses have nothing to do with you. It took me years to reach that point with my family. It can be incredibly tough, and you can never know in advance how anyone will respond, but if they cannot accept you for your true authentic self, there are plenty others out there who will.
Do you have any suggestions for allies?
Ben: I would stress the importance of familiarizing yourself with queer history and how our struggle for acceptence has evolved over the years. The LGBTQ+ community and allies have so much to be proud of today, like the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (a former U.S. policy that directed military applicants to not disclose their sexual orientation), the legalization of gay marriage, and more queer representation on our screens — just to name a few.
At the same time, while all of those are certainly celebratory milestones, I ask that allies also recognize that our pride comes from so much more than a handful of legislative victories over the last decade. Our pride comes from the queer folks who came before us and fought for our visibility by rallying voices to speak out against injustice. Allies can research events such as the Compton’s Cafeteria riot, the Stonewall uprising, or the works of the Combahee River Collective. Understanding this historical context is important for also understanding the intersectional nature of the LGBTQ+ struggle for acceptance and restorative justice. Even though we have much to celebrate, our struggle continues as we fight for those who are still excluded or marginalized.
Travis: Listen. The number one thing you can do is to listen and accept what someone in the LGBTQ+ community is telling you as their truth. It may change in the future — and that’s okay! Sexuality and gender are not a binary, and both can be incredibly fluid.
For parents: how you discuss sexual orientations and gender identities at home can leave a lasting impact on your children. I remember asking my mother about her thoughts on gay marriage, and she shared a more traditional view of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. That stuck with me for a long time and is a key reason I waited so long to tell them who I truly am. Read your toddler a book about a gay couple that gets married, teach your teens about prominent members of the LGBTQ+ community (and why they’re important), and if your LGBTQ+ child asks you to drive them to gay prom, treat the scenario as completely normal — because it is.
Why is it important for you to work at a company that values diversity in all forms?
Ben: For me it’s a requirement that a company I work for prioritizes diversity and inclusion. I appreciate that Alto provides visibility into the progress that we’ve made towards building a diverse team that reflects the diversity of the patients we build solutions for. We also hold space to identify the work that still needs to be done. It’s really validating to have your background recognized at company celebrations and events or in spaces like employee resource groups (ERGs)*. It’s also important that we do all we can in our everyday actions to foster a collaborative and inclusive environment — one where people feel comfortable enough to be their authentic selves and not like they have to mask their gender, race, neurodivergence, or any other part of their identity.
Travis: The U.S. — and the world — is made up of so many different people. There’s diversity of thought and beliefs, educational experiences, socioeconomic status, gender, race, A homogenous company that doesn’t mirror that diversity will never be able to serve the entire population, and will miss out on a lot of opportunities. Alto’s mission is to fulfill medicine's true purpose — to improve quality of life — for everyone who needs it. The key word to me is everyone, and to truly fulfill the promise of that mission, we need a company as diverse as our customers. I personally find it rewarding to work at a company that values diversity and has strong representation of many identities, because that’s how the best ideas come to fruition and ultimately how the most positive impact is achieved.
At Alto, we believe in a world where every perspective matters. Diversity fosters creativity and creates innovation, and we welcome candidates of all backgrounds, skill sets, and experiences. To learn more, read Why We Prioritize Diversity at Alto.
For more information on how to make your workplace safe and equitable for LGBTQ+ team members, read 11 Simple Ways You (Yes, You!) Can Make Your Workplace More LGBTQ Inclusive.
If you or someone you know is considering coming out, we encourage you to review these resources:
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Recommended Reading: Coming Out
A Handbook for LGBTQ Young People
Older Adults on Coming Out Later in Life
*ERGs are meant to empower community groups within an organization by directly linking decision makers and implementing policies that support the group’s specific needs. The groups often center around a shared identity or experience and focus on building community, providing support, and contributing to its members’ personal and professional well-being. By creating an open forum for employees to come together, discuss challenges and opportunities, and foster a sense of belonging, ERGs help both individuals and organizations thrive.