GEN NEXT: The Value of Unapologetic Authenticity
An action that may feel small or insignificant to you may just be the inspiration someone else needs to continue their journey.
Being one of the only individuals from a specific identity or community can feel extremely isolating and be a large source of anxiety. Over the last 10 years, I’ve experienced firsthand what it feels like being the “lonely only” as both a Latino and an LGBTQIA+ CPA. As a lonely only, my mind was constantly in a state of assessing the safety of the situations I was in, asking myself questions like: Is this place safe for me? If my team leaders find out I’m gay, will it impact my career? Will these clients want to work with me if they know I’m an immigrant?
These questions led to a “conceal don’t feel, don’t let them know” mentality. I found that juggling my work while covering my true identity really took a toll on me. During my first few years in public accounting, I was always monitoring my gestures, perfecting my “American accent,” and masking pronouns when talking about significant others or friends.
However, that all changed the morning of June 12, 2016, when I woke up to news of a gunman attacking Pulse, an LGBTQIA+ and Latinx nightclub in Orlando, Fla. While we may never know the exact motive for the attack, it felt to me that it was fueled by hatred and prejudice toward my community, and it shook me to my core.
That week, as I took time to mourn the victims and honor their lives, I made a commitment to do my part to increase visibility and awareness of the LGBTQIA+ community—if I could just change one mind or help just one person truly understand who we are, it would be worth it.
First, I came out to my grandparents, the last members of my family that were still in the dark. Then, I wrote an email to my coworkers about the attack, sharing how I was feeling and extending my support to anyone that needed it. This email was shared with my entire office (with my permission), and before I knew it, I instantly came out to thousands of people. I would never not be “out of the closet” ever again.
From that moment on, I started wearing a Pride rainbow bracelet every day, I talked about my involvement with our LGBTQIA+ employee group during recruiting events and staff trainings, and I stopped masking pronouns. I started living authentically—and the benefits started manifesting: better relationships with my coworkers and clients, more career satisfaction, increased work performance, and less anxiety from not having to hide my true self.
After a few years, when I was a manager, I had a staff member approach me about their professional experience as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. The staff member shared she’d been suffering from severe anxiety leading up to her first day at the firm, as she’d been treated poorly at a previous employer due to her identity. She told me she felt a huge sense of relief once she saw my Pride bracelet during an onboarding session that I facilitated. Seeing me as an “out” leader, open about my life and involvement with our LGBTQIA+ group, made her feel like she found a place where she could belong authentically. It was amazing to learn that by just being myself—unapologetically authentic—I was able to help this person feel less like a lonely only and more as part of a community. I’ve continued to receive similar messages from others, both in my network and from people I’ve never met before, who’ve been equally impacted by initiatives, social media posts, or presentations that I facilitated.
This has been the most rewarding part of committing to being authentic—being able to show others they can be proud of what makes them unique; that just by being themselves, they are enough; and above all, that they can belong. My biggest lesson? An action that may feel small or insignificant to you may just be the inspiration someone else needs to continue their authentic journey.
Illinois CPA Society member Sergio Rodriguez, CPA, is a senior manager at Deloitte in Chicago and the recipient of the 2022 Lester H. McKeever Jr. Advancing Diversity Award in the Emerging Leader category.