GAC Pride: The Story Behind the Network

In 2018, Melanie Bejzyk and David Da Silva, 2 members of PAFSO formed part of the trio who won the Deputy Minister’s Award of Excellence for Leadership for their work founding the Global Affairs Canada Pride Network. They provided courageous, passionate and inspiring leadership to the department by formalizing the Global Affairs Canada Pride Network and setting an ambitious agenda for the group. They have brought together LGBTQ2+ employees, both in Canada and at missions abroad, to work on common goals: a more diverse and inclusive workplace, better information and protections abroad for LGBTQ2+ employees and families, and a more supportive department.

We had the chance to ask them a few questions about the project.

PAFSO / What made you decide to be a part of this initiative?

MB / There was a need for a “home” in the department for LGBTQ2+ employees, their families and allies. We needed a more formal community where we could network, exchange information and mutually support each other. It was also clear we could benefit from a group that would raise awareness, promote the needs of this community and act as a resource in the department. The ultimate goal was to contribute to a more welcoming workplace environment where people could reach their full potential.

DDS / Melanie’s skills of persuasion! I’m only half-joking – truly it was Melanie’s inspiring drive to organise the LGBTQ2+ community in the department that motivated me. Up until the Pride Network was formed, initiatives for LGBTQ2+ employees were ad-hoc and highly “artisanal”: usually a labour of love by a motivated LGBTQ2+ employee in HR or the FSD team, etc. who wanted to make things better. And when those individuals rotated out of the position, work on their initiative stopped. As a community, we needed – and deserved – better.

PAFSO / When you came forward with the proposal, what kind of reception did you get from Management and employees?

MB / We took time to develop an informal network, build our membership base, gain insights from other private and public sector organizations, and brainstorm what we wanted to ask of management. When we did make a pitch to management, we had concrete, pragmatic proposals that had credibility with our membership. We received a very positive reception from both management and employees.

DDS / It’s cliché to say that we are pushing on an open door, but the analogy is apt. The timing is right (that is to say, long overdue!). Fact: when the federal government created Employment Equity groups back in the 1980s, it was still so taboo to be gay or lesbian, that our community was excluded. And that’s to say nothing about persons who are bisexual, trans, two-spirited or gender-diverse. The environment is different now. New employees expect an inclusive workplace from day one. And we recognise that our diversity is exactly what makes us so strong. The department is now actively catching up to this reality.

PAFSO / What accomplishment are you are most proud of fostering under this initiative?

MB / The provision of LGBTQ2+ awareness training to senior management in human resources and several other groups in the department. This helps promote a safe and affirming environment by encouraging a dialogue on issues that may arise in the workplace.

DDS: Can I list two accomplishments? Better information on privileges and immunities abroad for our LGBTQ2+ employees and families (search “LGBTQ2+” on MODUS). And the creation of a departmental champion for the LGBTQ2+ community.

PAFSO / If someone in the LGBTQ2+ community is considering a career as a Foreign Service Officer what advice would you give them?

MB / I would say “go for it!” It’s a fulfilling career that allows a person to contribute to their country in a meaningful way. Organizations like ours recognize the importance of embracing diversity and the creativity it ignites. Being a member of the LGBTQ2+ community is a source of unique insights that can help enrich a person’s approach to their work as a FSO.

DDS / An effective diplomat is someone who can leverage their own personal skills and strengths to advance their country’s goals and agenda. Being LGBTQ2+ – and the unique perspectives and experiences that often come with this – give us valuable skills and strengths, and I think that the federal government (like other employers) are beginning to realise this. An added bonus of the foreign service is the level of intercultural awareness and acceptance that comes with the career. Working with, and embracing, difference is part of the job package, and has been the case for centuries. More than ever, I think it’s a fabulous time to be an LGBTQ2+ Foreign Service Officer.

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