Papa John’s employee furthers company’s diversity and inclusion

Meghan Stevens

What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify?

I don’t think we can really break down the meaning of what it means to be Queer without recognizing the historical hurt and inherent insult that comes along with it. In the past, it has been weaponized as a pejorative that’s been hurled at LGBTQ+ people for decades.  I don’t believe we can disregard its historical context as it becomes more popularized. Today, I see folks across the LGBTQ+ spectrum working to reclaim it. For some people it’s an act of healing. For others, it’s a painful memory of what they were called to their faces and behind their backs.

To me, Queer is an all-encompassing identity under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, a term used to describe people who do not identify as cisgender and heterosexual. Categorically I would fall under this header, but I personally identify as a gender non-conforming lesbian. I’m attracted to people who identify and present as female/feminine. I also identify as a woman but do not subscribe to the gender conforming binary. I believe I can identify as a woman without feeling obligated to shoulder every characteristically feminine marker society can place on us. I work hard to help people see past the binary; to look outside of what expectations the public has placed on us and how we present in association with our gender.

Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky?

I was born into a Military family and came back to Louisville permanently when I was around 2-3 years old. I’ve been in Louisville since then and it certainly is my home. I consider myself very lucky to live in the most progressive city in the state. Attending Butler High School in Jefferson County where I was able to help start the Gay-Straight Alliance was an exciting and freeing experience. I felt like our voices, even as as teenagers, were welcomed and supported.

I attended Morehead State University in Rowan County from 2009-2013 for my undergrad degree and it was a very different experience. It’s a much more rural county with some of the unfortunate stereotypes attached to it. I didn’t come out till after I had moved back to Louisville because a supportive environment was much harder to find in a red county.

Since moving back to Louisville in 2013 I’ve had the chance to travel to different communities nationally and experience what being an LGBTQ+ person is like in much larger and more accepting cities, as well as more closed-minded and smaller communities. While Louisville is not perfect, I am so grateful for the progress this city has made and continues to make.

What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?

Take your time. There is no rush and no timelines matter but your own. You don’t have to have it all figured out by a specific time and there is no final answer. Our identities flex and change over time so be open to new experiences that will allow you to learn more about yourself at a deeply personal level. Research online and try to find a community with similar interests to yours. In person and online support can give you a peer group to discuss new ideas and odds are, someone has experienced something similar to what you are going through now. Be patient, trust your gut, and surround yourself with affirming family and friends.

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?

For 10+ years I identified as bisexual. I told myself that I could date and have relationships with women till I got older, grew out of it, and I’d marry a man. The more time passed, the more unrealistic that seemed. This ‘phase’ of being attracted to women didn’t end and I was vehemently against marriage as a concept at the time. It took a lot of therapy and self-discovery to come to terms with my identity as a lesbian and the closet I had to come out of. After doing that personal work I was proud of the hurdles I had overcome and the effort it took to get to this place. Now that I am out in my personal and professional life, it has opened doors for me that I never would have expected.

Professionally, I’ve been with the same company for 11+ years. I started at Papa John’s when I was 17 and a Junior in high school. I worked at corporate and franchise Papa John’s restaurants throughout high school and all 4 years of college. During my time in the field I was never comfortable enough to come out to my coworkers. I was afraid that disclosing would put me at risk for losing my job or the target of unfair treatment. After completing my undergrad, I was fortunate enough to land a job at the corporate office.

Since 2014 I have worked on various teams within Papa John’s headquarters and gotten to work under incredibly influential and inspiring people. Most important to me was the creation of our Diversity & Inclusion committee. I was chosen to sit on the committee from its inception and it’s changed my outlook on what corporations and their employees can do to push for change. I’m active on committees such as corporate social responsibility and community relations. I participate actively and consult with various employee resource groups (ERG) and I’m the current president of the LEAP (LGBTQ+ for Equity, Advocacy, and Promotion) ERG. Getting to help facilitate change from the inside has been such an eye-opening experience and one I plan to grow into a future career.

Since our ERG formation, we have been relentless about examining our policies and practices to transition to a more inclusive work place where people don’t have to worry about job security because of who they are. In the past year our ERG has been fortunate enough to update our EEO statement to include sexual orientation and gender identity, added gender neutral restrooms, and confirmed compliance with the World Professional Association for Trans Health standards for employee benefits. We are also in the process of researching the creation of a gender transition workplace policy as well as completing the Corporate Equality Index with the Human Rights Campaign. Locally, we’ve sponsored initiatives with Kentuckiana Pride Foundation and Louisville Pride Festival along with the UofL LGBTQ+ center and the Louisville Youth Group. It’s been such a humbling experience to be a part of this monumental culture change that we’ve been working at for the last year. Getting to dig into corporate advocacy has been a true joy and an experience that I will continue to peruse. I’m thankful that I get to use my activism and advocacy background in a meaningful way that will impact people’s lives.

Getting to bring my whole self to work not only benefits my sense of belonging but provides the company with a deeper knowledge of LGBTQ+ experiences learn and grow from. I’m thankful that I get to leverage my identity for the betterment our employees and customers alike.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?

Thankfully, I do not feel excluded from the mainstream queer community. Being a woman in LGBTQ+ spaces mostly dominated by men can feel uneven when misogyny comes into play. But overall as a gay white woman, I don’t face the same alienation that more vulnerable parts of our community do. This is my driving motivation to create a safer and more affirming community for folks within the LGBTQ+ community.

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)

I will always feel safest around my loved ones and people I trust including my close friends and family. My partner and I travel frequently and love getting to see other LGBTQ+ landmarks, hot spots, and bars when possible. I feel most powerful at work and in meetings getting to lead initiatives for social and policy change.

Who influenced the life you live now?

From the beginning my mother, aunt, and grandmother have all had a huge influence on my life. They raised me to be a self-assured, confident, and outspoken individual.

Throughout my school years, teachers who took a stand for minorities and socially/economically disadvantaged groups were superheroes in my eyes. Seeing people use their privilege to help make the world better for those who don’t have what they do was an awakening for me. Currently queer, trans, and cisgender women of color have some of the biggest hurdles and struggles facing them in society. I am continually in awe of their strength and determination to continue to show up and do the work when the system is actively working against them. The bravery they continue to show day in and day out is incredibly inspiring and strengthens my conviction to continue playing my part in making our communities safer for them. Even as queer woman, my privilege as a white person affords me opportunities that I am called to use to advocate for folks with the deck stacked against them.

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