Whistle while you work
When we talk about our jobs, it’s most often to complain. Whether we’re kvetching about our hours, our pay, or our bosses, most of us would rather do anything but work. With that in mind, The Advocate set out to find people who feel quite the opposite–who actually love their jobs. Following are ten such people: people who not only enjoy their work but have no trouble with being openly gay while doing it
Mariah Burton Nelson AGE: 44 HOME: Arlington, Va. JOB: Author-professional speaker ANNUAL INCOME: Not given
MARIAH BURTON NELSON says she expresses herself best in two ways: through her books and through her speeches, She enjoys characteristics of both jobs too: the solitude of writing and the feedback from appreciative audiences.
She addresses a variety of topics, While she often discusses her success in women’s basketball (she was the leading scorer for four years at Stanford University and played professionally in both France and the United States in the late ’70s and early ’80s), she says her passion is the subject of forgiveness, Burton Nelson says she strives to be both entertaining (her most controversial book was called The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football) and inspirational (her latest is The Unburdened Heart: Five Keys to Forgiveness and Freedom), Whether writing or speaking, she says she speaks honestly as an out lesbian and as a sexual-abuse survivor.
Frank Loulan AGE: 48 HOME: Phoenix JOB: Yardmaster, Union Pacific Railroad ANNUAL INCOME: About $60,000
Frank Loulan has been working the rail-road for nearly 30 years. He switches inbound trains and prepares outbound ones. He likens his job to a jigsaw puzzle in which none of the pieces are the same.
Each day brings a new challenge. Once he coordinated efforts to intercept runaway cars. Another highlight was more personal: In the mid 1990s a switchman repeatedly broadcast the word “faggot” over his walkie-talkie. After labor relations officials got involved in the matter, it never happened again, and today Loulan says his sexuality is no longer an issue at work.
His coworkers are attracted to the railroad work because the pay is excellent. Although he says most of them have otherwise had little exposure to gay people, they realize that his sexuality doesn’t affect his performance at work. And on this job, that’s the bottom line.
Sandy Sachs AGE: 39 HOME; West Hollywood, Calif. JOB: Co-owner, the Factory nightclub ANNUAL INCOME: “Six figures.”
Lesbian Sandy Sachs runs a gay dance club in the middle of “Boys Town USA”–West Hollywood, Calif. Her job title is co-owner, which means that she does everything, she says–including managing a staff of 50 and marketing and booking the club for photo and video shoots as well ‘as for movie premieres. (She hosted Pedro Almodovar’s Academy Awards party last year.) She also donates use of her club for political fundraisers and charitable events to benefit nonprofit organizations such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Sachs says she loves all her responsibilities because she knows she has created a facility where people can enjoy themselves. After ten years at the club, her favorite part of the workday is actually at night, when she sees people smiling, dancing, and screaming out words to the songs they love. Her next-favorite part, Sachs says while laughing, comes when she counts the money.
Dan Sealy AGE: 48 HOME: Bethesda, Md. JOB: Natural resource manager-park ranger, National Park Service, George Washington Memorial Parkway ANNUAL INCOME: About $50,000
WHETHER TAKING INVENTORY of plants and animals, sending fire-fighters to the fire-ravaged West (and sometimes fighting fires himself), or showing schoolchildren a bald eagle, Dan Sealy says he is a happy man, Working each day with “the greatest, most dedicated group of people”–rangers, resource managers, maintenance workers, interns, volunteers, and visitors–he follows the lead of his inspirations: John Muir, David Brower, and his parents.
Sealy, who has been a ranger for 22 years, says he especially enjoys seeing “the lightbulb go off in someone’s head.” At that moment, he says, he can tell that the person understands what he or she can do to save wildlife, forests, and rivers for future generations, And being out on his job makes it all the better, “It was not being gay that affected my work–it was not being out,” Sealy says. “And by deciding to be out, I have made that my world rather than waiting for the world to come around to me.”
Sara Schley AGE: 37 HOME: Norwalk, Conn. JOB: Assistant professor and director of deaf education, Hunter College, City University of New York ANNUAL INCOME: $60,000
Out of everything she does, Sara Schley loves working in the classroom best. Three quarters of the way through the semester, she says, there is usually an “Aha!” moment, when students suddenly understand how everything she has discussed fits together.
“In some ways the deaf community is like the gay community,” says Schley, who is hearing. “Both are relatively small, they can be invisible, and outsiders have a lot of misconceptions.” She says that sometimes, as when they ask her about her partner and children, her deaf students and colleagues seem more accepting of her sexuality than straight people.
Schley, who’s been at Hunter for three years, has to be in the office only three or four days a week–but she says the hours are long and intense. And although she gets the summers off, she says she spends most of that time planning how to provide even more “Aha!” moments in the fall.
Kathy Worthington AGE: 49 HOME: Taylorsville, Utah JOB: Distribution and window clerk, U.S. Postal Service ANNUAL INCOME: $37,000
“Going postal” means something special to Kathy Worthington. For 15 years in Salt Lake City she has checked in postal delivery workers and sorted mail. Her favorite assignment, though, is working the window at the post office.
“This area is ethnically diverse, so I meet people from all over the world. I use my Spanish every day,” she says. “It’s great to help anyone struggling to communicate in English and make refugees feel welcome in Utah.”
Worthington is involved in local gay activism as well. She campaigns against the Mormon Church’s antigay policies, spearheads the state’s Stop Dr. Laura campaign, and led Utah’s 210-person contingent to the Millennium March on Washington. Her visibility attracts plenty of attention at the post office from coworkers and customers, she says. Many commend her for her efforts; some offer whispered comments about their own lives.
Worthington is most proud of her 1997 fight for the right to use family leave while her partner, Sara Hamblin, battled breast cancer (Hamblin is currently in remission). She says her victory, which was covered by the local press, inspired a number of other gay postal employees to come out at work.
Roger Nyhus AGE: 32 HOME: Seattle JOB: Director of corporate communications, Teledesic LLC ANNUAL INCOME: $100,000
Roger Nyhus works for a telecommunications company that won’t actually offer any services for another three years. Yet his days are full, as he provides investors, partners, and prospective customers with timely information on the business, which has been funded by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and telecommunications pioneer Craig McCaw.
Nyhus’s work has included helping coordinate former South African president Nelson Mandela’s visit to Seattle; developing strategies for building brand awareness; and consulting with business, health care, and education experts around the globe. He even developed media strategy for chairman McCaw’s pet project: reintroducing the Free Willy whale, Keiko, back into the wild.
“I joined this pioneering company because it has the potential to do some good in the world,” Nyhus says. “I also love the adrenaline rash of juggling multiple critical projects and delivering excellent-quality work.
“Being gay has helped me be a good PR person because I think it’s made me a highly perceptive person,” he adds. “Beyond that, however, it doesn’t affect my day-to-day work.”
Suann Ingle AGE: 35 HOME; Rowayton, Conn. JOB: Consultant, TrialGraphix ANNUAL INCOME: More than $100,000
Suann Ingle savors all the excitement of a legal trial without the drudgery of submitting briefs and filing motions. Though not an attorney, she uses her background in communications design to help legal teams create the graphics demonstrations and multimedia technology crucial to big cases today. Among her many assignments, Ingle has helped boxing promoter Don King in a successful defense against an insurance fraud charge made by the U.S. attorney’s office.
“Among my colleagues at my firm, I am completely out,” Ingle says. “When I’m on-site with trial teams, we are often put in intimate situations fairly quickly because the schedules can be grueling and intense. Conversations get personal, and that inevitable moment where `you come out or not’ usually happens within the first week.”
Although she has been in the business for seven years, Ingle says she still learns something new every day. During a case involving recombinant DNA, for example, she studied patent law, the pharmaceutical industry, and biology.
Scott Patchin AGE: 29 HOME: San Francisco JOB: Sales associate, In-jean-ious ANNUAL INCOME: About $30,000
SCOTT PATCHIN HAS a job many gay men might envy: working at a clothing store in the heart of San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, “We are in the epicenter of it all,” he says, Patchin took the job, among other reasons, with the hope that it might help him land a few dates–something he says happened very rarely at his previous sales job, at Baby Gap, So far the strategy has worked, although he hasn’t met that “certain one” yet, But even more important than the dating opportunities, Patchin says he’s had a chance to experience the day-to-day life or the Castro and to learn first-hand what a vibrant, strong neighborhood is really all about. Although there’s no doubt he enjoys what he’s doing, this is far from the last stop for Patchin; he’s going back to college next year to earn elementary school teaching credentials.
Steven Biller AGE: 31 HOME: Mission Viejo, Calif. JOB: Editor, Dog Fancy magazine ANNUAL INCOME: $60,000
Work is definitely a dog’s world for Steven Biller. He spends each day doing two of the three things he loves most: publishing and taking care of dogs. (The third is watching soccer.)
As editor of Dog Fancy magazine for the past two years, Biller says he’s able to pass his passion for dogs to others. He revels in his work: For his publication, he brainstorms for story ideas, rewrites, edits, coaches writers, selects, photos, and oversees production; meanwhile, he has daily conversations with veterinarians, trainers, groomers, handlers, and owners, His ultimate goal is to give readers “clear, concise, clever articles that help them have fun while becoming responsible, well-informed dog owners.”
“I think in a professional environment what you bring to the table as a gay person is that you raise the sensitivity of the people around you,” Biller says, “I have, the same sensitivity toward straight people that, I expect them to have to me. And I think that that’s all you can really expect and hope for.”
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