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My journey from exclusion to inclusion

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Inclusion is important to Intel. By creating a respectful and inclusive workplace, we give every employee an opportunity to be heard in a safe space. 

We work proactively to be a diverse and inclusive workplace, including a strong and growing LGBT+ employee resource group. A program manager in our Human Resources department, CJ Dragen shares his experiences of exclusion and discrimination in the military to what it was like joining Intel and being able to be himself, out and proud, in the workplace.  

Escaping my isolation 

I was born and partially raised in the rural town of Council Bluffs, Iowa. My family ran a farm of cows, corn, and soy. Dad was a trucker and mom was a security guard.  

My parents divorced when I was young. My mom and I moved around for her jobs, from Wyoming to New Mexico. In ninth grade, I attended six different high schools. 

Everyone asked me about girls. I liked boys.  

One of my earliest memories of liking boys was having a crush on one of my mom’s boyfriends. But I wouldn’t dare say anything about having the “gay disease,” as my Roman Catholic roots and mother called it. I kept hoping becoming a priest was the answer. When I was a teen, I remember my mom and I watching a television show about the AIDS epidemic and she said if she could line them all up, she would shoot them. I was secretly one of them. 

During my junior year of high school, I had a math teacher who helped build my confidence by solving calculus equations. He made me realize I didn’t have to be confined to people’s expectations of me. I had the capability to choose what I wanted to do or be – or who to love. My dream was to study music at Northwest Missouri State, but we didn’t have money for college. 

Dead end – new path  

In 1986, I moved to Texas and started my career in the U.S. Air Force. I learned about cryptographic systems to secure communications through an encryption device. I loved the military and protecting my country. I had a top secret security clearance, but I could not be my authentic self.  

After nine years of service, I was kicked out of the Air Force under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a U.S. policy banning military service by the LGBT+ community from 1994 to 2011. I was angry, frustrated, and upset about having to leave a career I loved. 

At a job fair, recruiters could probably sense it. “Hi, I’m CJ, and I’m gay. Does your company have an issue with that?” I went from table to table – until I got a no. The Intel recruiter said it wasn’t an issue, and Intel was open to people of all backgrounds. He made me feel like Intel could be the right place for me. 

In 1995, I moved to Hillsboro and started as a manufacturing technician at Intel. A year later, at a game night with friends, I met my soulmate, Charlie Dragen. He eventually came to work at Intel, too. 

Exclusion to inclusion 

While I’ve experienced few and far between anti-gay sentiments, I’ve always had the support of my managers and human resources.  

Inclusion is my favorite aspect of our culture. Inclusion is about listening and allowing everybody to be themselves. Be you – and bring your best self to work. Being open to inclusion gives people an opportunity to be uncomfortable and learn about someone’s culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or politics. 

I've been a member of Inclusion@Intel since it started. We are a global inclusion program that provides practical resources on being an ally. Its purpose is to educate, engage in activities, and build a community around incorporating inclusion into our daily lives. To be an ally means being an ally anyone who cant bring their full authentic self to workWhether its women or minorities in the workplace, or even that introverted person who may not feel like they can speak up in meetings. Asking yourself, how do you be an ally to that person? Thats what inclusion is to me. 

I consider myself one of the happiest people in the world. I have an amazing husband of 23 years, Charlie, four extremely spoiled dogs, 22 chickens and six geese that crack me up. I love my job. Life is good. 

Learn more about Intel’s inclusion initiatives here. 

About the Author
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