Identifying as 'queer' - Gwyneth Caulfield shares her story

October 24, 2021

Kelowna Pride Week takes place October 22-31, 2021 - this is a time that amplifies the diversity of the region's people, including supporting our fellow Interior Health employees who are part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. We connected with Gwyneth Caulfield, telling us about her experience as a new employee to IH and identifying as ‘queer’ - these are her words.

I grew up in the ever-rural town of Armstrong, B.C. As much as I value my down-home-country roots, I learned the hard way that small towns have a way of fostering sameness. Truthfully, I never paused to consider the merits of building a closet around myself. I “came out” at the young age of four years old, when my then seven-year-old brother caught me staring at a stranger on the ferry. This stranger had shortly cropped hair and was, as I remember it, the most captivating person I’d ever seen.

“You can’t like her,” my brother had sneered, “she’s a girl!”
I considered
this for a moment before responding with a simple “I don’t care.”

Since then I survived high school, travelled, dated both men and women, and eventually found my place here at Interior Health. I've presented as both masculine and feminine and tried on all the different labels before landing comfortably on 'queer,' an all-encompassing term that I believe sheds light on the nuance of both sexuality and gender.

As a new employee, what stood out for you most about the culture at IH?

I was pleasantly surprised by Interior Health’s efforts at inclusivity. As a large corporation, it would be easy to overlook all the shades of individualism in employees and potential hires. Walking around any Interior Health facility will prove that it’s certainly a diverse place.

There are employees of all ages, origins, and identities, which is a big comfort. On top of that, new hire
i-Learns include information on First Nations history, expectations of workplace conduct, etc.

What does Diversity and Inclusion mean to you?

“Variety is the spice of life” as the saying goes— I believe that diversity is what colours our worlds both in and outside of the workplace. Inclusion is achieved when mutualistic values of respect and understanding are upheld within a shared space.

How do you express your own diversity?

I like to express my own diversity in the same ways most everyone does: which clothes I wear, what books I read, which faith I practice. I feel most empowered when I’m able to walk the line between masculinity and femininity. My closet is populated by both combat boots and floral dresses, bellbottoms and suit jackets. Beyond that, I try to bring my experiences as a 'queer' person into new situations and allow myself to see through the lens of the adversity I’ve faced.

What does it mean to you to identify as visibly queer - to be a part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community?

Being “visibly queer” means bringing my experiences as a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community with me everywhere that I go. I never try to hide my identity or modify my looks to appear differently than I feel.

How is your daily life impacted (challenges, opportunities, the good or bad)?

I hear a lot of ill-advised opinions and offhand comments from straight or cisgender people in my day to day life. While I understand that a lot of these comments are not intended to be hurtful, the lack of understanding and compassion for the community can be jarring. However, the opportunity to form strong bonds with others like me and share mutual experiences is overwhelming.

At the end of the day, I know exactly how lucky I am to live in a country that is so accepting of LGBTQIA2S+ people like myself.

What is something you wished people asked you about?

I wish everyone felt empowered to ask questions or start conversations about LGBTQIA2S+ issues. If you’re seeking a greater understanding of the queer experience, the best way to get that information is to speak to a real-life queer person. It’s such a sensitive topic that I think people feel dissuaded from asking most of the time. I’m always open to answering questions for anyone who’s brave enough to bring it up. It’s comforting to know that I had an opportunity to expand someone’s knowledge of my community.

What does it means to be an ally and be a better ally to the LGBTQIA2S+ community?

There are lots of different ways to be an ally: advocating for gay and trans rights, spreading accurate information on LGBTQIA2S+ topics, and supporting your queer friends, to name a few! Knowing that I have allies in my life, people who are willing to listen to me or defend my rights, is a great comfort. If you’re looking for ways to be a better ally, make an effort to educate yourself on current happenings in the community. Read up on LGBTQIA2S+ history. Endorse the queer artists that you love, and be on the look out for new ones.

Allow for an open line of communication between yourself and your queer loved ones, and don’t be afraid to ask those in your life how you can best “show up” for them.

What advice would you give to other new employees joining IH?

You may not know this right away, but Interior Health is not a company that will penalize you for your sexuality or gender identity. I doubted myself a lot when I first started. I questioned if the work attire I saw my male counterparts in would be acceptable on my body. When I booked my hair appointments, I wondered if the styles I chose were “too butch”, too obvious. But regardless of how you think your coworkers might react, you are entitled to showing up to work every day as the person you know that you are.

Feelings of security will come with time. Trust the process.

When Gwyneth is not in Health Records at Vernon Jubilee Hospital (VJH) you might find her quoting Pablo Neruda, swimming Kal Lake, or waxing poetic about Paul Simon’s entire discography.


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