Sulewski took up the position of secretary, collecting emails, maintaining membership and promoting events. His excitement about all the ways to be a part of the campus community flourished. He played flute, piccolo and cymbals in the UC band and had positions as a summer orientation leader and campus tour guide.
Today, Sulewski -- an international relations specialist -- works with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a slightly curious choice given the federal government’s seemingly hostile ties toward LGBTs. But this did not divert Sulewski from his goals. His experience with the UC Alliance stuck with him and he discovered DHS Pride – an employee-led group dedicated to socially connecting gay individuals across compartments of DHS.
DHS Pride, like the original Queer Alliance, was a fledgling LGBT group when Sulewski joined. Started in 2009, it was only recognized by a verbal blessing from the department. During this time, President Obama had not yet repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and gay individuals with federal careers were very uncomfortable coming out. In 2010, Sulewski undertook the task of formalizing DHS Pride in the eyes of DHS and expanding its reach into social networks. The department had never experienced an association on a national scale, thus the employees needed to demonstrate their devotion toward making DHS Pride a reality.
After President Obama set in motion the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in December of 2010, a nationwide shift in attitudes toward and within the LGBT community began. Gay individuals in governmental positions were more willing to come out and be a part of the group they connect with. A formal recognition letter was written so DHS Pride would officially be recognized as an employee-run group.
Sulewski has been the president of DHS Pride since 2012 and was reelected to his second term this year. The main challenges for DHS Pride have been connecting LGBT individuals to each other on a national level. Not only does the group run through Sulewski’s compartment, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but also includes TSA, Coast Guard and Secret Service agents to name a few. “DHS is all over the country, not just one building,” he says.
“Frequently, LGBT personnel don’t know anyone within their own offices who are also LGBT because some people are more out than others. One problem is that not everyone wants to be identified with the group. There are just different levels of comfort.”
Because of this, DHS Pride developed regional chair positions so individuals can create social events in their local areas. People can get to know one another and network with professionals via the LGBT community. Their tactics are working, and in one year, DHS Pride tripled their membership.
“It’s important to have a group like this recognize what LGBT individuals can contribute,” Sulewski says. “These are very qualified individuals who just happen to be LGBT. They are able and should be able to contribute just the same as anyone else.”
With just one bold flash of courage at 18 years old, Adam Sulewski turned his entire life around and wants to do the same for other people who identify as LGBT. Along with the social aspect of DHS Pride, the group also connects gay individuals who are having problems within their compartment to agencies that can help them.
“The success of the LGBT community is important to me, and I felt I could contribute in this way,” he says. “I believe in giving back. It’s something that inspires me and makes me work harder.”
Marisa Whitaker is an intern with UC Magazine
Department of Homeland Security Pride blog