ORAM BOARD INTERVIEWS: Selisse Berry
How did you start your involvement with the LGBTIQ community? I grew up in Oklahoma and went to college in Texas. Eventually, I moved to San Francisco where I studied Theology, however I soon learn that I couldn’t get ordained as a lesbian woman and that’s when I started Out & Equal (a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workplace equality non-profit organization). The organization grew out of my want to support and protect LGBTIQ people in the workplace. This allowed me to start working with some amazing people who also wanted to make changes. We started going from company to company to make sure there were rules in place to protect LGBTIQ people. Before we knew it, Out & Equal went from hosting local events in San Francisco to eventually hosting the largest international LGBTIQ conferences around the world!
What attracted you to become a board member for ORAM? After decades of work with Out & Equal, it was time to hand off my baby (Out & Equal) to a successor. Once I retired, I started to travel a lot. Traveling was exactly what I needed and I had the chance to go to Greece and start teaching English to refugees. One of the most impactful experiences I had in Greece was visiting Moria refugee camp. The experience broke my heart. This really become a profound moment and made me ask what are people doing for LGBTIQ refugees? How are we helping them? I started asking how I could get involved with the LGBTIQ refugee community and it was around this same time, Steve Roth ORAM’s Executive Director called me to consider becoming an ORAM board member.
What has been the most rewarding part about working with ORAM? The most rewarding part has been serving as a board member and supporting something I feel very passionate about. If you were born in the U.S. you are granted a massive privilege because in many ways, we are very forward-thinking country. We’re privileged in the U.S. on so many levels – even if you are a woman and a lesbian like myself! Unfortunately, this is not the case for so many other countries. LGBTIQ citizens around the world are being killed and the situation for every LGBTIQ refugee is different. The experiences that the most vulnerable in our community have to face are just heart breaking.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work with or for ORAM? We need mentors, we need donations and depending on someone’s skill set there is always room at the ORAM table. And because of Skype and Zoom calls there’s different ways to make connections across the country and the world. Now we just have to get the word out.