AnnetteBack in the 90s, when she still lived in her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, Annette Schaper came out as a lesbian at work for the first time. She was tired of changing pronouns when she talked about her significant other, and tired of feeling disingenuous around her colleagues. So, she shared her truth.

But that’s not the end of Schaper’s coming out story.

“The interesting thing about our community is that we have this invisible diversity. It means that we don’t just come out once. It’s a lifetime. I still have to decide when and how to come out when I meet someone new,” she says.

Even as a confident, proud adult, Schaper says outing herself in new situations sometimes makes her feel vulnerable. “It’s still kind of scary for me,” she says, adding that she has a 17-year old son to consider. “I’m not just coming out for myself now. I’m coming out for my entire family. I always have to consider the risks of bullying and rejection, of being ostracized, or even the risk of being harmed or injured because of the person that I love. Because of who I am.”

Schaper has worked at AT&T for over 30 years and is tremendously proud of the way the company supports her community. When we announced a $1 million donation and multiyear initiative with The Trevor Project, she was inspired to volunteer, an experience she calls “super rewarding, and also emotionally hard.”

“I personally haven’t struggled with suicide, but I’ve certainly been in a position where I see how it can become dark,” Schaper says, adding that LGBTQ youth are almost five times as likely as their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide and that 40% of transgender adults report having made a suicide attempt.

After volunteering for The Trevor Project throughout 2019, Schaper recently decided to take a break. Her son’s best friend died by suicide last fall, and the loss took an emotional toll. Schaper let her contacts at The Trevor Project know about that death, and they responded with compassion. They wanted to ensure that she had all the space, time and resources she needed as she grieved.

“I think AT&T has always been a step ahead,” Schaper says. “We certainly had an employee resource group for the LGBTQ community back in the 90s. But this investment in The Trevor Project is huge. Trevor is one of the kindest, most compassionate groups of people I’ve ever enjoyed working with, and they really take their mission seriously be showing true love and compassion to the youth that they support, and to their volunteers.”

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