Respect, tolerance, living diversity – these are the goals of the LGBTIQ* and friends network #WeDriveProud at Volkswagen. One of its members is Alexander Selker, a doctoral student in Group Market Research. On Coming-Out Day he tells his story.
Alexander Selker was in his mid-20’s when he plucked up the courage. He moved to Hamburg – from Großburgwedel near Hanover – to study. After a few semesters he took his best friends aside and confessed: I love men. A big step. “In school, homosexuality was always considered something negative. I adapted and didn’t deal with it for a long time,” says Alexander. To his relief, friends and parents reacted positively to the coming out: “It became easier with every conversation.” Today, the 30-year-old works at Volkswagen as a doctoral student in Group Market Research. He is also involved in the company’s LGBTIQ* and friends network “We Drive Proud”. “I want to make it easier for others to stand by their personality.”
Back to school. “Gay was a dirty word. It was not something I wanted to identify with,” recalls Alexander Selker. When someone asked about his girlfriend, he would say: I’m not looking for one right now. He falls in love with a man during his studies, but he doesn’t want those around him to know. “It took me a while to realize: This is exactly what I want. When I admitted this to myself, I no longer wanted to hide my life.”
Even after joining Volkswagen, Alexander finds his way slowly. “I was already outed in my private life. But at work, I didn’t share so much about my private life at first.” That changes with his involvement in the LGBTIQ* network. Colleagues inquire about the rainbow background on the laptop or the colorful Volkswagen logo on the smartphone. Alexander asks his boss to give him some space for voluntary work. He explains why the network is committed to diversity and tolerance. In 2019, he drove the Volkswagen parade truck to the Christopher Street Day (CSD) in Berlin
“We are all responsible for creating an environment in which everyone can be as they are. No one should have to hide their personality. Only those who can be open can be happy at work.”
At the network meetings he meets Anna-Lena Müller. The social media expert from Volkswagen Communications is a “Straight Ally” for the LGBTIQ* movement. She says: “We are all responsible for creating an environment in which everyone can be as they are. No one should have to hide their personality. Only those who can be open can be happy at work.” Even small symbols such as rainbow stickers on a jacket or laptop could help to create the necessary climate.
“If we rest on our laurels, we are gambling away progress made in recent decades.”
Sascha Gehrke, who is also committed to the network as a “Straight Ally”, sees things similarly. He says: “Tolerance is not a matter of course. Prejudices and homophobia are returning in many countries. If we rest on our laurels, we are gambling away progress made in recent decades.” Especially in an international company like Volkswagen, he says, every single person has to show their colors. Sascha Gehrke has been working in Volkswagen’s Diversity Team in Hanover for several months.
Especially on Coming Out Day on October 11, the question arises: What can Volkswagen do better? “So far I have only had good experiences at the company. Everyone was open to our concerns,” says Alexander Selker. However, this doesn’t mean that unequal treatment goes unnoticed in everyday life. Alexander Selker: “A lot happens unconsciously. When I meet new colleagues, I am often asked about my girlfriend. That I could love men is something that hardly anyone has on their mind.”
It is important to Alexander Selker that it is by no means just about homosexuality. He says: “I am committed to a versatile Volkswagen. That includes different skin colors and religions as well as different sexual orientations.” Only those who have nothing to hide in their working environment can develop freely and apply their full energy. Selker: “Fear is always a bad mentor.”
LGBTIQ is the abbreviation for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, Intersex, Queer”. The abbreviation appeared in the USA and also became popular in Germany. It briefly describes people who deviate from the heterosexual norm because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or body.
Coming Out Day has been officially celebrated since 1988. The event is intended to encourage people to stand by their own sexual orientation and to come out at their own free will.