Chevron Richmond Pride Network’s storytelling strategy

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“My best friend, who helped me come out, had one of the easiest coming out ever,” Cesar Zepeda told over 100 workers at the Chevron Richmond Refinery Wednesday.

“He was going to go to prom, brought his boyfriend home and told his mom, ‘That’s my boyfriend. We’re going to prom. She said, ‘OK, do you need a ride?’ He said, ‘Nope.'”

The story drew laughs.

“That’s the world we want to live in one day,” said Zepeda, president of the Hilltop District Homeowners & Stakeholders Association and co-founder of the Richmond Rainbow Pride. “But until we get there, we have to share our stories.”

At the Chevron Richmond Refinery on Wednesday, Zepeda joined Sandra Escalante, owner of Richmond-based Laner Electric Supply Co., in delivering difficult but uplifting stories about their experiences as gay individuals in both business and civic life.

They were the latest in an eight-year-old, annual series that brings prominent LGBT members in the community to tell their stories at the Chevron Richmond Refinery’s annual PRIDE Network celebration. In the past, speakers at the celebration, held in conjunction with Pride month, have included Alameda County Superior Court Judge Victoria Kolakowski, the first openly transgender person to serve as a trial judge in California.

Michael Driver, who runs Chevron’s PRIDE (Promote Respect, Inclusion & Dignity) employee network, has said the effort unites employees and provides them with information and resources about LGBT issues. Added to the mix are the personal anecdotes from gifted storytellers shared in front of hundreds of employees who come to listen during their lunch break.

Like Zepeda, Escalante, whose compelling story we have covered, spoke about the importance of not only being oneself, but telling ones story in ways that might help others understand. She recounted challenges coming up in the fields of electrical construction and distribution as one of the few women, let alone lesbians. Rather than be consumed by discouragement, she focused on running her business first and foremost, and meanwhile networked heavily with businesses and organizations throughout the Bay Area, including Chevron.

Escalante eventually joined the local chapter of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco, where she made a contact that would lead her company to becoming a supplier for the Central Subway Project in San Francisco.

“Unfortunately, discrimination is still out there,” Escalante said. “You don’t have to be super special. You don’t have to be the Ellen Degeneres in the world to represent. Just be yourself and proud of who you are and be thankful for companies such as Chevron for giving us these opportunities to tell our stories.”

Zepeda recounted being cut off from family members after coming out as gay, and considering suicide. But he said he decided to stick it out with his family. At the 4th Annual Richmond Pride celebration on June 3, a brother he lost was not only present, he has attended every event to date and helps with set up.

“Helping us put up the Pride flags, helping us put up the stage, making sure everything is OK,” Zepeda said. “And the whole Board says, ‘If your brother doesn’t come…who cares about you, Cesar…he brings the tools, he brings the truck, he brings everything.”

Zepeda added, “You’re able to change the world by having and sharing your story, by talking to people, by not giving up, by staying in there.”

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