By Katie Reed, CSR, Marketing Director & Referral Coordinator
VCA Regional Institute for Vet Emergencies and Referrals

I grew up in California, feeling I lived where diversity was accepted. But I come from a very dysfunctional family. When I came out to my family as a lesbian at 18, I unfortunately experienced rejection from most of my family. During this time, I started attending Pride events and connecting with the local LGBTQIA+ community. Those early connections ultimately started the process of discovering my most authentic self.

Over the years, I was blessed with a new family and a deep appreciation for our community. The accepting, positive nature of the LGBTQIA+ community gave me the support I needed to continue working through my battles.

Roughly three years ago, I received a phone call that would change my life forever. Two of my nieces needed support. My parents had taken custody of our older niece when she was an infant, and now our younger niece needed us. One of my older sisters and I decided to adopt and raise our six-week-old biological niece to keep the girls together. The new, weighty responsibility of a parent meant the hunt was on to find a better life for the small family we had created. I always knew California would not be my forever home.

After visiting and recognizing the benefits the South can offer, we secured jobs and moved to Tennessee in November 2021. I was terrified about being far from my origins -- my friends, family and community. I was also worried that I would not find acceptance in a conservative state. However, those fears started to subside on my first day of work at VCA Regional Institute for Vet Emergencies and Referrals (RIVER) when I was introduced to my supervisor Sarah. Little did I know that she would become a friend, confidant and ally – opening doors when I didn’t think it was possible.

My first year in Tennessee was one of the toughest I’ve experienced. During the transition, I was in the middle of completing my fourth degree in psychology (yes, fourth degree!), working full-time while caring for my girls and grandparents. This period took a toll on me mentally, physically and emotionally. But it was also a time when Sarah and I built a deep trust that went beyond “just” a supervisor. She became my ally for life.

Sarah introduced me to the friend group I’ve grown so close to. She took me to my first-ever drag show and drag bingo night. She showed me there is so much that Tennessee and the LGBTQIA+ community here have to offer. In October 2022, VCA RIVER participated in our local Pride celebration, and joined the newly formed VCA Pride Diversity Resource Group (DRG). Joining the DRG helped me realize the support that VCA as a company offers our community, and their commitment to creating an environment where I am truly allowed to be my authentic self.

If I had not had Sarah as my ally during this transitional period, I honestly do not know where I would be mentally or emotionally. I've been so fortunate to have Sarah to introduce me to my local community and be my support. At work, we make memories, share moments of joy and laughter, and support each other when tears are shed. But, no matter what, I have always felt safe. And I did not feel alone for the first time in a long time.

Within the last year and a half, my work relationship and friendship with Sarah has blossomed so much that we’re practically family now! My entire experience moving to Tennessee allowed me to appreciate and understand the importance of allies in our community and how much value they hold for those of us in the LGBTQIA+ community. I don’t know if there will ever be enough words to describe how thankful I am to have such a genuine human being in my life.

All of the allies out there—and those sitting on the fence—know that your support is deeply appreciated and needed, even if no one initially asks you. Not sure where to start? Try the Human Rights Campaign's resources, found here.

Look out, world. Together, we’re unleashed and unstoppable!