June marks Pride month, a time to celebrate the progress and contributions that have been made in the US and globally by the LGBTQ+ community. In celebration and recognition of the month, NCIGF Director of Communications, Engagement, & Culture, Robin Webb-Reus, sat down with Pennsylvania P&C Guaranty Association’s General Counsel, Doug Fahringer, to discuss the importance of Pride and how people can show their support.
Robin: Well, just to kick us off, can you tell us in your own words, what does Pride mean to you?
Doug: I guess it could mean different things to people…but for me, it is all about being authentic and being true and open about who you are. It is a way of celebrating and recognizing who you feel you are, not what others want you to be. Stepping outside the box, spreading your wings, and growing into that. It takes a while to feel proud because initially the main feeling is just ‘other’. You feel different. I would say to those wondering about living more authentically themselves but are scared, I would say it gets better. It is so freeing. It is just a rich feeling. I am very proud of who I am. It took me awhile to get here, but there is not going back once you are here.
Robin: Doug, you had the opportunity to present and share your story at SERIGA and then at the NCIGF Annual Conference, can you tell me about that experience?
Doug: Yes, definitely. SERIGA’s topic was entitled, “Getting DEI in your DNA” and I felt like I had it in my DNA already; I just did not acknowledge and accept it in myself until much later in life. Therefore, when we began to speak about DEI on the panel, I found myself going off-script a bit and sharing my own story of how I was with the Pennsylvania guaranty association a long time ago in a different role. At that time, I was in a much different place in my life. I lived a life that I thought was right for me at the time. I left and took another job. When I returned to the guaranty association as general counsel, I wanted my co-workers to know that I was not the same person that they knew twenty years ago. I shared on the panel that the response I got was so incredibly encouraging. I had been worried about how the team would receive the information and I had made it a much bigger deal in my mind. I felt support from my co-workers who expressed their support and that they were just happy to have me back.
When I was invited to speak at the NCIGF Annual Conference, it was focused more on DEI in the workplace – hiring, recruiting and retention. After our panel, where I also shared my personal story, we had a reception later that day. I was happy with those who approached me afterwards with positive feedback–from people that I did not know. They told me stories of people they knew or family members who had similar experiences. I was called brave and was praised for my vulnerability. I just saw it as me being honest and true to myself. However, I am so grateful that it struck people that way. I am glad that it made people think about this issue more or even in a different way.
So, having the opportunity to speak at SERIGA and then again and the Annual Conference was wonderful for me. Now I am excited to be on the agenda for the Legal Seminar coming up later this month. Having these opportunities to be part of the discussion and open the door to allowing people to be more comfortable with these topics or have a deeper understanding is something I find fulfilling.
Robin: And what has the response been like from the guaranty fund community so far?
Doug: It has been overwhelmingly positive. I am happy to hear people’s stories. My main encouragement to those who came up to me after I presented was to tell those who might be young or afraid or even those who might be coming out later in life that it gets better. It feels so traumatic, but it is ultimately so freeing and positive. I always say to give yourself the chance. You are not alone. It is such a good, positive feeling to live your true life and be authentic.
Robin: I love that. I think about our community and the conversation that has been ongoing for these last couple of years and I think about the different guaranty association office across the entire U.S. and how they are all different shapes and sizes. What are some ways that all guaranty funds can participate in Pride, no matter their shapes, sizes, or geographic location?
Doug: After I spoke at SERIGA, I had a few people come up and express that they completely embrace the idea and want to dive in and figure out ways to promote DEI but noted that they were from a very small office located in a place lacking in diversity. I let them know that you do not actually have to have people from diverse backgrounds or people from the LGBTQ+ community working for you to embrace diversity in your office. It is more about acknowledging that we are here, and you are an ally. You do not have to march in a parade or perform community service or even give to a charitable organization, although that is important. It starts by recognizing, embracing and being an advocate for all people who are different.
Robin: That is good advice for everyone in our community. I have heard it said that a huge part of allyship is simply having a deeper understanding of the issues and doing some research, so you understand what things like Pride month are all about. Would you agree with that?
Doug: Absolutely, the more you know, the better off we all are. It is kind of like baby steps…you don’t expect change to happen overnight, it is little by little. It is things like this–what we are doing now. My hope is that someone reads this interview, and it opens someone’s horizon even a small amount. Every little bit helps.
Robin: I’m so glad that our community has shown you support and encouragement. Thinking back to the membership as a whole as we wrap up – in your mind, what can our community do to continue to give a voice to members of the LGBTQ+ community?
Doug: I would simply say to everyone: there is plenty of room at the table. I am very excited and encouraged to have a seat at this table where we are able to talk about and highlight these issues, to create educational topics and initiatives to drive the work of DEI. It is not like musical chairs where if I am invited and given a seat that means I am taking someone else’s chair. There is room for all people from diverse backgrounds and with different experiences to contribute to the conversation. The more diverse experiences we have around the table, the richer community we are. It makes us all better. I think of the different sized guaranty associations, even if you do not have a lot of diversity in your particular office, you can have a richly diverse community overall. So, if you see someone that is different from you, embrace them for their differences. Begin a dialogue with them. Include those different perspectives in the decisions you are making. Welcome them to the table. Listen and know that we can all bring something meaningful to the conversation.
Robin: I completely agree, and I want to encourage anyone who wants to be involved in this ongoing discussion to be as engaged as they would like to be. We have open spots on the DEI Subcommittee. You can reach out to me and I will make sure you are included in those planning sessions. Also, I understand that there might be people who have ideas or thoughts that they may want to share but are maybe not ready to be part of the committee. Anyone can reach out to me and we can speak one-on-one.
Thank you so much, Doug, for speaking with me today, for sharing your story and for continuing to raise awareness for the LGBTQ+ community. We are excited to kick off Pride month and to work together to help create a more accepting and diverse culture throughout the NCIGF membership.
Doug: Thank you for the opportunity, Robin. Happy Pride!
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion topics will be part of all NCIGF educational agendas throughout 2023. For more information on NCIGF events please click here: Upcoming Events – NCIGF
Both interview participants have agreed to share their contact information here if anyone in the community wishes to contact them about this article.
Director of Communications, Engagement & Culture, NCIGF
General Counsel, Pennsylvania Property & Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association