DTE Energy is all about energizing and empowering the lives of its customers, employees, and the community.
Zachary Hurd, DTE Facilities contract manager, exemplifies that spirit as an advocate in the LGBT community.
Hurd champions the rights of others after a tragedy that befell his middle school classmate.
The suicide of the bullied youth – targeted for being openly gay – devasted Hurd, a preteen himself, over 15 years ago, near the thumb in Michigan.
“You don’t know what to do in that situation,” he said. “Heartbreak like this still happens today. That’s why I’m a strong advocate for gay rights and the LGBT community.”
Hurd is a member and Developmental Chair of DTE’s Power of Pride (POP) employee resource group, and an openly gay man who couldn’t be prouder of working at the company.
POP was created in 2017 for employees of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Annually in June, the LGBT community and its allies, celebrate the spirit of being proud, accepted, and diverse. June was chosen for LGBT Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June in 1969. Since then, pride events are held across the globe to recognize the impact that LGBT individuals, advocates and allies have on history.
Hurd commented that some people believe there should be a Straight Pride Month, too. He explained that straight people don’t have to come out to others; or face the same struggles people in the LGBT community do.
“They have the ability to show public displays of affection to their significant others,” he said, adding that he still receives looks of judgment when he holds his boyfriend’s hand in public. That is why there are pride festivals. “Where you can go and feel comfortable being who you are.”
Hurd worked at DTE headquarters in Detroit for six years and accepted his current position in Grand Rapids, where he noticed a disconnect between POP members regionally.
“I took on the role to help tie together our community here in Grand Rapids to the people in Detroit, so we feel more like a cohesive group,” Hurd said, adding that DTE is a large, supportive corporation. “That speaks volumes about our company. I can be out and be myself at work, which makes me feel a lot more comfortable coming to work every day.”
Outside of work, Hurd tried to be just as comfortable and create a supportive community. Three years ago, at age 25, he came out to his family and close friends.
Hurd said that he realized one cannot have a loving relationship without being fully open with themselves and their partner.
“When I was dating someone, I felt it was wrong of me to be hiding him from the world,” he said.
Hurd wants today’s youth to be change agents, so he mentors LGBT youth groups at the Grand Rapids Pride Center weekly.
“It gives them a safe space to express who they are because a lot of them can’t do that in their home life,” Hurd said.
Hurd added that it is always good to have allies who support you.
Susan Kapadia, planner for Facilities Planning and Design, has been one of Hurd’s allies since she met him in October 2017.
“We became friends that day,” said Kapadia. “We would talk frequently or grab lunch together.”
During their discussions, Hurd told her he was gay, which Kapadia was not a stranger to hearing.
“I definitely have other friends and family in the community, so I consider myself a supporter for all of them. I’m thrilled for him and proud of him,” Kapadia said.
For Kapadia, creating an environment that enables people to feel welcome is key. She said her co-workers have become like family to her.
Amanda Dziewiatkowski, DTE Customer Care specialist, proud ally of POP, and mother of a LGBT child, said that she makes it known to others that they can count on her too.
“I feel like I’m a safe place for people to come to and talk with,” said Dziewiatkowski. “I have the POP sticker on my desk, so everyone knows I’m an ally. I do not judge anyone.” She added that our company makes her job easier. “DTE embraces and supports my LGBT coworkers and POP is a very good resource for them.”
At home, Dziewiatkowski is a resource as well.
“My daughter came out when she was 15. She was very nervous and scared, and I just told her, ‘It’s OK. You love who you love. I love you and I’ll support you in anything.’”
Dziewiatkowski said her daughter has friends who were shunned by their parents. She said that an ally’s job is to always provide a safe and welcoming space “I want to be there to say, ‘It’s OK for you to be you.’”