When Lynn Berry came to VA six years ago, she had already transitioned from being a small business owner for over two decades and then working as a surgery scheduler for a doctor’s office. While she enjoyed the work, she wasn’t sure it was the place for her.
“So a friend of mine recommended I apply to VA,” she explained, which led to positions as an advanced medical support assistant before she was promoted to program specialist with the Women Veterans Program.
“It wasn’t something I expected, but I love where I work,” she said.
The birth of Virtual PRIDE
When Berry came up with the idea of Virtual PRIDE two years ago, it was in response to the elephant in the room that changed so much of how we do business: the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had this new challenge, in that we still had to do all of our programs, but find a way to do them in the middle of a pandemic,” she explained.
The online option seemed doable, as did organizing something within the local Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN), so Berry emailed the idea out, and within a few days, she was receiving responses from all across the country.
“We started out just in the east, but it went everywhere,” she laughed. “I was getting emails from people in the west, north, south, southwest. Everyone wanted to participate.”
That led to the first planning meeting on Feb. 21, 2021, just a few short months before June’s planned PRIDE celebration. However, Berry credits the incredible work of the people who joined her in developing Virtual PRIDE in making the inaugural event come together so quickly.
“There are a lot of really good people here at VA,” she said as she described the team around her, heaping credit upon them for their dedication and diligence. “A wealth of intelligent people with big hearts. They’ve become like family to me, and I’m very lucky to have met them.”
For her part, Berry takes credit as leader only to be the person who “takes the heat if something goes wrong,” she joked. Instead, she explained, she leads by example, never asking someone to do anything she wouldn’t do herself, shouldering the responsibility for the work that needs to be done.
“We do this as a group. It doesn’t matter that we’re in different VISNs, or worlds apart geographically, or work at different GS [general schedule] levels. We’re all just people, and we do this because we want to do it.”
Embracing the event
All told, the 2021 Virtual PRIDE event boasted 26 events over the course of 21 days, which included special guests, informative presentations and roundtable discussions. The 2022 event this past June grew to 45 presentations as word spread.
“We had people asking if they could present, or reaching out to us to share information about someone they had heard or seen,” Berry said. “And our only criteria was that the presentation was pertinent to the needs of LGBTQ+ Veterans or VA employees in some way, that it was good information and relevant to our audience.
The support Berry and her team have experienced at VA through Virtual PRIDE has been “fulfilling,” she said.
“It has been a great way to get us all at one big table, just people listening and sharing,” she said. “And that’s what I want out of this. I just want people to be people.”
New facet, same mission
Berry hopes that events like Virtual PRIDE will help newcomers find their way to VA, showcasing that VA is an employer of choice for the LGBTQ+ community, and is a place that values diversity, inclusion and access. The ongoing goal, she said, is to attract like-minded individuals to VA, bringing those who want to serve our nation’s heroes into the fold.
“Working with Veterans, and with so many employees who are Veterans, is inspirational to me,” she explained. “I like being around people who want to be here, who share that same sense of responsibility to serving Veterans.”
And to anyone at VA who may be concerned about taking the lead, whether it’s in a project like Virtual PRIDE or in some other endeavor, Berry offers words of encouragement.
“Trust that you have good ideas,” she said. “Trust that you have something to offer and trust your team.”
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