Throughout the year Out & Equal aims to elevate diverse voices, stories, lived experiences, and perspectives—in this blog and across the work we do. Sam Slate is a ten-year veteran of Dell Technologies, a long-term member of Dell Pride, and a founding member of the Dell Technologies Transgender Task Force. Sam facilitated a workshop at Out & Equal’s 2023 Executive Forum on “Advocacy While Working,” which explored the role of workplace advocacy in creating change, including how to effectively communicate with senior stakeholders and develop tools to navigate advocacy conversations. We sat down with Sam to learn more about his journey to advocacy and advice for those starting out.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your name, your pronouns, and what do you do for work?
My name is Sam Slate, my pronouns are he/him, and I am a consultant at Dell. I work in the product group and my team is Commercial Client Product Marketing. Basically, what that means is I get to spend my time thinking of really creative ways to bring our client portfolio to life.
I’ve been at Dell for a total of 11 years—I’m what we call a boomerang. I was at Dell for four years, left, and came back. I actually transitioned while at Dell. When I returned in 2016, I was really coming into my full identity, and 2017 marked the advent of my social transition with folks at work and friends in my life. Dell has been with me every step of this journey, in ways that are both real and ephemeral. As part of my transition, I talked the trans task force into existence, becoming one of the founding members and leaders. I still sit in an advisory role with that group, and now lead the global community impact and advocacy pillar for our Pride ERG.
It was really my public policy committee work on the trans task force at Dell and my transition at Dell that brought me into my advocacy. I’d never lobbied before, never been to a courthouse, statehouse, or the U.S. Capitol. This was after the 2016 election, and I was met with this barrage of tweets about who I am as a transgender person and what I’m allowed to do. And I’ve just never been one to take well to a bully.
So, I started running my mouth all the time, and I was really fortunate because we had folks at Dell who were willing to listen. I wasn’t coming to the process thinking like, “I really need to lobby for something I believe in.” I came to the process saying, “This is me, and this is what I need. This is who I am, and this is what I need. And here’s why this is important.” That really taught me a critical piece of advocacy work, which is storytelling, and telling stories in such a way that it allows people to connect to the story by some means, whether through their own humanity or a shared connection.
Some may wonder, why not just keep your head down? What calls you to speak up?
An interesting thing happened in my transition. I woke up a white, privileged man. I was surprised by this. I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was shocked at what it meant to move into privilege, specifically white male privilege, and it p*ssed me off. I was angry. I’m still angry about it. I could not ignore this newfound privilege, and I could not ignore what it meant. The only way I could figure out how to sleep at night was to use that privilege for good.
As I talked about in [the “Advocacy While Working” Out & Equal Executive Forum session], it’s almost impossible to change the power dynamic and power structures without someone from inside the power structure. It’s very, very, very difficult to change any power structure from without. Having allies who are within is how we dismantle oppressive power systems and power structures. And lo and behold, who gets to sit inside some of those power structures? The thing about white male privilege is you can’t actually say, “No, thank you.” You can’t just turn it down, even when you actively move through time and space breaking down patriarchal methods and means. You just cannot refuse or deny some aspects of it, so that’s been my “why.” That’s why I started showing up and showing out and speaking up and being out—by golly, I can’t refuse that white male privilege, but I can use it for good. I can use it to help dismantle these power structures that are oppressive and are literally killing people. It literally was so I could sleep at night.
What advice do you have for your younger self? In other words, what advice do you have for somebody who is figuring out who their internal support systems might be?
Part of the magic, for me, was that I was already connected to The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) at the time. I wasn’t an active volunteer, but I was a donor, had friends in that community and regularly attended fundraisers. When I showed up to a dinner in January 2017, that’s when I first started telling people outside of my core group of friends that I was transitioning. Picking your audience is super helpful, and I knew the work of HRC and knew that would be a soft place to land and a friendly audience. The Out & Equal Summit was also that for me in the fall of 2018. In 2017, I told my core team and was squaring away social and medical transition. In 2018, I became more active in the ERG and in doing panels and things like that. Finding one’s audience is so important. When people are showing up to ERG meetings, when people are doing the work, that’s how you can find your community. I also found community online – in social media spaces. I found the Pride in Central Texas Networking Group, and that really became a way to meet other folks and start exploring.
Seek out and find community, look for places and spaces that are affirming. It can be one person. It can be a group, but when you do find that person or those people, be vulnerable and show up as yourself and for yourself. Invite those people to show up for you, and with you, and then do the same for others. That has been the most rewarding part of this process—all the folks that I have gotten to meet and learn from have been because I’ve been willing to share [my story / myself authentically].
Vulnerability sounds scary to a lot of people, but it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever experienced in my whole life, and the more vulnerable I am, the better results I get everywhere with everyone. 100% of the time. It pays back much more than it requires me to give to it. I won’t say that it’s easy, and I won’t say that you won’t feel alone. It will require some amount of being willing to reach out on one part in order to find at least that one person to start that community with for yourself.
You’re talking about the value of being seen. As we celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility, I’d love to know what trans visibility means to you.
Right now, it means being scared. Right now, it means trauma. But it also means refusing to accept that as the future. I live an extremely privileged life, I have an amazing and wonderful life, and I’m still scared about what’s happening right now. And if I’m scared, what is it like for those who don’t enjoy my privilege and my capacity in this world? I try to be very mindful of the fact that it is very scary now, and the work I do is to make it not so scary in the future, and the simultaneity of holding both – of holding the reality of today and the hope for tomorrow. Actively doing things to move from today toward that hope.
That’s why I haven’t gone underground, why I still am trans out loud and proud. There are times when I consider, “Who can use this against me? Will I have to flee my home? Will I have to flee the state or the country because I’ve been so visible? Will that be a liability for me?”
I show up to [Out & Equal Executive Forum] this year and the first speaker is Admiral Levine, a trans woman—and she’s Jewish! Then Raffi Freedman-Gurspan speaks—a trans woman, and she’s Jewish too! Andrea Jenkins, too—Black, queer, disabled, and trans. I’m looking around at all these trans people on stage and this is amazing. If I wasn’t visible, I don’t know that I would have the same enjoyment of that process, of that community. Of being able to walk up to Admiral Levine and say, “You’re one of my heroes. Thank you so much for what you do. Because I can see you, I can see a future.”
I think that’s my theme for TDOV this year. Visibility means being able to visualize a path to the future that is better than today. And there are a lot of valuable and amazing lived experiences that are happening right now, and also really scary [stuff] that’s happening right now. To me, visibility bridges the fear to the hope. Every time I’m in community that is just reinforced for me. I experience the hope and the beauty that we are as a community, and I think, “we can do this because we’ll do it together.”