Sonia Garza, vice president enterprise service experience, has a unique perspective on Pride month. She doesn’t have a “coming out” story. She was born into a large, loving, accepting and compassionate family that never made her feel different or uncomfortable about who she was or who she loved. This gave her the confidence and support she needed to simply be herself in all aspects of life. Additionally, Ms. Garza feels equally blessed to have the same kind of love and support within the WellMed family, which she has been a part of for more than 20 years.
“I’ve always felt comfortable and supported here,” Sonia says. “WellMed has built a place where we can all feel safe and included. Also, I have the opportunity to work with people from many different paths in life,” she says. “I have been me, living in this skin, with this passion for life, and this personality, the whole time I’ve been here.”
Sonia also celebrates on behalf of her oldest brother, who passed away in 2001.
“He passed away from HIV AIDS,” she recalled. “I wish he was here today to see the advances in the community, the advances in acceptance and equality. Back then, he had to be careful because you never knew how people would react. Some of that ignorance and fear has subsided, but not all.”
“Pride by definition means consciousness of one’s own dignity. During this time I reflect on that definition and I encourage others to do the same. Who among us is not deserving of realizing their own dignity?”
Malissa Mineo, the clinic administrator at WellMed at Sunlake in the Tampa, Florida market, had the opposite experience growing up. Though she suspected at a young age she was different, Malissa pushed her feelings away.
“I always felt it,” Malissa said. “But I come from a family that didn’t respect that; a very homophobic family.”
It was only after living in a traditional marriage and having two children that she knew something was wrong.
“I had a lot of doubts in my relationship with my husband,” she recalled. “So I sought out professional help.”
Working with her therapist, Malissa became her true self, even though her family rejected her.
“Life changed at that point,” she said. “It was a total whirlwind. When I announced myself as being a lesbian, I became an orphan. Luckily, there were some really great people who I connected with.”
She never looked back.
“I was able to take that breath of fresh air,” Malissa said. “It was like walking through a smoke-filled room and stepping outside and getting a clean, fresh breath.”
Malissa applied at WellMed about three and a half years ago. Her wife, who was already working at WellMed, told her about the open position.
Arriving at the interview, Malissa wasn’t sure what to expect. When the interviewer asked her how she heard about WellMed, Malissa replied that her wife worked for the company. The interviewer didn’t react in any unusual way.
“This is home,” Malissa says. “I’ve never walked into a meeting or had a conversation where I mention my wife and had anyone look at me like I’m odd.”
The month has a different meaning for Malissa.
“Pride Month is my rebirth because of my past history. My birthday is in July, so I consider Pride Month to be the time when I was reborn,” Malissa said.
Both women celebrate Pride Month every year, Malissa in St. Petersburg and Sonia in San Antonio. They celebrate the acceptance the LGBTQ+ community has achieved and honor those who led the way to that acceptance.