When Amin Shams thinks back to 2012 and the start of his career at Amazon, he can’t help but feel thankful for what he experienced during the first few days in his new city.
“My first day as an intern I was walking down Pike Street and saw multiple LGBTQ couples holding hands and thought, ‘Okay, I like this place,’” Shams said. The openly gay Miami transplant wasn’t yet familiar with Seattle’s inclusive environment or how he would go about disclosing his sexual orientation in the workplace. “It became obvious quickly there was no issue about it.”
Discovering “glamazon” made Shams feel even more comfortable. Amazon’s LGBTQ employees and their allies initially organized through an email list in 1999 that provided notice of happy hours and discussions after work. Its mission evolved over time, and in 2005, glamazon became an official affinity group – one of 10 that includes Amazon Women in Engineering, the Black Employee Network, Asians@Amazon, and the veteran’s group Warriors@Amazon.
"People are very passionate about their affinities," said Shams, a software development manager who serves as the president of glamazon. The volunteer-based board Shams heads is currently in the midst of preparing for Pride 2019.
Glamazon started small, with about 30 members marching together in the Seattle Pride Parade for the first time in 2007. Fast-forward to today, and the group extends far beyond Seattle and has more than 3,000 employees in 60 chapters worldwide.
The Pride movement started small, too. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a watershed moment on June 28, 1969, when members of the gay community erupted against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Protests against the unwarranted arrests continued, leading to a variety of activists uniting to confront discrimination, organize gay rights demonstrations, and hold candlelight vigils. The following year, marches to commemorate the uprising were held in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. They continue annually, taking place everywhere from Uganda to Lithuania, broadening to include awareness of the fight against AIDS and to pay homage to those the community has lost to violence.
Pride flag flying on Amazon campus in Seattle.The Pride flag flies between the Doppler building and the Meeting Center at the Amazon campus in Seattle, Washington.Photo by Dave Quigg
As part of raising awareness, a new Alexa skill – “Alexa, tell me a Pride fact," – launched last year, has been Shams' favorite project during his tenure at Amazon. The skill has approximately 100 historic anecdotes about Pride, reciting them at random. But rather than using Alexa’s signature voice, it features voices of members of the glamazon community who were invited into the recording studio. One of the facts shared through the Alexa skill is, "The oldest LGBT organization in the world, the Netherland’s Center for Culture and Leisure, was founded in 1946."
Shams participated in the project, by reciting two statements, sharing information about actors and trailblazers in the action sports field by coming out publicly.
At Amazon's 2019 Pride flag raising, Beth Galetti, senior vice president of human resources, shared, "I’m incredibly humbled by the groundbreaking work that glamazon – our Amazon employee affinity group dedicated to LGBTQIA issues – has done on behalf of this company, our employees and the communities where we work."
Although Pride month activities dominate glamazon’s focus, the group is also active in community projects and civil rights issues, and they helped create Amazon’s transgender toolkit, which debuted in 2017. When an employee is transitioning from one gender to another, glamazon gets the word out about the company’s available benefits and helps educate fellow Amazonians to be mindful of preferred pronouns.
In an effort to be even more inclusive, an emphasis on all the letters of LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied) has become part of the conversation in a company that has been recognized nationally for its leadership within the community. Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2019 Corporate Quality Index awarded Amazon another perfect score of 100 this year.