In celebration of this year’s Pride Month, the OUT@Amyris Employee Resource Group (ERG) has organized several events to acknowledge achievements of the LGBTQ+ community, while highlighting challenges and critical work that still needs to be done. Our goal at Amyris is to amplify the voices and experiences of our OUT@Amyris to ensure they feel seen, heard, and valued for who they are so that they can thrive at work.
As a part of this goal, we recently had the opportunity to sit down with a few members of OUT@Amyris to discuss the importance of allyship and learn what Pride means to each of them.
Tell us more about yourself—what are your passions and hobbies, and what is your role at Amyris?
Thomas Schmidt, senior associate scientist: I grew up with two older sisters and one younger brother in Grand Rapids, Michigan, about 45 minutes east from Lake Michigan where I spent many summers with my family. Plants have become a major hobby of mine. I probably have too many for my studio in San Francisco, but they are my passion!
I’ve been at Amyris for over six years now. I work in the High Throughput Screening (HTS) group within the larger Screening and Analytics team. I love Amyris because there’s so much opportunity for growth, to learn about yourself, and how your interests can become the work you do and love as we continue to grow as a company. The collaboration among the people within R&D and beyond is incredible. There are just so many talented and intelligent people at Amyris. Like many scientists, I’ve always been driven by problem solving with sustainability in mind, and Amyris is all about sustainability. I’m currently enjoying the work I’m doing to align strain physiology and performance between micro fermentations and larger lab scale bioreactor fermentations.
Larissa De Godoi, global sales coordinator: I am proud to say that I am lesbian. I love to write, and be outdoors—I also enjoy music, art, traveling, helping others, and reading. I am a Global Sales Coordinator at JVN Hair, which is one of many brands under the Amyris umbrella.
Matt Rienzo, scientist III: I’m from Long Island, NY, and very proud of my creative, chaotic, and infinitely interesting family of Italian and Polish-Americans. They include musicians, dancers, educators, artists, architects, and entrepreneurs. I think I might be the first to become a scientist, but not the last! I’m also a lifelong bookworm, gamer, and (when I’m feeling motivated) outdoor adventurer.
Right now, at Amyris, my mission is to find processes that will better predict what microbial strains will be most productive in a fermentation bioreactor. This is a crazy-hard problem, but the result is tantalizing—it would dramatically shorten time to market for new sustainable products! I have worked in High-Throughput Screening at Amyris for almost four years, and I still learn something new every day. I am constantly in awe of the kind, collaborative, motivated, and insightful people I work with.
What does Pride Month mean to you?
TS: Pride to me means being unapologetically gay, queer, and proud. It’s about gathering with your chosen family to celebrate life and to celebrate everyone that has paved the way for us to live out loud and proud. It’s also about remembering who those people were; the Black and Brown trans women and drag queens that risked their lives and fought for our basic human rights.
LDG: Pride Month is a reminder of those who fought for our rights with an understanding that there’s still more work to be done. It’s a time to reflect on who we truly are, what it means to be accepted in a world where we are facing so much hate against not only LGBTQIA+ communities but so many others and use our voice to support each other—especially those who do not feel accepted or have not yet accepted themselves.
MR: Although I had a ton of support from my family and friends, growing up gay and nerdy still wasn’t easy. I certainly buried myself in schoolwork at times because it was something I was confident about and felt could bring me certainty. For me, Pride is about being comfortable and confident with my whole self and supporting others to feel the same way.
What does good allyship look like, and how can someone who may not know what a good ally looks like, be a good ally?
TS: Allyship is speaking up and being active in the same fight we’re currently battling for basic human rights and equality, especially with the current political climate. We need our allies to stand up for us in the face of hatred and bigotry. We must vote out representatives who are writing and supporting anti-trans and homophobic legislation.
LDG: Being a good ally means being kind and respectful to everyone. Be present and always check on your loved ones. That’s being a good ally. Also, being informed of what is happening in your community. Having an open mind and supporting equality and fairness for all LGBTQ+ members and their families is also a great way to be a good ally.
MR: Allyship is voting in support of civil rights, and encouraging others to vote, too. Ask your LGBTQ+ friends if they would like your company at a protest or a volunteer event.
What are some challenges to allyship and how can people overcome them?
LDG: I think people get skeptical of what others will think if they are supporting the LGBTQ+ Community. Unfortunately, we live in a time where it’s challenging to defend a cause, stand up for communities and not be afraid something negative will happen. But I do believe that if we are together, we can conquer anything. Always be informed on how you can help—sometimes all we need is just to listen and ignore the noise from outside.
MR: It can be easy to worry you will say “the wrong thing” while trying to be a good ally. If allyship is important to you, I would suggest you start by cultivating some mutual trust with people in the community you want to support and create a space where your positive intent is clearly understood.
What has Amyris done well to support the LGBTQ+ community and the OUT@Amyris ERG?
TS: After the horrific mass shooting at Pulse nightclub six years ago, the LGBTQ+ community across our country was shattered, including our (at the time) relatively small group at Amyris. It was this tragic event that caused us to come together and begin gathering for happy hours regularly and solidifying the OUT@Amyris group. It’s so incredible to be part of a company that fully supports our community and continuously works towards education, inclusivity, and acceptance.
LDG: I’m new to the company, but so far, I have felt included and accepted from the moment I started working here. Being part of Amyris through JVN Hair’s team has truly changed my life, and I can say for the first time in my career that I am not ashamed to show who I am at my workplace for fear of losing my job or being discriminated against.
MR: Amyris is lucky to have strong historical ties to the LGBTQ+ community, with a lot of representation, especially within R&D. It’s hard to overstate how meaningful it is to have queer mentors and role models at work.