The Clean Water Blog

Pride Month #CleanWater50Stories Bob Wendelgass

Working at Clean Water Action from the Queer Perspective

Clean Water Action is celebrating our 50th anniversary and Pride Month with a special blog post! We are incredibly fortunate that, in our most recent diversity survey, 36% of our staff identified as queer. Our LGBTQ+ Caucus had the chance to connect with some longstanding queer colleagues to hear about their experiences. Two of our staff who will be highlighted here are Mare Carbone, who is a Canvass Supervisor and has worked at Clean Water Action for 26 years, and our very own CEO, Bob Wendelgass who has been with Clean Water for the past 32 years. The LGBTQ+ Caucus exists to provide a safe place for queer-identifying folks across the organization to connect and find support. The LGBTQ+ Caucus Co-Facilitators, Vivian Richard and Bethany Dickerson, sat down with Bob and Mare to ask them about how their identities and lived experiences as queer people impact their work at Clean Water Action. 

What is it like working for Clean Water Action from the queer perspective? 

Clean Water makes an effort to be as supportive as possible to our queer colleagues. Mare and Bob, who’ve worked here for decades, have seen that there has been more support for queer folks within Clean Water Action than in the world outside. Mare, for example, had felt public negative sentiment surrounding the marriage equality issue in the early 2000’s. But at a Clean Water Action leadership conference in 2004, our National Campaigns Coordinator at the time talked positively about marriage equality as an ally which was huge in the early 2000’s. Mare even told his therapist that work was the first place he wanted to come out. Bob came out during his interview and then went to work in conservative communities in Pennsylvania. Even working in rural areas of the state, Bob said “I never felt any pressure from Clean Water to hide who I was.” 

How does your queer identity affect your perspective on our issue areas? 

We all experience life differently, and each of those perspectives is valuable and contributes to our collective vision and values. Mare said, “So much about the binary, racist white supremist culture needs the binary gender. [...] It’s hard to put it in words the enormity of it all, on how people relate to one another. There’s a whole world of an existence that is unique and different than the white cis straight perspective. And this impacts how I go about addressing environmentalism.” Bob’s experience feeling like an “outsider” as a gay kid shaped his perspective: “Witnessing the changes in the rights of queer people over my lifetime has also reinforced the importance of grassroots organizing, since that is what drove most of the changes we enjoy today.” 

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What has Clean Water Action done for our queer staff or for queer people, and what would you like to see more of?

Both Bob and Mare feel very supported as queer people working within Clean Water Action. Mare’s experiences in our diversity and cultural competency training even helped him better understand his identity. And Bob said that he never felt pressure to hide who he was. In addition, Bob reminds us that Clean Water Action “changed our policies to prohibit discrimination against queer staff before that was common practice and extended benefits to domestic partners before there were any mandates to do so, covering partners under our health insurance and various leave policies.” 

While no workplace is perfect, Clean Water Action is dedicated to supporting our large community of queer staff. Our LGBTQ+ Caucus is one way we do that. If you would like to learn more or join us, please get in touch with Vivian Richard (vrichard@cleanwater.org) or Bethany Dickerson (bdickerson@cleanwater.org). 

We’ll leave you with a quote from our CEO, Bob. “The politicians and institutions that oppose rights for queer and trans folks are the same ones who are blocking progress on climate change and cleaning up our environment. The only long term way to make progress on both issues is building a strong grassroots based movement and working together with allies across the progressive community.”

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