Employee Voices

Talking Proudly So Others Can Be Heard

How McKesson employee Astone Jackson is using his own coming out experience to promote awareness around intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ community.

In 1977, openly gay political activist Harvey Milk tapped artist Gilbert Baker to design a symbol of unity and hope for the gay community – one that would inspire those who had been afraid to express themselves freely to instead come together and proudly proclaim their truth. Nearly 40 years after the now-iconic rainbow flag debuted at the 1978 Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco, Gilbert explained his reasoning for a rainbow in an interview with TIME Magazine. “We needed something that expressed us. The rainbow really fits that … We’re all the colors, and all the genders and all the races.”

In recent years, this message of empowering all members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) community has been amplified in the wake of increased social justice movements for other marginalized groups such as racial minorities. Many have iterated on Gilbert’s original six-stripe design to feature new colors, such as black and brown, that promote greater inclusion for those in the LGBTQ+ community who might face additional discrimination beyond their sexual identities and orientations alone.

For McKesson employee Astone Jackson, this recent momentum to address intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ movement isn’t just inspiring – it’s personal. And it’s driving him to share his own experience with others at McKesson so they not only understand the challenges that racial minorities in the LGBTQ+ community face, but feel encouraged to embrace their true selves as well.

Astone Jackson

Astone Jackson

Astone officially came out as bisexual at the age of 29. For many in the LGBTQ+ community, coming out is an unnerving experience. But for Astone, that fear was compounded by the fact that he’s also Black.

“Being bisexual while also being Black put me at the intersection of two communities who face very different challenges,” Astone says. “I’ve had to defend myself against discrimination not only because of the color of my skin, but because of my sexual orientation as well. It’s just an additional hurdle I’ve had to overcome to be myself and feel accepted.”

It wasn’t just his fear of discrimination from broader society that prevented him from coming out for so long, though – he deeply feared rejection from those closest to him.

“It took me a long time to admit even to myself that I was bisexual, and that’s partially because there was no way I could come out to my family at that time due to the beliefs of the Black family being rooted in church and the cultural stigma around alternative lifestyles,” he recalls. “I finally decided to reveal my true self through a book of poetry, which I published in June of 2019. While that meant I basically came out to everybody at the same time, I chose to do so during Pride Month because it’s an important time to be yourself.”

A month after his very public coming out, Astone joined McKesson. Today, he works as a senior pharmacy relations coordinator for Health Mart Atlas, a role that entails training and development to support his team in helping independent pharmacies thrive.

Because McKesson was the first workplace where he openly shared his bisexuality, he initially wasn’t sure what to expect.

“My McKesson and Health Mart Atlas families were nothing but welcoming and treated me just like everybody else,” he says. “In fact, nothing’s really changed since I came out, which I think is a very big say of McKesson as a company – that they know their employees.”

Encouraged by the immediate acceptance he found among his peers, he become a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ community within the company. As a national board member of OPEN, McKesson’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group (ERG), Astone is working to create more awareness around obstacles facing the LGBTQ+ community.

“We need to have more candid conversations around racial and social issues as a society, as well as more education and awareness to support all with different challenges in order to make our visions come true,” he says. “Intersectionality has played such a big part in my life, so I’m proud I’m at a place where I can help drive these very important discussions.”

To that end, Astone helped lead OPEN’s 2021 Black History Month event about Black LGBTQ+ pioneers that they held with ASPIRE, McKesson’s Black and African American ERG. He also recently earned his certificate in diversity, equity and inclusion from the University of South Florida to better position himself to help build and grow a diverse workforce at McKesson.

For now, his primary goal is ensuring that those crucial conversations continue. Part of that work, he says, starts with making himself available to employees like him at work so they can share their personal experiences and achieve more confidence in being who they are.

“It may have taken me 29 years,” he explains, “but I’m proud to be able to tell my story today and help others see and know that McKesson is an accepting place where you can be yourself, be comfortable and have your voice heard.”

During Pride Month and all year long, we’re proud to affirm that McKesson remains dedicated not only to supporting diversity, equity and inclusion for all of our employees, but also to fostering an environment that encourages employees like Astone to use their voices to inspire others – both here in our company and in the communities we serve.

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