John Heery is an out and proud advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, but it wasn’t always that way.
John Heery spent half his life hiding. But no more.
In the latter half of his 25 years with the company, John has brought education and awareness of LGBTQ+ issues to Corning and other employers through his work with Corning SPECTRA and Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. John represents Corning on state and national platforms and works within the company to help ensure his colleagues can bring their whole selves to work.
John, based in Vineland, New Jersey, is a regional quality manager in Corning Pharmaceutical Technologies. He says he’s stayed at Corning for two reasons: the people, and his tremendous pride in Corning’s inventions. In addition to all the company’s life-changing, lifesaving innovations, he’s proud of Corning’s work on equity and inclusion for LGBTQ+ employees.
Before Corning, he served in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear reactor operator on the nuclear-powered supercarrier, USS John C. Stennis.
“When I joined the Navy in 1991, my enlistment forms included questions about ‘homosexual or bisexual activity’ … Then a few years into my enlistment, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ passed,” John says.
The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was in effect from 1994 until 2011. It prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, but still barred openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from the military. So, John hid his full identity.
After six years of active duty, John joined Siecor in Hickory, North Carolina, as an applications engineer for long haul telecommunications. Siecor was Corning’s joint venture with Siemens, established in 1977.
In 2001, he met his now-husband, Scott, but John kept his relationship private at work until a major shift happened. In 2003, Corning Cable Systems (formerly Siecor) adopted Corning’s benefits for same sex domestic partnerships.
“All of a sudden, my domestic partner had health benefits,” John says.
Some employees made no secret of their disapproval, John recalls. In an open forum shortly after the merger, they questioned the Management Committee about the benefits.
“The chief executive officer at the time said, ‘Look. This is not something new. This isn’t about politics or religion. This is about business. We want the best people we can find and, to do that, we need to attract the best people,’” John says, paraphrasing. “The fact that he just set it down and said, ‘These people are people we need.’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ It was one of my top five best days at Corning, if not number one.”
While John knew he had the support of Human Resources and upper management, concerns about how his colleagues would respond kept him quiet about his relationship with Scott. In spring of 2011, John transferred to the Fairport plant in New York for six years.
“By 2011, I was exhausted with this closet thing. I said, ‘When we move, I’m done with the closet,’” John recalls. “The relocation manager asked if I would be relocating my family and I took a deep breath and said my domestic partner would be joining me. I thought there would be this pregnant pause, but she didn’t miss a beat.”
That began a new era for John and Scott. John no longer felt he needed to hide his relationship at work or in public. Scott began attending work events and company dinners with John. And in June 2011, something monumental happened.
“Marriage Equality passed in New York state a month after our relocation,” John says. At this point, he and Scott had been in a committed relationship for 10 years. Then, “Friends of ours got married and we immediately went and got our license and were married three weeks later,” he adds.
As federal policy changed, John found more support with SPECTRA, Corning’s employee resource group for LGBTQ+ employees. The group helps the company shape its Human Resources and benefits policies and informs the company’s commitment to advocacy and rights issues.
“SPECTRA introduced me to a whole new world of employees and supporters within Corning,” John said.
Through SPECTRA, John fundraises, emcees discussions with local business leaders, talks to graduate students in a seminar, represents Corning at Human Rights Campaign events, liaises with the Veterans Administration, and was introduced to the New York Finger Lakes chapter of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.
John is proud of Corning’s work on equality and inclusion for LGBTQ employees. In 2022, Corning earned 100% on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index among Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Employees.
During the last 10 years, Corning has joined other major employers in signing amicus briefs filed in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of federal Marriage Equality and protection from workplace discrimination and co-sponsored the Equality Act (still in legislation in the Senate) with the HRC and other top companies.
John calls the changes he’s witnessed over the years “breathtaking.” In 2019, John took his husband aboard the USS John C. Stennis for a crew reunion.
“I’ve gone from Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to having my former shipmates shaking hands with my husband on board the ship we once called home," he says. “We’ve gone from my husband sitting home alone while I attended the company Christmas party to having him laughing with my boss at a staff dinner and flying with me on the company jet with SPECTRA colleagues and senior leadership to our nation’s capital.”
John is happy to celebrate these victories, but says many challenges remain.
“Our transgender friends and families still struggle with being accepted in many areas of society and they are still the target of outright violence. And we have a need for more education, understanding, and outreach to the gender non-conforming and non-binary members of the LGBTQ+ community,” he says.
The work continues, but he’ll do it out and proudly at Corning.