Below is an article originally written by Candace Whitney-Morris at PowerToFly Partner Microsoft. Go to Microsoft's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Susan Betts moved to the United States to follow her career dreams. A combination of the Defense of Marriage Act and immigration-related laws meant that she and her partner, who came with her, might not be able to stay unless something changed.
In 2008, Susan Betts and her partner, Silvia Colombaretti, made the move to New York City from São Paulo, Brazil, where they met and fell in love, and pursued their dream to live abroad. Betts was granted a work visa for a new job, and Colombaretti came to the United States on a student visa. Colombaretti didn't know English at the time and decided that she would learn the language.
After two years, Betts was offered a senior director position on the Microsoft Brand team. Saying yes to the job was significantly easier than the immigration challenge that awaited them—Colombaretti's student visa was due to expire.
"We were debating staying in New York—jumping at the opportunity for me to work at Microsoft—or going back to Brazil," Betts recalled. "But always, there was this question around immigration."
This was in 2011, and gay marriage wouldn't be recognized by the US Supreme Court until 2013, which meant that Colombaretti wasn't eligible to apply for a green card as Betts's spouse. Colombaretti had neither a green card nor a spouse visa, and the couple wondered if they might be headed back to Brazil much sooner than they wanted.
"We loved it here; it was where we chose to be," said Betts.
While Betts was still in the recruitment phase with Microsoft and fielding these complex questions, Microsoft's legal team stepped in to help.
"They were incredibly diligent and supportive every step of the way, before I came to Microsoft and during the subsequent months after I had joined," Betts said. "There are hundreds of people at Microsoft who are on visas, and Microsoft does a lot of work to support their immigration. We probably have the best legal immigration team that you could ever dream for, because we have so many people from overseas here," Betts said.
Microsoft's legal counsel suggested that the couple postpone the next step—applying for Betts's green card—until Colombaretti could be added to the application as her recognized legal spouse. Many eyes were on the landmark Edie Windsor court case, which the legal team knew could flip everything on its head by repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, the US federal law that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.
In 2012, same-sex marriage became legal in Washington State, but still the couple waited to get married.
"Marriage equality on a federal level is what mattered to us, because immigration is a federal issue," said Betts.
Susan and Silvia (on computer screen) got married in Brazil and in the United States on the same day. The couple's faces beam with joy on Skype as they celebrated with Susan's mother (right) and two best friends who acted as witnesses.
They waited, but they did not despair. Betts calls herself a glass-half-full kind of person, and while things were up in the air, Betts said that she knew they could always move home to Brazil and be close to their supportive families.
"We were apprehensive, but we had options," she said. "A lot of people aren't that flexible."
She also felt fortunate that she was born into an accepting family and recognized that many people don't have that experience.
"My mother is incredibly supportive of me and Silvia."
The ability to feel confident at home with her family meant Betts didn't have to worry about her sexuality and the potential impact it could have on her life.
"At home, at work, with my friends, and in my social life, it's never really been a taboo, or hidden," she said. "This gave me peace of mind since the very beginning of my adult life. I wish everyone could have the kind of emotional support I did."
In anticipation of the Windsor case, the couple married in April 2013, so that when the decision came down, they could proceed with the final stage of their green card application and list Colombaretti as Betts's legally recognized spouse.
Betts and Colombaretti originally thought they would have a simple courthouse wedding, but they reconsidered, wanting to make memories with their families in Brazil. Using the power of video conferencing, they logged into Skype at 6:00 AM in Washington State and watched while Betts's mother (equipped with their power of attorneys), friends, and a Brazilian notary made it official in their home country.
"Then I came to work," Betts said. "And after work, we went over to the Bellevue Courthouse and got married here, too," Betts proclaimed, like the end of a fairy tale.
Windsor, one of Betts's heroes, won her case in the US Supreme Court, granting same-sex couples the same benefits that are given to married heterosexuals.
"When that happened, it unlocked marriage equality at a federal level," Betts said, which meant it also unlocked the immigration debate at a federal level. The following year, the couple were granted their green cards.
"We were guided every step of the way by Microsoft's legal team, which was incredible. You know, I couldn't ask for more," Betts said. "I have felt and been supported for who I am my entire life—by my family and now by Microsoft as my employer," she said. "When that happens, you feel truly included."
Stories power change
As a firm believer in the power of stories, Betts shares hers as much as she can with the hope of providing a better platform for others and the life they choose to live.
"Once stories become a part of social fabric, once they aren't hidden in the closet, people will start to be more accepting. And the norms, the behaviors, the values will start to change because people will start to see things differently," she said.
"I think that when things are in the closet and hidden, you create your own story about what they are. When things are out of the closet, you realize that we are all diverse in some way," she continued.
"My uniqueness may be different from your uniqueness, but we're not different at a very human level. My love for my wife, and her love for me, is no different than your love for your spouse."
Betts said it's a bit ironic, all the talk about immigration and the legal system and the Supreme Court and the Microsoft legal team. "Because to me, at the end of the day it's all just about Silvia and I loving each other."
Meet more Microsoft employees who are changing hearts and minds and advancing human rights.
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Learn how Microsoft and its LGBTQ+ employees push for change across borders.
Below is an article originally written by Candace Whitney-Morris at PowerToFly Partner Microsoft, and published on April 11, 2018. Go to Microsoft's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Editor's note: We sat down with Amanda Finney to talk about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the unexpected path that led her to Microsoft. She tells this story in her own words.
Eighteen months ago, I was sitting in the Hillary Clinton campaign office, furiously making phone calls. When I wasn't making calls, I was canvasing neighborhoods and talking to people in their homes about issues that they really cared about.
Speaking up and fighting for human rights is a key part of my background and was a topic of conversation at our dinner table while I was growing up. My uncle was a chief in the Cherokee nation, and I served as an ambassador of Cherokee culture as Miss Cherokee of South Carolina. My grandfather on the other side of my family was the first Black chief justice of South Carolina. I was always told that you have to know who you are and where you've been in order to know where you are going.
These are spaces I've been most familiar with and comfortable in—political circles, community activism.
Amanda Finney shakes hands with Hillary Clinton, whose campaign she volunteered for in 2017.
That's probably why, on my first day working at Microsoft last year, I was freaking out. I asked myself, what in the world am I doing here? I had no corporate or technology background—everything for me up until that point had been about communications and media. Although, if I reflect on my history, I can definitely see the threads of connection that eventually led me here.
"You have to know who you are and where you've been in order to know where you are going."
When I was young, I dreamed I would become a political correspondent or an on-camera broadcast journalist. In college, I got a White House internship handling the correspondence for the first family. I would open hundreds of letters daily from Gulf Coast children during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, and I'd read every single one. Reading these stories written in their own small handwriting broke my heart. I selected 10 letters a day for then-President Barack Obama to read.
When the Obama 2012 reelection campaign rolled around, and I distinctly remember telling myself that I was darn sure not going to miss this chance. I wasn't old enough to vote the first time Obama took office, and I felt like I missed out on an important moment in time. The campaign work felt like a calling, a movement. One of my main objectives was to excite and mobilize members of my generation, as well as go around and listen to the stories of the community. I kept hearing story after story that connected people to each other.
Amanda Finney worked on the Obama 2012 campaign in the state of Virginia, listening to voters tell their stories and mobilizing members of her generation to do the same.
After the election, I joined Teach for America. I found myself in charge of 30 students, kids with little to no resources, hearing their stories and getting to know their struggles firsthand, which connected me to their lives in such a powerful way.
By 2015, I was back on the campaign trail again, but this time for Hillary Clinton as her state director for Louisiana. It was my job to make sure that the people who wrote to Hillary got a response. Being the go-between for her and the American people was an amazing experience.
I remember that a mother and daughter wrote to Hillary to thank her for work on the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The daughter was born deaf, and without CHIP, the family wouldn't have been able to afford her early intervention. Now, that daughter is going to college. We made a video of that story; to this day, I cannot watch it without crying.
While that work is very different from what I am doing now, I've noticed that there's a common thread, and that's the power of individual stories to connect humans. You don't realize the effect a bill in Congress can have on someone's life until you hear from those people who are impacted. When you hear a powerful personal story, it doesn't matter what you believe in or who you vote for: what you see is the American story of how something helped keep a family together. We are all the same, we are all human, we are all doing the same kinds of things every day.
So how did I end up at Microsoft?
After the election, I had a moment where I didn't know the next move. I knew I wanted a different experience than politics so I could expand my skill set, but I wasn't sure what it was other than it would be in communications. I heard about a position on a new team called Windows Community. They seemed to be spinning up like a grassroots movement. And that sounded familiar to me.
I worried whether my skills would translate, but one thing the elections taught me is that anything is possible—the good and the bad—and I decided I couldn't rule out any opportunity. I interviewed and got the position.
"We are all the same, we are all human, we are all doing the same kinds of things every day."
Now I get to connect everyday customers to the engineers who make Windows, so that they can learn from each other just like Obama got connected to the Gulf Coast kids or people in Louisiana felt heard by Hillary. Knowing the story behind the product, or the story of the person behind an idea or product, brings value to the user and helps facilitate understanding, just like in politics and community activism.
Although coming to work for a technology company seemed at first like a sharp turn for me, I see now that I can use the power of storytelling here, too. It's the stories, it's always the stories, that connect us all.
In the video above, Danielle Vaughan, Account Manager, shares the following information about her experiences at Microsoft: "A company that encourages diversity and inclusion where I, being a woman Latina in tech, feel a hundred percent supported and encouraged to share my thoughts."
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