I was one of the first openly trans employees in tech. Here's what has changed since I came out in the '90s — and what has stayed the same


Rachael Parker

  • Rachael Parker is a principal engineer at Intel.
  • She joined the tech giant in the ’90s, and was the first person in the company to transition from male to female in a visible fashion.
  • With the support of her wife and coworkers, Parker has gone on to become a prominent trans advocate in tech.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In 1995, I had a new job, a new wife — and an old secret. I’d spent many years struggling with the pain of understanding who I was.

While growing up, I didn’t identify with boys and knew I was different, but I had no information about what I was feeling. I had only recently understood what it meant to be transgender, because it wasn’t common for trans people to be out at the time (the Internet was much smaller and younger then).

After coming across a trans support newsgroup, I immediately knew that this is who I was and that there were others like me. Although I was terrified, I was also excited to learn more about it.

My family was supportive about my decision to transition. At the time, I’d known my wife since 1989, and it was a gradual process coming out to her. My spouse was there for me, which is exceptionally rare. Often, transition ends in divorce, and I was blessed to have someone who was able to love me just for who I was. She had a friend from college who had just come out to her as being trans, so it helped that it wasn’t a foreign concept.

Having two young children, my family was my number one priority. It was important to me not to push them or rush them. The transition was gradual, and they saw me getting happier and healthier, which was positive reinforcement to continue transition and gave me the strength to also be out in other areas of my life.

Read more: Coworkers said my androgynous look was scaring clients, so I switched jobs and found a boss who helped me accept my true self

The importance of creating a professional ‘sanctuary’

Navigating the workplace was a different experience. I joined Intel as an engineer and was largely closeted for the first year and a half. After starting, I joined the company’s employee resource group IGLOBE (Intel Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender Employees), which back then did not include the word “transgender” in its charter — nobody had ever asked them to include the transgender community. To change that, I conducted informational sessions and presentations where I shared my story, taught them what it meant to be transgender, and explained why it was important that the LGB community should be allies with and advocates for the transgender community.

After changing the charter for IGLOBE, it became my sanctuary, and I participated fully. I held multiple officer positions, eventually serving as president of the group. But I wasn’t done. Although I was terrified, I knew I needed to transition for my own survival.

Twenty years ago, if you wanted to transition, you would normally quit your job, move to a new place and start a new life, never revealing your status. But I had a wife, a young family — and I had worked very hard to build my career. I wanted to stay at Intel, which was at the epicenter of semiconductor development, and where I had already built career equity through my contributions, patents, and publications.

When I decided that I was going to transition at work, I wanted to make sure Intel was a safe place to do that. It was the ’90s, and I was the first person to transition at Intel in such a visible fashion, so there were no policies or processes in place to build from. I started meeting with HR and legal to encourage Intel to change its equal employment opportunity (EEO) and non-discrimination policy to include gender identity. This was key: At the time, Intel’s protections didn’t include gender identity, and I needed to know that I wouldn’t be fired, as that was not uncommon for the times.

While I had advocates, there was still a lot of education to be done around what constitutes harassment. Many people had never heard of what it meant to be transgender. Although I leveraged support from HR on a few occasions, I focused more on working to educate coworkers — as well as my broader workplace — about what was acceptable behavior.

Read more: This top Accenture exec came out as gay to coworkers at an office party 32 years ago. He says it was one of the best career decisions he’s ever made.

Why advocating for company-wide change can lead to greater acceptance

Changing Intel’s EEO statement and non-discrimination policy was a big step, but there was still a long way to go. I continued my work by advocating for trans healthcare benefits at Intel. It was important to ensure people had access to prescriptions and hormone-replacement therapy, which technically was excluded from coverage for transgender people.

Therapy was another area that wasn’t covered: any trans person should have the right to go to therapy and have it covered by their insurance. Today, many companies have added protections for gender expression and identity to their policies, as well as healthcare coverage for people who are transitioning. I’m very proud Intel was among the leaders in this area. 

While I will never stop fighting and advocating for equal rights, it has been wonderful to find a workplace where I finally feel accepted for who I am.

Having my family and finding support at work through this process was critical, and it inspired me to be more active in the community. I began serving as an Intel representative to the Human Rights Campaign and as a board member of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. As other companies started taking steps to make changes, I was able to act as a resource, sharing best practices and the process we went through at Intel.

There are still places where people are not safe today, and while we must work to change that, it’s been very meaningful for me to help create environments where people can truly be themselves. 

Rachael Parker is a Principal Engineer at Intel working in the Mixed-Signal IP group, where she runs a small team that develops hardware security circuits. She has been with the company for 24 years and holds over 25 patents.

SEE ALSO: The 23 most powerful LGBTQ+ people in tech

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian have a combined net worth of $189 million. Here’s how they make and spend their money.