‘From Openly Persecuted to Openly Accepted’: The Strength in LGBTQ+ Pride
L-R: Etoile Frank (he/him), Erich Christjansen (he/him)
When Erich Christjansen, Director of Operations at the Walser Reconditioning Center, first met CEO Andrew Walser in 2020, he wasn’t expecting it to end in a job offer. Christjansen was serving as an operations director for a Las Vegas Volvo dealer at the time. Over time, Erich and his husband Etoile Frank agreed to visit Minneapolis and learn more about Walser as a company. The visit led to relocation and new roles for Christjansen and Frank. Frank serves as a Walser Facilities Technician. In this exclusive Walser Pride Month interview, the couple, who identify as gay men, share what Pride Month means to them and why LGBTQ+ acceptance in and out of work is imperative.
How did you come to work for Walser? What do you do for the company?
Christjansen (he/him): – Andrew Walser visited my store in Las Vegas in 2020 and he got to see firsthand the processes that we implemented around Lean 5S. He reached out to me in August of the same year and asked if I would be interested in coming to look at an opportunity in Minnesota. I said that my husband and I were not looking to move at that time, but Andrew was very persuasive and got me to come out. We came, here we are, and we fell in the love with the city and the people.
Frank (he/him): It was really an awesome opportunity, especially the potential we saw. Once we got here and saw the city, it was a big part that persuaded us. It’s a beautiful city and super progressive.
Christjansen: You and I were very impressed with the progressive nature of the company and the leadership team, and that aligned with the progressive nature of the community. All of that made us very comfortable here.
Frank: When we got here and I got to know a few people, he [Erich] started work before me, but I had yet to have a job. The head of facilities at Walser asked him if I would be interested in coming to work for him because I had worked at Erich’s previous dealership in Vegas doing maintenance for facilities. I couldn’t imagine working for a better team.
How do you identify within the LGBTQIA+ community?
Frank: We identify as gay men.
Christjansen: Yeah, gay men.
June is Pride Month, what does pride mean to you?
Frank: The most important thing it means is excepting and loving yourself for who you are and the people around you doing the same.
Christjansen: I think having to live in a marginalized community for so long and then finding there was hope for development, advancement, acceptance, and a healthy life through being proud of who you are. And, we were very fortunate to have lived in San Francisco and to be a part of the community and the history. There were things that I didn’t fully appreciate about our struggle before moving there.
Frank: When you live around that history, you come to realize a lot of people have put in a lot of work to get us to where we can have this. That is powerful.
Typically, this month is full of celebratory events, do you do anything to celebrate? If so, what does that look like?
Christjansen: We attend community functions and attending pride parades.
Frank: I don’t know if we do anything that is specific.
Christjansen: We get to show our pride every day because we get to be out. We get to conduct ourselves as a part of society. Pride festivities are an opportunity for us to get out and feel empowered through a connection to our community. We are excited for this year to be participating in some of those activities.
Frank: When I lived in Tucson, I was actually in one of the parades. That was great to be very involved like that. We usually like to be involved with groups that involve themselves with pride stuff because you get to learn more deeply and even educate both of us on things that we might not understand.
Christjansen: I’ve had the opportunity in my career in the automotive business, which has been twenty-three years. From the very first year, in Atlanta, I started participating in pride events and always with the brands I represented. Of all the prides that I’ve participated in, the one takeaway is that there are marginalized communities within our community that deserve the same recognition as gay men do.
How do you celebrate your identity at Walser? What’s been your proudest moment here?
Christjansen: We celebrate our identity by bringing our whole selves to work.
Frank: Being authentic with people we work with and not having any hesitation with doing so.
Christjansen: When we are asked about our spouse, we refer to each other as husbands and openly. It’s been very positive.
Frank: That is one of many things that is so different and so refreshing. It doesn’t seem in most situations that there is even a blip of someone taking a step back. It’s very like “Oh, what does your husband do?”
Christjansen: We have always had positive experiences.
Frank: The thing that makes it great is that you can relax and you can be like everyone else. You can talk about your family and homelife, and not feel like there is going to be anything negative when it comes to sharing.
More broadly, what is one of the proudest moments you have had as someone in the LGBTQIA+ community? What contributed to that moment?
Frank: The day we got married.
Christjansen: The day we got married.
Frank: What contributed to that for me and for you (Erich) as well was that it was much about our very close family and friends. It was about having what we have together celebrated. For most of our lives that couldn’t happen.
For many LGBTQIA+ folk, a “chosen family” is vital to their experience. How does the idea/phrase resonate for you?
Frank: I think it’s a very big thing. Who you choose, and we describe it as an “orbit”, who you choose to be a part of your orbit can change and affect your life. Choosing people who are supportive, trustworthy, and loving is a way to choose your own family. Often time, those people will do things that your own family will not.
“Acceptance” and “affirmation” are important, what does that look like and feel like? What about at work?
Christjansen: For me, personally, I feel like it’s imperative for me to be creating an environment where my employees can feel affirmed and accepted in the same way that anyone else can be. I feel like it’s my responsibility to ensure that we have a culture that is consistent with those things.
Frank: When it comes to something specific, it’s being able to openly discuss our home and family life with the people we work with. And, it is a complete non-issue in a positive way.
As Pride began through efforts to establish more equity and inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community, what do you want to see next for the community?
Frank: I think within the community, we all need to better about looking out for each other and amplifying each other’s voices.
Christjansen: I really would like to see non-description laws and policies across the nation so people don’t have to be fearful and afraid of being open about their sexuality and gender.
What brings you joy about being part of the LGBTQIA+ community?
• Christjansen: The amount of change that I have seen in the past twenty years. To go from openly persecuted to openly accepted.
• Frank: Absolutely.