Joe Castiglione, MBA 21, on coming out to his devout family

right to left: Joe Castiglione and his partner, Seth, with Joe's parents on vacation in Key West.
(right to left): Joe Castiglione and his partner, Seth, with Joe’s parents on vacation in Key West.

In honor of Pride Month, we’re running a series of profiles and Q&As with members of the LGBTQ community at Haas. Follow the series throughout June.

In this interview, Evening & Weekend MBA student Joe Castiglione, a manager of strategic initiatives at healthcare accreditation  organization NCQA, talks about coming out to his devoutly Baptist family at age 22, how he found pride in the close-knit gay community in Washington D.C., and being out openly at Haas.

Where did you grow up? I grew up in a few different places around Texas, all rural and suburban, but we moved around a lot. Lived a bit outside of Houston and I went to high school outside of Fort Worth, in a small town called Burleson. Kelly Clarkson, our hometown hero, went to our high school — the one claim to fame that we have! I went to college at UT in Austin, moving to Washington D.C. about 48 hours after I graduated. I spent six years in D.C. working in health policy before moving to the Bay Area for Haas.

Joe as a baby with his dad.
Joe Castiglione, who grew up in the Baptist church in Texas, celebrating a birthday with his dad.

What was your experience growing up?

I come from a devoutly religious family. I went to Baptist church every Sunday, church on Wednesdays, Youth Group on Wednesdays, the whole kit and caboodle. We even went for a brief period to a mega-church in Houston called Lakewood, where Joel Osteen is the pastor. I didn’t really have much of a safe environment where I could explore my queer identity until much later in life.

When did you first think that you might be gay?

I think the first time I knew something was when I was watching “Saved by the Bell” with my older sister, and I was like way more interested in the cute blond guy Zack Morris than in Kelly Kapowski, the cutest brunette of the 90s. I didn’t have any access to LGBTQ people or media in small-town Texas, so it was a while before I recognized what my interest in Zack Morris was all about.

So when did you finally come out?

I came out in 2012. I was 22, and it was shortly after moving to D.C. Despite my fear of coming out, and really every effort that I put forward to fight coming out, being in D.C. just yanked the gay right out of me. There’s such an amazingly vibrant queer community in D.C., and I am forever indebted to the queer community there for helping me discover a sense of self-love and pride in being a part of that community.

Joe Castiglione, MBA 21, (right) with his boyfriend, Seth, who helped Joe's father open up to their relationship.
Joe Castiglione, MBA 21, (right) with his boyfriend, Seth, who helped Joe’s father open up to their relationship.

How did your family take the news?

When I came out to my mom, she secretly told everyone in my family, really depriving me of what I think is for many queer folks a watershed moment in our lives. The rest of my family did struggle with it a lot at first as well. There was the “gay people go to Hell” thing, and the “gay people can’t have children” thing. The hardest was my dad, who took a couple of years to really come around. He started to open up in 2015 when I began dating my partner who I’m still with today. It was almost immediate as my partner is similar to my dad in some ways and has many of the personal qualities that he values. Fortunately, since 2012, we’ve come a super long way as family and today my mom is my fiercest supporter and a huge ally for the entire LGBTQ community. Today she’s one of the “Free Mom Hugs” women at Dallas Pride!

Joe during WeLaunch orientation has Haas.
“Being out at Haas was really my first opportunity to be openly queer in a classroom setting.” – Joe Castiglione, MBA 21.

Did your experience as a Q-identified person change at all when you came to Haas?

Being out at Haas was really my first opportunity to be openly queer in a classroom setting. I’ve discovered a new sense of pride and confidence in my queer identity by bringing that perspective into a classroom on things like management and leadership. It’s been a real pleasure to challenge myself to be more thoughtful and more nuanced in the way that I articulate my experience as a queer person in the workplace.

Do those experiences translate into the workplace?

Management and leadership are the big areas where this comes up at work—when we’re talking about how to interact with people, how to manage people individually, and manage to their expectations and things like that. What was so immediately clear to me is that Haas prides itself on intentionally creating environments that cultivate diversity, particularly in leadership. That’s a philosophy that I’ve really taken on since coming here–this desire to push that mission forward.

What’s a challenge that you’ve lived through that others who aren’t Q-identified might not be aware of?

For a long time, I was closeted and struggled with self love, but coming out and embracing my queer identity has been the biggest gift I could ever give myself. People who aren’t Q-identified may not see that, although I think it’s something everyone can identify with. It may sound cliché but because of this self love that I’ve found, I’m on this journey of learning how to treat people as you would treat yourself—considering who they are, and what that means for the way that you interact with them, and the way that they interact with the world.