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#MEETIRONGALAXY – LGBTQ+ ERG Edition

06/08/2022   •   Written By Keenan Morales

At Iron Galaxy, our team of talented and thoughtful people make us who we are as a game development studio. Their diverse backgrounds help us create games for all kinds of players. This recurring interview series is our chance to open the floor for our people to speak candidly about their life experiences in the game industry.

As part of our recognition of Pride Month, we’re talking to some of the members of our LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group. Let’s chat with some familiar and fresh faces of Iron Galaxy.

Header image from left to right: Chelsea Blasko, Nate Herbst, Dan Coleman, Rejess Marshall, Austin Lewis, Autumn Bitterman, Jess Wiedner


Iron Galaxy: Who are you and what would you say you do here at Iron Galaxy?

Chelsea: I am Chelsea Blasko and I'm the co-CEO at Iron Galaxy. My pronouns are she/he/they and I identify as Fluid.

Nate: I'm Nate Herbst and I'm a Software Engineer at IG, currently working on Rumbleverse. I use he/him pronouns and I identify strongly as queer.

Dan: I'm Dan Coleman, Head of Product Development here at IG. My pronouns are he/him and I'm gay.

Rejess: I'm Rejess Marshall and I manage the diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility programs at Iron Galaxy. My pronouns are she/her and I identify as queer.

Austin: I'm an Art Outsource Manager. I'm a sort of art director wannabe for our outsourcing partners. My pronouns are he/him and I identify as gay.

Autumn: This question gives me Kindergarten Cop "Who is your daddy and what does he do," vibes but, besides being a human IMDB, I am an HR/Payroll Specialist. I currently identify as Pansexual with she/her/hers pronouns.

Jess: My name is Jess Wiedner (AKA J-Dubz), and I am an artist here at Iron Galaxy. My pronouns are she/they and I identify as Gender Fluid.


Iron Galaxy: How did you find your place in the games industry?


Chelsea: I definitely fell into it. I was lucky enough to already have a job when I heard EA was looking for Producers. I didn't have much to lose and I was interested in working in a really creative industry, so I gave it a shot, put in a resume, had some interviews...and here I am almost 18 years later.

Nate: I spent so much of my young life playing games that it was honestly impossible for me to want to do anything else! I enjoyed works like Supergiant's Bastion and the stories they told, which led me to try out acting in high school. I turned out to be not that great at that, but I discovered that programming allowed me to participate in the storytelling and creativity of video games, and the rest is history.

Dan: I made an agreement with myself when working toward a Computer Science degree during the dot com boom in the late 90's that I must do something FUN and CREATIVE in my career, and games fit that bill!

Rejess: Somewhat a bit of luck and timing. I never thought about working in the games industry before joining Iron Galaxy. I wanted to do diversity, equity, and inclusion work and Iron Galaxy was hiring for the program manager role. I applied and the rest is history.

Austin: I really worked at it! I wanted to work in games since I was a little kid. I taught myself 3d modeling, took a couple classes, worked on a bunch of vaporware internet projects, and kept applying until I got in.

Autumn: I honestly never expected to find myself in the games industry, but I happened upon the job listing and it checked every single one of my wants in a job. The rest is history!

Jess: I went to Ball State to study Electronic Arts and Animation and got my first contractor job in the industry as a QA Unreal Tools tester at NetherRealm Studios. After gaining real-world experience making games and working for a few different studios, I earned a role here as an artist.


Iron Galaxy: How does being a member of the LGBTQ+ community shape your experience in the games industry?

Chelsea: When I started in games, it was a more frat-like environment. The idea of being out was scary for people. I don't think it has really affected my personal experience much, though. I've often felt like I shouldn't have to be the "out" one as someone LGBTQ, that didn't seem fair, however I now recognize that I have a responsibility to be more open and visible to others to make their paths easier.

Nate: Being LGBTQ+ in a mostly straight/cis space is extremely terrifying to me, but luckily the games industry has tons of folks in the community. The road isn't smooth, and I've experienced backhanded comments, had my identity laughed at as the butt of a joke, and watched coworkers face worse, but I do see things at work that show progress.

Dan: It's been a journey. I first felt very out of place when starting out in the industry and put myself back into the closet after being very out in college. It took strong role-models and really close co-workers to help me feel good about being my true self. I'm proud that we've built a culture at Iron Galaxy where you can bring that day-one.

Rejess: Iron Galaxy is my only games industry experience and, from day one, it's always felt welcoming and LGBTQ-friendly. We have an extremely inclusive benefits program that makes sure the needs of LGBTQ employees and their families are being met. I've never felt out of place, or afraid here at IGS because of my queer identity.

Austin: I have a relatively easy time, compared to other queer folks, so I feel a lot of pressure to be visible and advocate where I can. Probably the biggest impact was an old job working for one person. I danced around mentioning my partner for years, not because I thought it would be a problem, but if it was, my job could have been over instantly. We have a long way to go until everyone feels comfortable in our industry.

Autumn:
With being in a straight-passing relationship, it's not always apparent to others that I am LGBTQ+. While I'm a relative newb to the games industry, my hope is to be as loud and proud as I can be during Pride Month, as it's a whole new world for me.

Jess: My initial observation of the games industry was that it was kind of like a "boys club" in many ways. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be one of the boys and loved being able to be a girl at the same time. Barbies and dinosaurs playing in the mud were my jam! So were video games and pwning all the boys at Smash Bros. When I first entered the industry, I felt like I was where I wanted to be, but at the same time I didn't feel like I was "in" with that "boys club" because of my appearance as a woman (even though I dress like a tom-boy more often than I wear a dress). Interactions with these guys felt very surface-level and I was objectified by these men who are considered industry vets. Other than a few poorly-mannered individuals in positions of power, MOST folks I have worked with in games have been totally accepting of who I am without assuming anything about me and have put in the effort to get to know my genuine self. I've seen A LOT of positive change in this realm since my entry point into the industry.


Iron Galaxy: How do you show your pride while working in the games industry?


Chelsea: I show my pride by sharing my experiences and identity across the industry.

Nate: This has been a long process, but I show my pride at work by showing up as myself every day. For a long time, I would hide parts of myself to blend into the crowd of programmers and just keep my head down and work as much as possible. As I spend more time in the industry, I've been able to learn from my incredible coworkers about all the different ways a person can be themselves, and I've tried my best to follow their example.

Dan: I like being loud and proud in accessorizing and fashion! When playing games, I always look for strong character creation systems that allow me to express myself uniquely.

Rejess: I always believe the best way to show my pride is to show up authentically as myself every day. To be a black, queer, woman is an act of rebellion to live in my truth.

Austin: I don't know if you can tell from my photo, but I choose to express my queerness pretty loudly through my appearance, and I try to follow that by being very open about it when talking to coworkers. I'm fortunate enough to be in a stable job at an affirming studio, so I try to be a reminder that queer people are and have always been here, even if they're quieter about it than I am.

Autumn: I may have answered this in the previous question a little bit too, and while I'm a newb to the games industry, I think getting involved early with our LGBTQ+ ERG/Affinity Group early in my career here at Iron Galaxy will definitely help show my pride, not only of myself, but of my company. You gotta start somewhere!

Jess: I share my pride by striving to always be my most genuine self at any given time. I love to wear colorful outfits and be my own brand of fun-lovable-weird, and I do it unapologetically. I love to cosplay and to rock both masculine and feminine looks; however I may be feeling a that given time. I communicate my preferences to others openly and call out distasteful comments from others who need to be thoughtfully educated when I see it happening.


Iron Galaxy: How are you celebrating Pride Month?


Chelsea: I celebrate Pride every day! I am super excited about being able to march as a group of colleagues in the Chicago Pride Parade. I've attended in the past and, honestly, it can feel a little overwhelming with the crowds for me, but being able to be an actual part of the parade with other folks from IGS feels wonderful.

Nate: Pride is a celebration and a reminder of all the work that has been happening for generations. To celebrate, I'm spending time with my personal LGBTQ+ community (we'll probably play a lot of board games). To work, I'll be looking for places to donate time and money to, specifically trans-affirming organizations since those communities have been under sustained attack recently. Trans rights are human rights.

Dan: We're marching in this year's parade! I haven't been able to be a part in a number of years. Looking forward to this year to show my PRIDE!

Rejess: I'll be at the Chicago Pride parade this month.

Austin: Honestly, just being my gay self with all my queer friends all month long! In a world that would rather forget we're here, just living your life being publicly queer is an act of resistance. That said, we're of course going to all the Pride parties, and I'm helping to support some great Pride Month programming here at Iron Galaxy!

Autumn: I have been living in Chicago proper since 2016 and have yet to go to the parade, so 2022 is THE YEAR! I also plan to attend Queer Horror Movie Night at The Brewed in Chicago, because who doesn't love Jennifer's Body?

Jess: I will be celebrating Pride month by not only attending the Pride parade with a bunch of my queer friends as well as queer allies, but I will also be performing as much as I can in my band. I am always looking to channel my inner rockstar and I feel at my best when I am wearing a wonderfully put together outfit while blasting on my trumpet. I just love to inspire folks to be their most genuine, weird selves by being genuine and weird myself.


Iron Galaxy: What improvements would you like to see in the games industry?


Chelsea: Not just in games, but everywhere, I am excited to see more acceptance of the full rainbow of genders and sexualities. I've always felt that, as someone who is fluid, I have to "come out" to both straight and gay people. There is this idea that straight and gay are binary that I see evolving and I am happy to represent some of the gray area in-between.

Nate: There are many ways that the industry needs to improve, and I strongly believe that listening to different communities is critical, so I appreciate this question in particular. I think that the industry could do more in combating online harassment. The internet is an extremely volatile and nasty place, and harassment campaigns are terrifying ways that angry groups of people can ruin the lives of developers.

Dan: I'm super happy to see more representation these days. This helped me in my journey. Allyship is similarly just as important to me.

Rejess: More recognition of our community and representation in the games that get funded.

Austin: Internally, I would love to see the industry as a whole become more proactive about queer issues. There's a feeling in some parts of it that, because game dev happens mostly in large coastal cities, we much have solved everything. Sadly, it's not enough to say you don't tolerate discrimination- active affirmation is necessary to build work cultures that don't tolerate discrimination.

Autumn:
I would love to see a broader representation of gender identities. We've made a lot of progress over the past few years, but it sometimes feels forced or on a "token" basis and I think we have so many options to allow the different representations to become normalized and more mainstream

Jess: I would like to see the games industry be proactive in educating their staff about the beauty in different gender identities, non-normative lifestyles and to create game content that represents LGBTQ+ individuals. I would also like to see much less of the "boys club" mentality that still exists in older circles and create a space where everyone can feel comfortable collaborating.


Iron Galaxy: What’s your favorite thing about being a part of the LGTBQ+ community?


Chelsea: I love the conversations I have with younger people who are not afraid to explore their identities. I can't wait for a time when we can all just be who we are with whomever we choose.

Nate: I really love all of the research and conversation about the differences between sex and gender. Lately I've been falling into rabbit holes learning about what it means to express one's gender and how we can be free to identify as we choose and present in a way that feels fulfilling without worrying about expectations that we might feel from society. As a cis person, I've learned so much by listening and reading about the experiences of non-binary folks, and I highly recommend doing the same.

Dan: Being part of a unique and diverse community that cares for each other as a chosen family. I get to learn so much every day from them.

Rejess: I may be biased, but we are some of the most magical and creative people on this planet.

Austin: The birthright every queer person gains in exchange for all the difficulty is that we have access to life’s dev console. That is, once you’re already so far off default settings, you’re free to build yourself, your relationships, and your life however you want, regardless of what’s “normal." I wouldn't trade that freedom for anything.

Autumn: Can I say everything? I feel like that’s taking the easy route, but it’s true! I love how truly welcoming the community has been toward me. I was involved with LGTBQ+ organizations throughout college before I came out (originally as bisexual in 2010 and as pansexual in 2021) so I was able to build and cultivate friendships and those friendships have only helped me discover who my true self really is.

Jess: I absolutely love seeing people thriving in their true element; it's inspiring and beautiful to see! I love the culture that comes from the celebration of being out and open and free. I think that is something everyone wants to be. Also, love is pretty cool and there are so many different types of love! You can say, it's a spectrum :)


We're constantly working to make Iron Galaxy a company that is inviting to all. If you want to work on revolutionary games with encouraging people, view our career page and apply to one of our open positions!