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Each year in June, Pride Month is celebrated around the world with a monthlong series of festivities and events that commemorate the decades of struggle for LGBTQIA+ rights and honor just how far this once-invisible community has come. Waves of recent anti-LGBTQIA+ backlash, though, indicate there’s still much work to be done. In March, IFT launched its first Member Resource Group dedicated to creating a safe and welcoming space for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Below, three of its leaders share why the work hits home personally—and how it builds connection, advocacy, and acceptance within the science of food profession. 

Matt Teegarden, PhD

A senior researcher at The Ohio State University, Matt Teegarden is the chair of IFT Proud, a current member of the Annual Meeting Scientific Program Advisory Panel (AMSPAP), an Ohio Valley IFT Section board member, and a past president of the IFT Student Association (IFTSA). 

Why he got involved with IFT Proud: “IFT has, for many years, felt like my professional home,” Teegarden says. “It’s a place where I can learn, grow, and have invaluable shared experiences with my professional family. In the LGBTQIA+ space, we often refer to the community we build around ourselves as our chosen family because for so many, this is the only place where they can find acceptance. For me, my chosen family and my professional family overlap, so it felt only natural to volunteer with IFT Proud.  

IFT Proud matters because: “History has shown that LGBTQIA+ folk can be very good at finding each other and creating communities that fly under the radar,” Teegardan adds. “Groups like IFT Proud are important because they legitimize the existence of this otherwise invisible community and provide resources to ensure that it is welcoming to all. These feelings of belonging—being seen and being heard—are incredibly important in enabling people to bring their whole selves into their professional world. IFT is in a unique position to provide this visibility not only within the organization but across the entire science of food profession.” 

John Frelka, PhD

R&D senior scientist at Del Monte Foods, John Frelka is a co-chair of IFT Proud’s Visibility Committee, which advocates for LGBTQIA+ professionals in the science of food and promotes awareness of IFT Proud. He is also a member of the Northern California IFT Section board and previously served on the IFTSA Board of Directors and on the IFT Refrigerated and Frozen Foods Division leadership team. 

Why IFT Proud is important: “This group will be critical to the future of IFT and the food industry at large in terms of learning more about the experiences and impact of LGBTQIA+ individuals in the science of food,” Frelka says. “This need is evident now more than ever with the expansion of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation across this country and others.”  

Why he got involved: “Visibility is so important to me as a gay man in the food industry,” Frelka adds. “I was drawn to volunteer on IFT Proud’s leadership team to help provide that sense of community and belonging to others. When you are able to connect with others in your industry with similar lived experiences, it helps relieve the feeling of isolation that can come with being a member of an often ‘othered’ group.”  

Kartheek Anekella, PhD

Head of food science at Orbillion Bio, Kartheek Anekella is co-chair of IFT Proud’s Visibility Committee. He currently serves as a member of AMSPAP and on the IFT Product Development Division’s leadership team.  

A bit about his journey: “Growing up in India, I thought I needed to hide who I was because it is an extremely conservative and traditional society,” Anekella says, “but deep down, I knew I was not being authentic. It took years and a move across the world for me to finally feel able to share who I truly am.” 

The crucial role of IFT: “IFT has always been a place where I’ve felt supported, respected, and valued by a network of friends and colleagues,” Anekella adds. “The organization is a melting pot of cultures and individuals from different countries, industries, and nationalities, including students, corporate, production plant, and government professionals. In the current environment of increasing polarization around LGBTQIA+ issues, it is crucial that a safe space like IFT Proud exists. I want to do all I can to support other professionals as they gain visibility and a safe space to be who they are.” 

IFT Members who identify as part of the community, or as an ally, are invited to participate in IFT Proud. Check out IFT’s Member Resource Groups to learn more and get engaged on IFT Connect. You can also follow IFT Proud on LinkedIn for updates on upcoming programs and events. 

IFT FIRST: Annual Event and Expo is just around the corner, and IFT’s Member Resource Groups will be hosting several events to bring our community together. Register for the IFT FIRST Belonging Together Social on Sunday, July 16, 7:30-9:30 p.m., at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Wacker Drive, to connect and celebrate with participants from all IFT Member Resource Groups. Attendees are also invited to IFT Proud’s Networking Hour, sponsored by Ingredion, on Tuesday, July 18, at noon, at the IFT Member Central Booth (S2583) in the Expo Hall.  

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