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Erika Belsaas

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Class of 2022 BEQ Pride LGBTQ Leader Under 40
(Any, All) is 33

What do you believe is your responsibility to this moment in history?

I only hope to leave behind a world that is better for people of all identities to live in. I volunteer with youth, and many of them are terrified or hopeless at the ever-changing world around them. Anti-LGBTQ+ laws and rallies, global climate change, and economic inequity affect them all and will continue to do so long after I pass. It is our duty to educate ourselves and those around us, fix what we can, and equip our future leaders to deal with the things we cannot. I only hope I can make enough of a difference.

As a prominent and visible member of the transgender community within Merck, Erika pushes the boundaries on LGBTQ+ inclusion within manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. Even within the LGBTQ+ spectrum, transgender and gender non-conforming employees are under-represented in STEM. Erika believes she has a responsibility to create pathways and opportunities for the next generation of trans youth to feel they can be true to themselves and still be successful — something she never believed was possible when she was young. 

Erika volunteers with Side by Side VA, a 501(c)(3) organization in Henrico County, Virginia dedicated to creating supportive communities where Virginia’s LGBTQ+ youth can define themselves, belong and flourish. Erika facilitates support groups and mentors young people 13-20 years old as they grow and understand their identity, expression and orientation.

Within Merck, Erika has invested significant time in educating her work community about transgender issues. Erika transitioned after being hired at Merck. She has found that speaking openly and honestly about her transition leads to opportunities to connect with cisgender allies and helps people empathize with the difficult and brave journey transgender people undertake. In fact, Jason Hoar, a BEQ Pride 40 Under 40 Class of 2020, has played a significant role as an ally in providing access to opportunities for Erika to speak to Merck leadership (including new CEO Rob Davis) about everyday policies which support trans inclusion. Erika launched an initiative to allow pronouns to be displayed in email signatures, teleconferencing and HR systems to help further embed inclusive practices in the workplace.

Erika has been able to speak not only within the company but also by adding her voice to causes externally. She has used social channels to voice the importance of inclusive healthcare, and how and why it is integral to the future of medicine. Erika is drafting policies inclusive of polyamorous families, who are deeply underserved and ignored. As the Elkton Site Rainbow Alliance lead (an LGBTQ+ employee business resource group), she has had the opportunity to connect with local LGBTQ+ leaders in the VA Shenandoah valley. Through Erika, Merck is able to lend resources and support to create a better, safer environment in a rural, southern region. Ultimately, Erika hopes to leave behind a better future by paying it forward now. Erika is living her life like someone before her time is counting on her — and they are. Erika says “equity will never happen naturally. It requires the disruption of long-held biases and social systems. But the work must be done. That’s never been more obvious.” 

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