Alan Kan, a Senior Program Architect at Salesforce, shares his journey navigating intersecting identities and advocating for LGBTQ+ inclusion in tech and beyond. Discover his story and insights on acceptance, barriers faced by intersectional groups, and the importance of representation.

Tell us about your accomplishments to date?

The experience navigating my Chinese and British identities with a Christian upbringing was a complex one. As a young immigrant from Hong Kong, this journey was made even more challenging by the internalised shame surrounding my sexuality. In 2011, I discovered scuba diving and the non-profit LGBTQ+ diving club GLUG, it was a turning point, providing me a supportive community through the sport that helped me embark on a journey of self-acceptance. Fuelled by my newfound confidence after becoming a certified divemaster, and motivated by a desire to give back, I took on a leadership role at GLUG in 2016, serving as the membership coordinator and organising dive trips in the UK and abroad for five years. I revamped their website, membership systems, and marketing strategies, boosting memberships to create a safe, supportive and inclusive club for all, including trans, non-binary, and people with disabilities.

In 2016, I joined Salesforce, a company whose core values of equality and inclusion resonated deeply. This safe space allowed me to gradually embrace my authentic self at work. The 1-1-1 philanthropy model (product, time, and resources) allows employees like me to dedicate volunteer time to causes we care about. In 2020, During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I volunteered my skills pro bono to Just Like Us. I helped them implement technology solutions for managing virtual school talks and diversity events. Their mission resonated deeply with me, as growing up Asian and LGBTQ+ in the UK, I felt a significant lack of role models. Over the past two years, I’ve committed significant volunteer time to help Just Like Us. Specifically, I streamlined their donation and fundraising processes and managed their ambassador and school talks programs on the Salesforce platform. This work has empowered them to champion LGBTQ+ inclusion in schools across the UK, making a real difference for countless students. It’s been a privilege to blend my passion for LGBTQ+ equality with my tech skills, making a real impact and supporting an organisation like Just Like Us, whose critical mission I deeply admire. Being recognised as their 2023 Corporate Volunteer of the Year was a humbling honour.

Since taking on the role of Philanthropy Lead for Outforce UK in summer 2023, I’ve been excited to contribute to the employee-led equality group for the LGBTQ+ community at Salesforce. In late-February 2024, I organised a panel discussion celebrating Lunar New Year at work, featuring diverse East Asian perspectives and inviting a trans school ambassador from Just Like Us. In early-March 2024, I’m hosting a reverse-mentoring session for 10 senior UK leaders. Two Just Like Us school ambassadors from transgender and non-binary communities will share their experiences and discuss ways leaders can support LGBTQ+ employees at Salesforce. This open discussion format fosters an invaluable learning environment for both mentors and mentees and strengthens empathy. I am also so working to develop partnerships with other charities like SafePlace International, we are launching initiatives including some pro bono IT enablement projects and a mentorship program where Salesforce employees will serve as one-on-one mentors for LGBTQ+ refugees, guiding them in their social impact projects. Furthermore, we’re planning fundraising events for our charity partners and educational events for UK employees later during Pride month this year These events will collaborate with other equality groups like BOLDforce (Black community) and AbilityForce (visible/invisible disabilities) to create positive change across intersectional groups, addressing the overlapping challenges faced by marginalised communities.

Beyond my day job as an architect, I lead the EMEA Certified Technical Architect (CTA) coaching program. This program equips individuals with the advanced Salesforce skills and knowledge required to earn the prestigious CTA credential. My own experiences inform my efforts to champion diversity and inclusion within the program. Many aspiring CTAs from underrepresented groups have confided in me about the barriers and obstacles they face, whether self-doubt being women of colour or from LGBTQ+ communities, or those living with invisible disabilities such as having neurodiversity-related challenges. I’m proud to have championed initiatives globally to ensure the CTA program offers equitable opportunities, mentorship, and supporting resources for everyone.

A decade has passed since same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK, a significant milestone for equality. Hearing my 6-year-old niece excitedly tell her classmates about her two uncles marrying next month, and her eagerness to be a flower girl, warms my heart. This progress fuels my passion as a champion for change, and reinforces my belief that everyone can make a positive impact at work and in communities. I’m excited to see what we can achieve together in the years to come.

What are the barriers in representing many intersectional identity groups?

Growing up as an Asian gay man raised in a devoted Christian family, shame was a significant barrier I faced. Award-winning actor Andrew Scott, who came out publicly in 2013, said “To be emancipated from shame has been genuinely the biggest achievement of my life.” I deeply relate to his words. As a young immigrant from Hong Kong, the expectation of marriage and having children weighed heavily on me as the eldest son, a common experience amongst most Chinese families. When I realised I was attracted to men, the shame I felt and the fear of disappointing my family became quite a heavy burden. I felt I ought to be a better son as my parents sacrificed so much and worked tirelessly in order to move to the UK searching for better lives for the whole family. In my 20s, seeing headlines on dating apps like ‘No Asians, No Fems, No Fats’ and sometimes being blocked by other users simply because of my race and perceived lack of masculinity was incredibly hurtful. It impacted my self-esteem and made me reluctant to speak up and challenge stereotypes.

Years have gone by, I’ve found the strength to overcome the shame that once held me back. I’ve learned to embrace my authentic self and celebrate the diversity of my experiences. I choose to use my energy and passion to empower others by serving as a visible role model within my intersectional communities and actively supporting marginalised groups. This month, I organised and took part in a panel discussion at work for Lunar New Year celebrations last month. This event, a collaboration between equality groups at Salesforce – Outforce and Asiapacforce – featured diverse East Asian perspectives and allies. It also included trans and non-binary representation. We discussed topics from how Lunar New Year is celebrated across different cultures, to giving back to communities, ways to challenge and combat stereotypes, and what allyship means for the audience. Events like this are about more than education and celebration of intersectional diversity; they’re about breaking down barriers and building inclusive communities for all.

Do you think acceptance is improving?

It was a hot summer day in 1997. I had just turned 21 and descended on London with some university friends. We marched in the London Pride Parade and celebrated at the Clapham Common pride festival. The UK’s Eurovision triumph that year, and with “Things Can Only Get Better” by D:Ream playing on the radio, echoed our youthful hopes as we protested against Section 28 and the inequality of age of consent. My personal coming out journey has been bumpy and even rough at times. I vividly remember the heartbreak of my parents’ tears when they found out I had been to London Pride that summer. They pleaded with me to keep my identity secret in workplaces and among extended family, fearing discrimination and limited career prospects. Their words planted a seed of doubt, making it a challenge for me, as a young adult, to fully live my authentic self as a gay Asian man, both in my career and personal life.

Fast forward to today, and I have the privilege of planning a wedding celebration with friends and families from both sides, proud to marry Josef as my husband in April 2024. My dad treats Josef like his own son, and our extended families in Hong Kong embrace him wholeheartedly. My late mother would have adored Josef if she were still alive today. Overall, from my own experiences, LGBTQ+ acceptance in the UK has improved immensely, and I’m deeply grateful for all the people over the decades of activism and diversity work that made this progress possible.

However, this progress hasn’t reached everyone equally. While strides have been made, many LGBTQ+ people – particularly those within marginalised communities such as trans and non-binary individuals, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ refugees, and those living with disabilities – still face significant challenges in the UK. Many countries globally still have discriminatory laws and social attitudes, even actively prosecuting LGBTQ+ people. Closer to home, a recent research by the LGBTQ+ charity Just Like Us, which surveyed more than 3,695 young people aged 18 to 25, found that gay men were the most likely to feel unsafe at work, with 31% saying they were not open about their sexuality in the workplace. The challenges facing LGBTQ+ people today are still very real, but my own journey shows that change is possible. With continued effort and an unwavering belief in equality for all, we can create a brighter, more inclusive future. There’s work ahead, and I am more motivated than ever to contribute further to this cause.

What does been nominated in your category mean to you?

Being nominated for the British LGBT Awards Future Leaders is a tremendous honour. It acknowledges the work I’m doing to promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity – both within my professional workplace and throughout the broader community. Seeing the impact of my tech-focused volunteering with Just Like Us, a charity that empowers LGBTQ+ young people by ensuring they are safe, feel they belong, and have role models I wish I had in school, fuels my passion to keep making a positive difference.

This nomination further motivates me as I expand my role as Philanthropy Lead in Outforce UK at Salesforce, where I strive to contribute even more to this cause. It positions me as a potential LGBTQ+ role model and future leader, inspiring others to advocate for equality and build inclusive spaces. 

I’m so grateful for the collective efforts from Outforce UK at Salesforce, the amazing work of partnering charities such as Just Like Us and SafePlace International, and the impact we make in breaking barriers and championing diversity and inclusion. This nomination is a testament to the power of overcoming shame and self-doubt. It makes me even more committed to fighting for a world where everyone, regardless of their intersectional identities, can thrive and reach their full potential. I’m excited by the prospect of learning from and collaborating with other nominees, future LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion leaders, to accelerate progress in this work.