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Showing up as himself

Merck communications executive Scott Wright talks about coming out in midlife, after more than 20 years of marriage, and embracing his true self.

June 11, 2020

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"I get to come to work now, every day, being me."

Scott Wright

When Scott Wright heard the news of gay college student Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder in 1998, he was devastated. But he couldn’t share his feelings with anyone. “On one level, it was immensely tragic, and it frightened me that someone’s life was taken for just being gay, and I felt for him and his family,” Scott recalls. “And the second wave that hit me was the fact that I couldn’t ever talk about how much it bothered me.”

At the time, Scott was newly married to his wife, Cherryl. Early in their relationship, he’d expressed that he “had some confusing feelings about men” but assured her it wasn’t something he wanted to pursue. Whatever doubts he had about himself, Scott never doubted his love for Cherryl. The couple soon had a daughter, and life went on.

“Cherryl and I continued to have a great, loving relationship, but silently I suffered a lot,” says Scott, who despaired as the chasm between his true self and the life he’d built widened.

He watched as the LGBT+ movement gained momentum, building mainstream support and sparking landmark policy changes like the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Obergefell decision, which legalized same-sex marriage in the U.S.

As an employee at Merck, he saw the company consistently champion diversity and inclusion, encouraging employees to “show up as their authentic selves.” He envied people, both gay and straight, who felt the freedom to do that. “I could never imagine what that would be like,” Scott says, “to not constantly battle the fight within, but to be able to just relax, breathe, and live a true life.”

Putting a lot on the line

Scott was in his late 40s when he began to come to terms with his identity as a gay man. “You can’t fight nature; nature will always win,” Scott says. By the end of 2018, after more than 20 years of marriage, he came out to his wife.

“It was really putting a lot on the line,” he says. “The person who was the closest to me was potentially the person I was going to hurt the most.”

Scott Wright and his family
Scott Wright and his daughter

Cherryl ended up becoming one of Scott’s biggest supporters.

“What we knew for sure was that we loved each other, and we wanted to find a way that we could still stay very connected in our lives,” Scott says. “I’m very fortunate that Cherryl has become one of my supporters and advocates; it speaks to the level of respect and love we have for each other.”

Thriving at work

Any fears he had about coming out at work were quickly allayed by the warm reception from his colleagues.

“Merck was the first place I came out more fully,” says Scott. “I’ve just had so much support. Not only am I surviving, I’m thriving. And I literally thought I would go to my grave in the closet.” Scott continued, “without a doubt, the positive experience I’ve had coming out at Merck helped fuel my confidence to come out outside of work.”

He made a point of expressing his gratitude to his manager, Joanna Breitstein, the first person he came out to at work. The positive response and encouragement he received gave him the courage to continue his journey. Scott also credits EVP and Chief Patient Officer Dr. Julie L. Gerberding for creating and fostering the kind of work environment where he, “someone who lived much of his life fearful of who he was, coming out later in life, could be comfortable enough to come out at work and not have to cover anymore.”

“I get to come to work now, every day, being me,” he says. “And that seems like such a simple thing, but if you’ve never lived your entire life covering, where every interaction and conversation you have, it’s always on your mind—it’s tremendously exhausting. And I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Scott Wright at the Ganga River in India
Scott Wright at Jhpiego

The road ahead

Buoyed by the steadfast encouragement from Cherryl and his colleagues, Scott continued coming out to more people, including his daughter, Abby, now 20 and a sophomore in college, who responded by saying, “Dad, I was honestly just waiting for you to tell me. You can just be you now.” He and Cherryl are still married and working to figure out what their relationship is going to look like going forward.

While Scott plans for the future, he also spends a lot of time thinking about the past.

“I only get the privilege of coming out because of the decades and generations of people who came out before me — often risking or losing their life,” he says. “People like Matthew Shepard are part of that history. When you come out, it’s not really about you at that point. It’s about honoring all the people before you. And it’s about sharing your story so you can continue to pave the road for others who are afraid.”