Meet the gay guy juggling family life with a top job at the United Nations

In partnership with myGwork


Words: Zoe Schulz, myGwork; picture: supplied

Luis Sarabia Utrilla from The United Nations speaks to myGwork about how as a parent he strives for perfection, but we have to remember it’s okay to ask for help.

Luis was 17 when he stood outside The United Nations Headquarters in New York and told his parents how he dreamed to one day work there.

Today he’s a Spanish translator in their Geneva office having joined the team in 2013. Born in Madrid, he relocated for the role and met his now-husband, David, two weeks after arriving in Switzerland. Two years ago, their family grew with the addition of their twin daughters, and their journey as parents began.

To land his dream job, Luis first had to sit a competitive exam alongside 2000 other applicants and was one of less than 20 who was accepted. He’s now been a part of The United Nations team for eight years and worked on projects such as translating the Resolutions of the Human Rights Council and texts for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Contributing to such crucial projects is something he finds very thrilling, as he explains: “Spanish speaking delegates do not always fully grasp the original texts in English, and they need us to be able to negotiate. So, to know that is actually very nerve-wracking because we really have to hand it in on time. But it is also very interesting and motivating to know that what you're doing has an impact and it helps people understand each other and negotiate in these very important settings.”

Luis joined The United Nations at 27, considerably young for such a position. He considers himself lucky that he has always been able to be open about his sexuality and who he is at work and credits this in part to the thorough training and awareness campaigns they run on LGBTQ+ equality throughout the organisation.

Luis also prides his section on being incredibly welcoming to everyone and remembers how touched he was when they all organised flowers when he married his husband. “My co-workers see me as an individual with different aspects, including the fact that I'm gay,” Luis shares.

“But this is just another aspect of my life and that doesn't define me, in my career, or as a colleague. It is not only tolerating LGBTQ+ people but also that I know I can speak about my husband, I can speak about the fact that I have children through surrogacy. It’s not only an atmosphere of respect but also an atmosphere of encouragement.”

On top of his translation role, he is also the UN-GLOBE Co-ordinator for the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), an association created to push for LGBTQ+ workplace equality, where he helps organise events in Geneva and supports LGBTQ+ colleagues across the organisation. Through this he also helps colleagues on a case-by-case basis.

For example, he was able to support a fellow translator in their New York office with his case for paternity leave when he was adopting via surrogacy. Their current policy isn’t fully inclusive of surrogacy, so this is something Luis and UN-GLOBE are passionate about changing. As a parent himself, he knows how stressful this time can be and therefore how important it is to be supported in the workplace. This is why he has made it a priority to be there for those who need it and drawing on his experiences as a parent makes him better able to help his colleagues, as a translator and a member of UN-GLOBE.

Luis always knew he would one day want to become a parent, admitting that this was one of his only concerns about being gay when he was younger. “I knew I wanted children since I was very young” Luis shares “I came out to myself when I was 14, and to my parents when I was 15. And the minute that I came out to myself, I thought, ‘Okay, so how am I going to have kids?’ I never had any problem with being gay and I wasn't torturing myself about it at all. But that was an idea that I had to put my mind to.”

So, when Luis met David, the hope to start a family one day was one of the first things that they discussed. With adoption not an option, as it is still not allowed for same-sex couples in Switzerland, they turned to surrogacy. This turned out to be harder for them than expected, having to try five times over four years, much longer than usual. It is a process he describes as an emotional rollercoaster.

However, two years ago they were blessed with twin girls and he felt that the difficulty of getting there made the moment even more precious.

“It's not even just happy," he says. "It was just thrilling when we got to the US and our girls had just been born and we could hold them for the very first time. It was all the more amazing because we have been through all of that.”

Luis is grateful for every moment he has had with the girls since and believes it’s lived up to everything he hoped when he was younger. “It is the most amazing experience of our lives.” he shares “And they just change so much every single day, every single week. That is just a marvel to watch. To be able to, if you can actually have five minutes of the day, just watch from outside.”

Despite parenting being a wonderful and gratifying experiencing, it is naturally also difficult, especially with twins. Luis explained how he struggled to ask for support when he needed it, in part because of how hard they tried to have the girls, he didn’t feel he was entitled to help.

“It’s also very, very difficult at times because some people idealise parenting. And I do it myself too because I love it. And I wanted this since I was very young. But you never know what it entails until you actually become a parent. And so, I have to say that one of the things that I found difficult was that, because we couldn't have children naturally, we had to go through all this process, I didn't feel I had the right to say at times, it is too difficult. That I needed help from my parents or friends, to take care of the girls for an hour or two. And that's something that I've been able to overcome.”

Part of this, he believes stems from always wanting to keep up appearances and to do the best job for our children. However, sometimes to be the best parent we also need to admit it’s okay to need extra support.

“We always want to give the impression that we're the perfect parents, that we can do everything, and we can do it on our own. Because if you do need help, then maybe it means that you're not so good of a parent. You see other couples who don’t, and you go ‘Okay, so if they do it, why can I not?’ But if we speak more openly about it and the more everyone talks about it, the more it will become the norm. Because it is hard if you want to do a good job. Since it is the hardest job, it is normal that sometimes you need help, because nobody's perfect. If you always have these high expectations that you need to fulfill, then you won't enjoy parenthood as much, and for me that is the most important thing, to be able to enjoy parenthood.”

Overcoming this need for perfection and learning to lean on others for help helped Luis not only to be a better parent but to enjoy time with his family more. It’s one more of us need to learn how to do, although it can be a difficult conversation to start, this makes it all the more important.

Normalising asking for help is an important lesson within our families, but also in the workplace and one that Luis will take with him, as a parent, a husband and as he continues to support his LGBTQ+ colleagues at The United Nations.

The United Nations are a proud partner of myGwork, the LGBTQ+ business community.