Kevin and Anthony on a beach

MITRE Vice President Reflects on Acceptance, Growth, and Pride

As vice president for the Center for Government Effectiveness and Modernization (CGEM), Kevin Toner leads teams applying emerging technologies to transform how federal agencies serve the public. Personally, Toner has experienced firsthand what he calls a “growth curve” for LGBTQIA+ awareness and acceptance in society and at MITRE. He shares his story here. 

young Kevin and Anthony
Kevin Toner, right, and Anthony Pirrotti in 2001, early in their relationship. "No one has the ability to achieve their full potential if they can't live an authentic life," Toner says.

Like many MITRE employees, Kevin Toner keeps a collection of photographs and objects in his office that tells an autobiographical story. There are trophies and awards, photos of rockets whose launch Toner helped oversee while in the Air Force, and photos of his large, smiling family. 

One is a small, framed photograph he used to hide—of his now-husband, Anthony Pirrotti.

“Since my early 20’s, I have identified as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community,” Toner says. “But for a significant portion of my career, I was obligated to keep it to myself.”

Not Asking, Not Telling

Born into a military family, Toner continued the tradition and joined the U.S. Air Force in 1993, signing his active duty paperwork just two weeks before President Clinton proposed the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. 

Being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time—even for something as innocent as having drinks with friends after work—could terminate a military career. 

“Twice, it almost did for me,” Toner says. “It would have been a heartbreaking end to a career I truly loved.”

No one can achieve their full potential if they can’t live an authentic life, Toner contends. His experiences helped him understand the importance of leading a professional team that embraces differences. 

“When we bring out the best in others, we bring out the best in ourselves,” he says. “And we can only do that if we’re able to be honest about who we are.”

The MITRE Family

When Toner moved from Los Angeles to work at MITRE in 2000, it was part of a plan to be closer to Pirrotti, who lived in New Jersey at the time. 

Toner says it took him a few years to be comfortable with himself—and he understands that complex organizations also take time to adjust.

I’m proud of MITRE and our growth curve. I’m part of it.

Kevin Toner, vice president, Center for Government Effectiveness and Modernization

“Though sexual identity wasn’t specifically protected in MITRE’s policies at that point, I recall the company was welcoming,” he says. “But it had some growing to do, too.”

After a break for graduate school, Toner says he was considering future career options when he learned MITRE had expanded its protections to include sexual orientation. 

“To me, the country seemed to be becoming more accepting, and MITRE was changing along with it,” Toner says. “The inclusion of sexual orientation protection absolutely was the difference that brought me back here.”

Steps Forward and Backward

As gender and sexual identity have become increasingly fraught topics in American society, subject to increased regulation, violence, and discrimination, Toner says he’s grateful MITRE continues to work toward a culture of full acceptance.

But that’s not to say there haven’t been bumps along the company’s growth curve.

For example, Toner shares, upon his return to MITRE in 2003, he “wrote out an introduction email to be sent from corporate that mentioned living with my partner and a houseplant. But when the email was sent, the reference to Anthony was deleted.” (The houseplant still got a mention.)

However, the omission turned into what Toner calls “a great discussion” with MITRE officers to clarify what is important to the company. 

“It was an opportunity to learn lessons, and to become better as a result,” he says. “That event helped everyone understand the culture we cultivate in intention and inclusion.” 

Toner continues, “It’s not lost on me that I now have that responsibility as well—to make sure each of us feels valued and can take as much pride in themselves as we take in our work.” 

A Life with Purpose—and Pride 

That photo of Pirrotti that he used to keep hidden? It’s on prominent display on Toner’s desk. This August, they will celebrate their 25th anniversary as a couple.

“This Pride Month, I am incredibly proud of who I am and how I try to grow,” Toner says.

He continues: “I’m also proud of MITRE and our growth curve. I’m part of it.”

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