This missive was sent by one of my favourite aunts regarding corporate advocacy of LGBT+ rights.
I began my career working for small employers who had absolutely neither incentive nor desire to be inclusive of LGBT employees. The owner set the tone and the rules. If you wanted to eat and pay the rent, you sucked up their comments and practices. One could quit on principle but there weren’t many enlightened employers so mostly you sucked it up.
Eventually I worked my way up and out and into the warm embrace of several very large corporations. (Here it comes.) I participated in fledgling LGBT employee groups that worked hard to educate and influence corporate leadership to understand and adopt LGBT-inclusive policies and practices. Corporate leaders listened and RESPONDED. They evolved their thinking. They educated themselves then reflected those new values back to their employees and the communities they served. They said, “Sorry I’m late to the party but I get it now. I want to be a part of the larger societal solution. We won’t tolerate subtle or overt LGBT discrimination in the workplace. And, we will put our money where our mouth is and sponsor your LGBT events and charities.
As a result, they funded GLAAD and HRC and The Gay Men’s Health Crisis during the height of the AIDS crisis and local LGBT centers. They created safe places of employment around the world and paid our salaries while we worked for LGBT charities on company time. And we remained employed. And got promoted. And made money so we could pay the rent, make our own charitable contributions, pay for our families and eventually retire.
A cynical take is that they did it purely for self promotion, to sell products. I didn’t then and don’t now have a problem with that. Rail against capitalism or the stock market system but public corporations are employers of millions and they are what we have right now. They are legally bound to deliver profit to shareholders. Charitable giving does good while enhancing brand recognition. And who are the largest shareholders? Public and private pensions. So public corporation performance pays for this lesbian’s food and rent, and for Beth’s food and rent and fuels the pension your parents will live on one day. I’m not saying that corporations aren’t guilty of other things – unharnessed greed for outsized profit, failure to raise women and people of color to the highest ranks and many other things. I’m just saying please don’t ignore the positive changes we worked for and accomplished. And here’s another old fart opinion – there is no gay pride in Beijing so I’m not signing up for communism yet.
I enjoyed domestic partner benefits and worked in environments where I could be out and safe loooong before my government recognized my relationship. I witnessed the power of having a big corporation support of openly lesbian plant manager in small town Illinois. Let me tell you, being a dyke in a factory – let alone the head dyke in charge – is an extremely difficult job. And it can be very hard on your wife and children. But the opinion and actions of the corporation, as the biggest employer in town, makes a huge difference and it influences the way the town treats you, your family and your fellow gay workers. And that goes for employees around the globe. You can’t change anti-LGBT sentiment in another country but you can certainly make jobs safe for LGBT employees and influence public opinion by the values your corporation enforces within their four walls and with their suppliers
So, that’s it. After a hot summer week outside of a bar in 1969, lots of people then had to wage a very slow daily battle to move the needle and some very large corporations helped.
Having said all that, there is a tiny fraction of a workforce that is LGBT and typically they are the easiest, trendiest, whitest societal ill for a company to address.
We have a Beth Ford and a Tim Cook at the top. I have worked with two or three white transgender employees who rose to ranks just below middle management. A large number of LGBT youth of color are homeless in their prime working years and transgender people of color are routinely murdered as they resort to employment on the streets. California based tech firms seem better at employing people of color and LGBT but then they struggle getting women up the line. Americans need to use their purchasing power to influence huge middle American consumer goods companies to go farther and deeper to heal societal ills.
I hope that while world injustices occupy your mind through study and activism, you are finding pockets of hope and are treasuring your youth and good health. We love you and are delighted to live vicariously through your photos and writing. Stay strong but don’t forget to have fun.