Guest Blogger

Employees Turn Threats into Action

Filed By Guest Blogger | June 06, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: employee resource group, Julie Beach, out and equal, workplace protections

[juliebeach.jpgEditor's Note: Julie Beach is Associate Director, Career Development, for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. She joined the organization in the spring of 2008 as Career Development Manager. Responsible for launching Out & Equal's web-based LGBT career development program, Julie is a seasoned tech expert with an MA in Industrial Psychology emphasizing employment issues for the LGBT community. Julie lives in Marin with her partner of 19 years, a marketing executive for a San Francisco architecture firm, and their German Shepherd, Dover. She enjoys time at their Bolinas cottage, along with biking, home repair and digital photography.

Monday morning, 1991. Frank and I settled into our shared office at the San Francisco headquarters of a major corporation. We were still flying high from an inspiring Pride Weekend. Sipping his latté, he glanced at his monitor. "Julie! Look at the Intranet!"

I quickly logged into the corporate Internet, a newly deployed technology tool we'd just been given, and read, "This Company should never hire bull daggers, dykes (sic) and faggots." I read on. "I was humiliated to see our vehicles on the nightly news festooned with pansies and dykes." And then, "How did these fairies and male ladies (sic) get hired in the first place?" and "I was humiliated by our company supporting this sideshow of misfits."

Like moths to flames, Frank and I logged on each successive morning as hundreds of similar messages rained down, each one digitally signed with the author's name and department. When remarks escalated to threats, we suspected that the posters didn't realize they could be identified, since Intranets were so new. Comforted by assumed anonymity, the attacks went free-style. When our newly-formed LGBT Employee Resource Group (ERG) had dressed in company uniforms and flanked a large company vehicle in the Pride Parade, we'd been naïve not to prepare for this onslaught--if one can ever prepare for insults and threats on the company's dime.

Two weeks into the attacks, our ERG gathered to create a response. Like secret refugees in an underground bunker, we met off company property and off the clock. Many were scared they'd lose their jobs in an impending witch hunt. Many were angry and wanted vengeance. Some said we never should have marched. By meeting's end, we agreed on only one action item--we would take our concerns to the highest-ranking company official who would listen.

The head of human resources met us at 5 p.m. in a company auditorium. Both LGBT and allies from their own respective ERG's attended. First we heard a speech, very canned and polished, stating boilerplate sentiments about our great value to the company. The official pointedly never used the words "gay," "lesbian" or any other relevant term.

When he opened for comments, a tsunami washed over the podium. Flanked by his HR colleagues, he stood like a wooden post listening as two themes emerged: Why did the company allow the offensive postings to continue without taking action? Why had the company treated LGBT employees differently from other employees who were protected by company policy?

Some angry employees threatened to go to the gay press, which for a company headquartered in a city known the world over as a gay Mecca, meant risking embarrassing boycotts and protests. The meeting ended on a sour emotional note when employees spontaneously stood and turned their backs on the HR official when he said, "You people have to understand that many employees disapprove of your lifestyle. Why do you force yourselves on them?"

By next morning, the employee forum was closed with this statement: "Due to inappropriate remarks posted by a small number of employees, this forum is closed."

Many ERG members believed the removal of the employee forum punished all employees for the actions of specific employees. While eventually HR sent around a memo encouraging workplace courtesy, many employees felt the punishment did not fit the crime.

Yet, because we stood fast together as an ERG, for the first time, company officials realized that LGBT employees were a true part of the company and needed to be treated as such. As our ERG meetings grew, we became the fire that caused the company to become one of the first to grant full domestic partner benefits, including granting pension benefits to surviving domestic partners.

Today this same company remains a strong supporter of its LGBT employees and has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to causes in support of our equality.


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Good for you and good for your company. Thanks for telling us about this.

Julie, the efforts of pioneers such as yourself have made this country safer for all of us. It must have been scary to take a stand when there had been so little precedent of success. Thank you for your courageous action.

Wow! That was scary and the response was even scarier. Thank you for this fabulous post, reminding us of how far we have come and what it has taken to get us here. You are a wonderful writer. More, more!

It seems so long ago when shit like that used to be allowed. (Until you reach for your nearest blog and see it still happening day after day.) Thanks for doing your part to stop the madness, Julie.

Rick Sours | June 7, 2009 2:52 PM

As a Gay man who came out in 1972, I remember
in the 1970's and 1980's how things were in the
work environment. I can remember going to social functions of members of the LGBT community and could go around the room, in my mind, and count
the number of LGBT individuals that had at some point in their life been fired from a job. In my
opinion, we all know that the real real was because they were LGBT but the powers that be usually had
some other excuse.

As someone who just got back from marching in her first pride parade, and with the school where I work sending a group to march for the first time, I thank you for paving the way for us.

And what is so amazing is the we recently did a training with this company and the reception was so positive. Having been around on all sides of workplace equality for years, I know it takes small steps and dediciated people like you! Hope this encourages other to keep on pressing for full LGBT equality. If you want to check out our training programs here at Out & Equal go to: http://outandequal.org/training-programs.

Thanks for all the work and the story!

Thanks for this personal-professional account, Julie! ERGs - employee resource groups - really have come a long way since the time when they needed to be in hiding. But I know that there are still LGBT and LGBT employee groups that still fail to receive recognition from there employers as worthy of non-discrimination protection. Seeing this change, and the continued need, is what keeps me committed to my job of helping LGBT employee groups stay connected, motivated and informed.

I remember similar off-site, off-the-clock meetings at my company in NYC not quite fifteen years ago. It is great to stop and reflect periodically on just how much progress we have made, thanks to people like you! Happy Pride.

Emily Frank | June 8, 2009 5:36 PM

Wow, powerful story, Julie! Thanks for sharing it. Hard to read, but a good reminder that what we do every day makes a difference.

Rick Sours | June 9, 2009 12:27 PM

While working for the federal government, I was
required to attend Diversity Training on a yearly basis. Since sexual orientation, is not covered under Title Seven or in the Mission Statement of my organization, it was not required to be included in the training. I spoke of issues dealing with members of the LGBT community at this organization and in some cases my comments were welcomed and in other cases the instuctor told me what I was speaking about was outside the scope of this training. I was told by one intructor that sexual orientation was a sexual preference and a choice and should not be
have any protect. Most of my co-worker welcomed by commentsm but some were openly hostile.

Julie,
That is an inspiring story. It is an example of how we can make an impact and help create significant change. You showed courage and were not afraid of retribution.

I look forward to your next post.
Simma

Reading your piece really took me back to the days when several coworkers and I started the LGBT ERG at a government contractor. We eventually campaigned for and obtained DP benefits in the late 90s, though today they are still not equal to those heterosexuals enjoy. There were people who were too scared to enroll in the benefits for fear about what list their names would land on.