Out But Not Yet Equal
Taking on 2018 with bold action, strong partnerships and finding where we belong.
It is not news that this year will be a challenging and critical one for LGBTQ communities, communities of color, immigrants, women and other marginalized and targeted groups. And not simply because the current administration continues to dismantle the very structures that provide protections and civil rights to many, but because if we don’t do what it takes to mobilize and take bold action – together – our lives and the lives of the people we care about will be damaged irrevocably.
This year’s elections - and the midterm election in particular – will indeed determine how the country moves forward under the current administration. But it is not just the ballot box that we must be vigilant about. As the new CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, the world’s premier organization dedicated to achieving LGBTQ workplace equality, I also see the struggles happening in boardrooms, state houses, employee resource groups and companies large and small across the country. And there is much need for vigilance and action there as well.
As I begin this leadership journey I bring with me a tremendous amount of inspiration and hope but also a great sense of responsibility and deep understanding of the cultural and economic challenges we will face. Soon after the 2017 election results came in, my two young daughters, who are biracial of Middle Eastern descent, almost immediately began asking questions I believe so many of us are asking ourselves: “Does the President hate us? And “Do we have to hide?”
The first question is one that seems to be answered daily, in the affirmative, depending on who you are: an immigrant, a transgender service member, a survivor of sexual harassment or any number of other groups the President has attacked through word or deed.
Despite the LGBTQ community's gains in recent years in the U.S., there is still more to do nationally. A lot more. Many people – even within the community – do not realize that LGBTQ employees lack workplace protections in 28 states. At the federal level, bills to end LGBT-based discrimination on the job have routinely stalled in Congress. And that is realistically not going to happen in the next few years.
The second question is the one we must respond to with a resounding and collective “no.” I say this from deep personal experience and as one of very few openly bi-plus, pansexual, queer-identified leaders of a national LGBTQ organization. During my first week in this new position, I was repeatedly reminded of my own start with Out & Equal and my personal journey as a member of the LGBTQ community, when I realized my true identity was one I could no longer hide.
In 2002, I attended my first Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Orlando. I had recently joined the LGBTQ ERG at Booz Allen and was excited to participate in what remains the largest gathering of LGBTQ professionals in the world.
I wanted to attend a workshop on Bisexual inclusion, but I didn’t feel ready to tell my coworkers why. Even as an LGBTQ ERG member, even at Summit, I still didn’t know if I could fully come out at work. I was in a closet within a closet as a Bisexual woman. Well, I found my way to that session and found a room so jam-packed I couldn’t find a seat. I was immediately filled with the courage I needed to go back to the office, come out, and start advocating for more inclusion within our ERG and throughout our company. It is no secret that the Bisexual community deals with bias, stereotyping and hostility both within the LGBTQ community and in the larger culture. Bisexuals remain a misunderstood and marginalized part of the community and it is only though visibility and education that we will truly feel included – feel like we belong – in the larger LGBTQ community.
As we move forward my story will inform my work as we reach out across communities of all kinds. I know that many of us have stories like this, finding our bravest self through one experience of feeling less alone, when we see our own story reflected in others.
This year our focus at Out & Equal is on belonging. It is only when we feel like we belong – in our communities, our families, our workplace – that we can truly say we have accomplished our goal of true and complete inclusion.
So let’s call this an “all hands on deck” moment, one where we work together, across communities, sometimes not in full agreement but focused on the big pictures goals that will make 2018 the year the resistance came together.
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