By Michelle Smith, Project Engineer, Boeing
I’m often asked by first time Summit attendees, what should they expect? The bottom line is that they will be in the company of thousands of individuals from all industries and geographies that either already support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender equality in the workplace – and are there to improve their ability to bring that message to their companies – or are there to learn.
Let me relate my first experience at the Summit, September 2006 in Chicago. Boeing had recently formed its LGBTA Affinity Group and added gender identity to its non-discrimination policy (sexual orientation had been added earlier). Boeing had also just released its transgender transition guidelines. And I was just coming out as transgender in the workplace and was preparing to transition.
One of my affinity group executive champions offered to sponsor my attendance and I wanted to attend the Summit as Michelle, but was not out at work completely and had not declared my intention to transition. So, I worked with our Global Diversity organization and got permission to attend as Michelle. It was going to be the first time that I was traveling as Michelle, being Michelle for close to a week, and attending a conference as Michelle. I was registered under my male legal name at the time along with my travel to meet TSA requirements. The trip was non-eventful. When I arrived at the Summit, the wonderful staff at registration changed my name badge and other information to indicate Michelle.
It was a wonderful Summit. I was accepted without question. I picked six workshops to attend (out of over a 100 that were offered). I talked with exhibitors. I sat with the Boeing team at the Gala Dinner. I learned so much and became much more comfortable with myself.
In January 2007, I started my transition from male to female at Boeing in the defense division in St Louis.
My Summit experience and the problem-free transition experience at Boeing convinced me that everyone needed their workplaces to operate and support their employees like mine. Not that I am looking at this totally through rosy glasses. Is the environment perfect everywhere? No, but it is changing.
So, I began to support Out and Equal financially and at the Summit. Over the next 7 Summits, I volunteered, presented workshops, and joined the Transgender Advisory Council. Last year I took on the position of co-chair of the Transgender Advisory Council and also serve as Co-Chair of the St. Louis Regional Affiliate.
I took over managing Boeing’s presence at the Summit including coordinating workshop and award proposals; exhibit hall logistics; and helping attendees new and those returning to have the greatest experience at Summit that they could.
The Summit was a turning point in my life and it all started by getting to my first one and interacting with all the great people who attend. The educational opportunities, the transfer of best practices, the networking and the celebration of successes along with my commitment to workplace equality keeps me returning.
I hope that your first, second, or tenth Summit serves to bring you that level of comfort in who you are and in what you are capable of doing at your workplace.
See you at in San Francisco, November 3-6.
Michelle Smith works at Boeing Defense, Space and Security as Project Engineer, Ventures. She also serves as the co-chair of both the Out & Equal Transgender Advisory Committee and Out & Equal St. Louis.
P.S. The 2014 Summit takes place in San Francisco, November 3-6. Registration rates begin at just $125 and there are also scholarships available for youth, non-US NGOs and via our Transgender, Bisexual and People of Color Advisory Committees. Click here for more information and to register. Early bird registration rates are available up until July 31, 2014. Register by that date to dave big.
P.P.S. Newsflash: We have just announced the first of our keynote speakers for the Summit, tennis and human rights legend: Billie Jean King!