By Stephanie Battaglino, Founder and Owner of Follow Your Heart LLC

Magic happens each September in Atlanta, Georgia. For 24 years, the transgender community has gathered together to renew friendships, to socialize, to learn and to just be. The magic I describe is the Southern Comfort Conference. It is the largest gathering of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in the United States. It is, for many that make the pilgrimage, a transgender “Mecca” of sorts.

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It certainly was for me. When I attended my first SCC back in 2005 I had yet to come out at work as my authentic self. Many of my friends who had attended in previous years told me, “you just have to go . . . it’s amazing . . . it’s like nothing you’ll ever experience. It can help you. The online chat rooms I would visit back then were brimming with anticipatory conversations many months before the event. So this got me to thinking that this should be something I should plan for. Anyone who was anyone in the Trans community would be there. How could I not go? I just have to do this.

So I did. At that time, I was out in other aspects of my life, but I was still working on a number of others with regard to my transitional journey. I had been to other smaller conferences before, but what greeted me at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia that year I was not prepared for – it changed my life. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people there – nearly 1,000 – some who were just like me and others who were not. I was struck by not only the size of the event, but also by the vast diversity within our community. I had never seen anything like it. All shapes, all sizes, the full spectrum of our amazing community was on display. A coat of many colors, to say the least.

One of the many seminars on offer. Photo courtesy of SCC

One of the many seminars on offer. Photo courtesy of SCC

But the coolest thing, perhaps the most impactful thing to me, was that I could feel an overwhelming sense of family running through every aspect of the conference: the workshops, the plenary sessions, and the annual gala. It made me realize that, despite the differences in our outward appearances, we are a community. Yes, perhaps the most diverse community within a diverse community, but a collective just the same. We gather together at Southern Comfort to embrace this diversity, to learn from each other, to celebrate our uniqueness and draw strength from each other for the journey ahead.

Attendees at Southern Comfort, photo courtesy of SCC.

Attendees at Southern Comfort. Photo courtesy of SCC.

This is why I am so proud and excited to be a part of Out & Equal’s partnership with the Southern Comfort Conference this year. We have worked again with SCC to create a one-day program in the Ashford Room on Friday, September 5th that focuses specifically on issues of workplace equality impacting the Transgender community. The Out & Equal Workplace Advocates events will feature three panels/workshops throughout the day, in addition to general sessions that feature the leading voices in the LGBT equality movement from the Transgender community. I am thrilled to be moderating one of these panels: Finding and Keeping a Job while Trans.

I look forward to seeing you at the Southern Comfort Conference, September 3 to 7! Join me and together we will create workplace equality, a community and, a family.

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Stephanie Battaglino

Editor’s Note: This is the 2nd of two blogs we have published this year about the Southern Comfort Conference. Read the other: Southern Comfort Conference – Empowering The Transgender Community by Out & Equal Board Member, Lori Fox.

Out & Equal Staffer Chris Huqueriza interviews James Felton Keith, a member of the Mayor of Detroit’s rejuvenation team.

Detroit is ready for a comeback. After decades of dealing with poverty and bankruptcy issues, the city is looking to return to prosperity. For Detroit native James Felton Keith, one answer is a more visible LGBT community.

In other struggling cities, LGBT populations are known for moving into and improving long-ignored areas. Keith sees the same potential in Detroit, especially in the workplace.

“Detroit needs to establish a presence of LGBT professionals to grow and thrive,” Keith said.

James Fenton Keith: Looking to re-engineer the Motor City

James Fenton Keith: Looking to re-engineer the Motor City

But there are obstacles. Same-sex marriage is still banned in Michigan. It’s also one of the 32 states where workers can be fired because of their sexual orientation or identity.

It’s why Keith initially abandoned his hometown, like many of Detroit’s LGBT natives.

“Detroit has a place in my heart, it’s where I was born and raised,” Keith, 32, said. “But it was not a place where I could thrive as a person.”

He left Detroit in 1999 to travel and work in different parts of the world: Israel, South Africa, China, New York, Alabama, Georgia, and Connecticut.

But now, he’s giving Detroit a second chance because he sees a turning point in both Detroit’s economy and the city’s willingness to accept LGBT people.

Today, Keith is an out bisexual man who has returned to Detroit as a mayoral appointee. Keith’s job at City Hall is to create a communication strategy for business development.

Keith also serves as the president of the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce. And he wants to start an Out & Equal regional affiliate in Detroit.

Out & Equal currently has 19 affiliates across the U.S.

Out & Equal currently has 19 affiliates across the U.S.

Just since last year, Keith has rallied support from many of the major companies based or with a large presence in Michigan: General Motors, Delta Airlines, Chrysler, JCPenny’s, Chase Bank, Ford, Blue Cross, Morgan Stanley as well as the University of Michigan. Keith has also contacted several banks like Comerica Bank and Trust and PNC Bank.

“The banks are really interested,” Keith added. “They want to know how to work and build the community organically.”

Keith hopes to establish a relationship with businesses big and small to combat workplace discrimination by encouraging LGBT professionals to establish Employee Resource Groups.

Keith said now is the time for entrepreneurs to come to Detroit and for LGBT entrepreneurs to be out and open.

He noted that Detroit’s economy has been recovering and on the LGBT front, Detroit’s current mayor is one of the first to acknowledge that the LGBT community exists and is growing.

Delta Air Lines in the Detroit Gay Pride Parade

Delta Air Lines in the Detroit Gay Pride Parade

“This is the perfect opportunity in hopes of starting careers and businesses and rebuilding the economy,” said Keith.

Keith plans to attend the 2014 Out & Equal Workplace Summit on November 3 to 6 in San Francisco.

“It’s great opportunity,” said Keith, adding: “The value of Out & Equal is that it convenes like-minded individuals and provides a united voice to build workplace equality everywhere, especially in Detroit!”

Chris Huqueriza

Chris Huqueriza

Out & Equal supports a network of 19 volunteer led and run regional affiliates around the country. Starting an affiliate is a great way to advance workplace equality in your city or region. 

By Jennifer C. Pizer – Law and Policy Project National Director, Lambda Legal

The U.S. Supreme Court closed out its 2013-2014 term with Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a decision whose repercussions already are being felt and promise to echo for years to come. By a 5-4 vote, the Court held that religiously minded business owners essentially may “line-item veto” birth control coverage out of their employees’ health plans. Many wonder if the ruling means the Court’s conservative majority has succeeded in elevating religious interests over equality in the marketplace. As the dust settles and immediate punditry has come and gone, I think we must answer “yes,” religion has dominated over women’s reproductive freedom. And, some changes in the legal doctrine are problematic for everyone.

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But, for LGBT equality, the answer is “no”—religion has not prevailed generally over civil rights. And, this will remain the case if we continue making the case for equality and collaborating within a broad, inclusive movement against the use of religion to discriminate. You’ll find a more detailed look at the ins and outs of the Hobby Lobby decision here: What the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Decision Means for LGBT People.

As I explain in that post, in time, Hobby Lobby could stand for either of at least two propositions. It could mean that religious interests of those engaged in business should be accommodated if and only if there is no harm to others. That has been the rule in religious freedom cases for decades.

On the other hand, it could mean religious interests now trump other interests in many circumstances, with believers entitled to impose their views at others’ expense in ways rejected in the past. We flagged a range of potential problems for LGBT people and people living with HIV in our Hobby Lobby amicus brief and Justice Ginsburg called out some of them in her passionate dissenting opinion.

The Court, I fear, has ventured into a

Recent events suggest an alarming push for religion to trump is already underway. In two cases brought by business owners objecting to all birth control services (Gilardi v. HHS and Autocam Corp. v. Burwell), the Supreme Court just ordered the appellate courts to reconsider owners’ arguments that the courts had rejected. In a third case, Wheaton College v. Burwell, the Court granted temporary relief to one of the dozens of religiously affiliated employers objecting even to using the HHS form to be excused from providing contraception coverage. In a scathing dissent joined by both other women on the Court, Justice Sotomayor said:

121246469-associate-justice-of-the-supreme-court-sonia-sotomayor.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlargeI have deep respect for religious faith, for the important and selfless work performed by religious organizations, and for the values of pluralism protected by [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] and the Free Exercise Clause. But the Court’s [order] in this case allows Wheaton’s beliefs … to trump the democratic interest in allowing the Government to enforce the law. … Our jurisprudence has over the years drawn a careful boundary between majoritarian democracy and the right of every American to practice his or her religion freely. We should not use [this rare form of court order] to work so fundamental a shift in that boundary.

The day after Hobby Lobby, conservative religious leaders petitioned President Obama to include a broad exemption in his imminent executive order forbidding discrimination against LGBT workers by federal contractors. Three weeks later, the executive order did not include an LGBT-specific religious carve out. But, what many in the LGBT community have not known is that religious organizations already have permission to discriminate against LGBT workers on federally funded projects thanks to President George W. Bush. President Obama’s new executive order does not change that, although a coalition of progressive religious and civil rights groups are pressing the Administration to do so.

Thank You Mr. President!

The Hobby Lobby decision emphasizes that it does not authorize employment discrimination. And yet, it did grant for-profit businesses unprecedented religious rights and has inspired some large, ultra-conservative religious organizations to demand still more freedom to discriminate. This means it is more important than ever that we work for clear, effective nondiscrimination laws.

That is why Out & Equal, Lambda Legal, and many other organizations have withdrawn support from the Senate-approved version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which allows religious organizations—including hospitals, nursing homes and many social services agencies—to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Of course churches, other houses of worship, and religious schools must have full control over their selection of clergy and those who teach religion and lead religious activities. But when an organization invites people of all faiths (and no faith) to apply for jobs doing non-religious work (such as food service, janitorial, medical and business functions), those workers need to be treated just as fairly as in any work setting. No child labor or cheating on wages. No toxic chemicals in the air. And no toxic discrimination either.

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Once upon a time, Southern restaurants used religion to explain racial segregation. Businesses have cited the Bible to justify paying women less than men. Attitudes about race and sex discrimination have evolved through a powerful mix of advocacy and outrage. This past spring, bills to allow religiously motivated anti-LGBT discrimination appeared in too many states, including Kansas, Georgia and Arizona. Because community advocates, corporate leadership, and elected officials stood together, fairness prevailed. Now, given Hobby Lobby’s thumb on the scale for religious interests, it is ever more important that civic, business and affirming faith leaders create an urgent chorus of support for explicit, effective and equal legal protections for LGBT people at every level of government. Our extraordinarily talented, diverse American community deserves no less.

Jennifer C. Pizer

Jennifer C. Pizer

Posted by: outandequal | July 17, 2014

Get Ready For The 2014 Out & Equal Workplace Summit

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.

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The Summit is an unparalleled learning experience

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.

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A warm welcome at Summit registration

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.

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Michelle and friends at the 2006 Summit in Chicago

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.

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2006 Summit Keynote, George Takei: Live Long & Prosper

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 2012

Michelle Smith

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. 

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2014 Keynote: Billie Jean King

 

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!

 

 

Posted by: outandequal | July 14, 2014

Houston Sees Red and Passes an Equal Rights Ordinance

Editor’s note: Opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (#HERO) want to repeal it. If they succeed they can use it as a playbook for rolling back LGBT rights across the US. Conversely, the campaign to pass and defend #HERO could serve as a template in your hometown.

By Mike Craig, Chair Emeritus – Out & Equal Houston

Edited by Jessica Franklin

Houston Mayor Annise Parker – the first openly gay mayor in US history – and the City Council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, also known as “HERO” on May 28 this year. It was the culmination of many months of work led by Mayor Parker, Council Members Ellen Cohen and Mike Laster, and a large coalition of business and community leaders and organizations.

Out & Equal Houston was proud to be part of the coalition of organizations that came together to help pass the ordinance.

Annise-Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The coalition participated in weekly teleconference strategy calls, and provided research and talking points highlighting the ordinance’s benefit to businesses throughout the city. Out & Equal Houston sent out action alerts and updates, urging equal rights advocates to attend Council meetings and to contact their Council member to voice their support for this important measure. Out & Equal Houston also provided guidelines for how to effectively speak in front of Council in the one minute allotted per speaker. And everyone was urged to wear red – to provide a powerful visual message of equality and solidarity.

On May 28, all of the preparation paid off as speaker after speaker stood before Council to tell their story. The testimony was powerful – as telling our stories always is. Equality speakers that evening outnumbered the opposition almost 7 to 1. Speaker after speaker stood up, in some cases risking their livelihoods, their homes and in even their safety to speak in favor of the ordinance.

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There was a sea of red at the hearing!

The City Council passed HERO by an 11-6 margin – the perfect kick-off to LGBT Pride Month.

But the work didn’t end there. Unfortunately, as Houstonians celebrated Pride Month, equal rights opponents worked to place a repeal referendum on the ballot this fall. On July 3rd (ironically, just as our nation was preparing to celebrate a hard won freedom from oppression and unjust persecution) the opposition submitted their petitions to the City Secretary, who has until August 4th to complete the verification. If enough signatures are verified, voters will decide the matter in November.

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July 3, 2014: Mayor Parker announces broad-based group to defend HERO

None of this was unexpected, and our coalition is ready. Volunteers are already at work, assisting with verification of petition signatures, and investigating reported collection process fraud. A separate political action committee (PAC) has been established to raise funds for the campaign to protect HERO. Out & Equal Houston will provide engagement packets and education programs to help local businesses understand how HERO affects them. And we have volunteered to provide LGBT 101 training for the City of Houston at no charge. These programs will go forward regardless of the petition outcome.

Additionally, Out & Equal Houston has just announced the launch of the Houston Business Coalition for Equality. Businesses of all sizes across the city are invited to join, to send a message to Houstonians – and the world — that the Houston we know doesn’t discriminate.

BC4EIf enough signatures are validated and this issue is sent to the voters in November, we’re confident that the citizens of Houston will make a stand for equality – for themselves, for their loved ones, for their co-workers and allies – and uphold this important ordinance. And a victory in Houston will send a loud message to bigots nationwide: homophobia will not be tolerated in the workplace, not locally, not nationally.

Regional affiliates like Out and Equal Houston are so important in making our voices heard on both a local and national platform. Out and Equal is founded on a fundamental belief in fairness: performance matters, not who you are or where you came from… everyone deserves an equal shot at success. We all need to come out, stand up, and be a HERO.

Mike Craig

Mike Craig

 

 

 

 

 

#HERO communications, Equality Facts and related graphics are available on the Out & Equal Houston Facebook Page | View some of the powerful testimony at the Council meeting

For more information:

www.outandequalhouston.org/hero

www.equalrightshouston.com

By Edward Lord, member of the English Football Association’s Inclusion Board

Association Football (or soccer) is the world’s favourite sport, played by more than 240 million players in 1.4 million teams and 300,000 clubs across the world and that is before you even consider the over a billion fans who support their local and national sides. With that kind of extraordinary reach, it might be assumed that soccer must by its very nature be incredibly inclusive. After all, as a global sport, soccer is played and supported by people representing the vast majority of the world’s nationalities, religions, and racial groups.

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Ironically, displays of same-sex exuberance on the field are commonplace

And yet, despite this, soccer remains embroiled in controversy for its failure to embrace diversity and make all people feel welcome on the pitch or as spectators in stadia. Accusations of racism on the field and exhibitions of racist and ultra nationalist conduct by fans often discourage people from getting involved in the game as players or supporters.

The FARE Network has just published its report on incidents that took place during the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. It describes 14 occasions in which visiting fans brought their own prejudices, attitudes and ways of supporting football that most fair-minded people would categorise as discriminatory. The incidents include homophobic abuse, racism, and references to far-right ideologies.

In other areas of diversity, soccer is also seriously lacking. With the obvious exception of the United States, women’s football is very much a second class sport compared to the men’s game in most countries. It doesn’t attract anywhere near the same level of media exposure, which has a knock on detrimental impact on public support and commercial sponsorship.

Perhaps this is at least in part due to the sexist attitudes of senior soccer administrators. Who can forget FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s suggestion in 2004 that women footballers should “play in different and more feminine garb than the men, in tighter shorts for example”, let alone the leaked emails of the English Premier League Chief this year in which he referred to women as “gash”.

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Megan Rapinoe, Out player and part of the Olympic Gold Medal winning US Women’s Soccer Team

Disability football is so little thought of that it doesn’t even fall within the ambit of FIFA as soccer’s world governing body, despite blind and cerebral palsy football both being Paralympic sports.

As for LBGT involvement in soccer, we remain in a position where male gay and bisexual professional footballers are too afraid to come out for fear of adverse reaction by fans and their fellow players. Whilst things have certainly moved on since Justin Fashanu’s suicide in 1998, there was certainly not universal acclaim when Thomas Hitzlsperger and Robbie Rogers came out, both after they had retired from the top flight. Similarly, whilst LGBT fan groups are becoming increasing visible, like Arsenal’s Gay Gooners group marching in the London Pride Parade, soccer stadiums often remain intimidating venues for queer supporters.

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Justin Fashanu

So it seems that despite its global reach, soccer still has much to do to in order to be a really open and welcoming sport. As in many industries, things will only improve if diversity role models and allies become visible and proactive in their promotion of inclusion within the game. At the same time football authorities need to adopt a zero tolerance approach to discrimination, implementing effective reporting and disciplinary systems that give people confidence that misconduct will be taken seriously and perpetrators will be punished. Team administrators, managers and coaches also have a role to play and will need training so that they can serve as advocates for diversity, creating an inclusive team environment. Only by taking these steps will football be able to justify its claim that it is for everyone.

Edward Lord Portrait

Edward Lord OBE is a senior sports administrator and an active equality campaigner. He serves on the Inclusion Advisory Board of the English Football Association and is Chair of the Board of the ASA, England’s governing body for swimming, diving, water polo and other aquatic disciplines. He was recognised by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his work on inclusion in 2011, being made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

 

Posted by: outandequal | June 24, 2014

LGBT Pride: Time To Spread The Love

By Teddy Basham-Witherington

The story of LGBT Pride is one of silence to celebration. There was a time when homosexuality was “the love that dare not speak its name” and the term “transgender” was unknown.

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“The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name” – Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, 1894

There was a time when we looked forward to Gay Pride Day, then Lesbian & Gay Pride weekend, then Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride week and, in many places today, a whole month of activity.

While that month might be at a different time of year – February in Mumbai for example – chances are that June is the month when your consciousness and maybe that of your co-workers, friends and family (as well as your schedule) will fill up with rainbow abundance. And, fill up and then, fill up some more.

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Queer Azaadi aka Mumbai Pride, February 1, 2014

At a recent Pride-Month event at San Francisco City Hall, a community activist privately commiserated with me, lamenting the schedule conflicts and sheer exhaustion of the season. Yes, we’re here, were queer and we’re 24/7 – in June at any rate.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s vitally important to have a month of special celebration, marking (for many) the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, but as the movement for LGBT civil rights is being embraced in many places as never before, now is the time to spread the love throughout the year.

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Stonewall Riots, June 28, 1969

Being LGBT isn’t something we get to do and others get to notice in June alone. Too often we fold our tents (quite literally) and subside into acquiescence or, for some, silence. In spite of all the progress we have made and according to the annual Harris/Out & Equal Workplace Poll, 53% of US adults are still in the closet in the workplace. In most other countries that percentage plummets still further and even in the US only 14% of bisexuals are out at work. That has to change and, as Harvey Milk inspired us to do, we must come out, come out wherever we are.

ComeOut, ComeOut

Of course, everyone’s situation will be different and many of us choose to come out in stages to family, friends and work colleagues. In other parts of the world where even a single day of gay pride is not just an aspiration, but a criminal offense, there are even greater challenges.

Today, for me, I get to be an ally: an ally to my bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers, my lesbian sisters, my gay brothers and to other oppressed minorities, both at home and abroad. I also get to be an ally to our straight allies: it costs nothing to say “thank you” and be an ally to them in whatever struggle they may be facing.

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When we do that, we do more than spread the love: we inculcate the awareness that being gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender is not something to be compartmentalized or confined to a few glorious weeks in June. It is a love without borders and that, has got to be a good thing.

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Teddy has served as Executive Director of LGBT Pride in London (1991-1997) and San Francisco (1997-2005), President of Interpride (1997-2000) and co-founded the European Pride Organisers Association in 1993. He currently serves as Director of Institutional Partnerships at Out & Equal.

 

By Lori Fox

I struggled with gender identity most of my life. I struggled to come out as a transgender woman to family, friends and co-workers. I was living deep in a closet, not knowing how or where to turn for help, especially in my workplace. Without any gender identity policies, practices and benefits within my company, I felt unsafe and powerless to do anything. I felt that if I advocated for myself or for others too strongly, I would be terminated.

Sadly, this is what the power of fear and shame can do in a non-inclusive workplace culture. Not courageously standing up for what I believe in was one of the most painful and agonizing consequences of “living a lie” and being in the closet. Unfortunately, this happens in many workplaces throughout the country. It is unconscionable for someone to be fired simply for being their “authentic self” – whether that is identifying as transgender, lesbian, bisexual, gay or questioning.

So today, I want to share exciting news about one of the premier LGBT events in the country, with a specific focus on the diverse transgender community. Entering its 24th year, the Southern Comfort Conference (SCC) will run September 3 to 7 at the Crowne Plaza at Ravinia in Atlanta, Georgia. This year will be my 16th year of attendance at the SCC. Actively participating in this annual conference has changed my life over the past several years.

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Each September, the SCC hosts, not only members of the incredibly diverse transgender community and their partners/spouses, but the entire LGBQ & Ally community, providing a professional forum for accessing unique resources, training and networking opportunities. This comes in the form of four days of professional seminars, speakers and entertainment. Many of the best doctors/surgeons, therapists, voice coaches, business professionals and vendors from around the world will be available, catering specifically to SCC attendees needs.

Once again this year, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates is excited to be working with SCC to create a one-day program on Friday, September 5th that focuses specifically on issues of workplace equality impacting the Transgender community. The Out & Equal Workplace Advocates events will include three panels/workshops throughout the day, in addition to general sessions that feature the leading voices in the LGBT equality movement from the Transgender community.

I hope that you are able to be in Atlanta and actively participate in the Southern Comfort Conference, September 3 to 7.

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Lori Fox is a member of the Out & Equal Workplace Advocates Board of Directors and a passionate advocate of the incredibly diverse LGBT community. As a Transgender woman and President of Lori Fox Diversity/Business Consulting, Lori works as a diversity/business consultant and personal coach, consulting with individuals and corporations on workplace issues, in particular, Transgender workplace issues.

Editor’s Note: This month, the Texas GOP added gay conversion therapy to its official platform, the Southern Baptist Convention gleefully threw the Transgender Community under the bus and Houston First Baptist Church is petitioning for the repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance #HERO. So, we thought y’all would appreciate the perspective of someone who’s been there, done that and triumphed.

By Dr. Tim Seelig: Artistic Director – San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and, recovered Southern Baptist

Everyone’s story is unique, including mine. Both of my parents were professional Southern Baptists. My brother and I both followed in their footsteps. He is still following. My path took a dramatic about-face along the way.

The sub-text of my formative years was conformity. It was reinforced at every turn by the fear of being different. And yet, I knew I was just that. I prayed at every altar call for God to help fit in – make me straight.

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Tim Seelig, before

Other than that one small glitch, life was a perfect Christmas newsletter. Married with two beautiful children, I held two fairly prestigious positions at once: Associate Minister of Music at First Baptist Church of Houston and Associate Professor of Music at Houston Baptist University.

Life in the Southern Baptist workplace was a very difficult place for a gay man living in a huge closet and floating down the river of denial. But, I was a musician. I was obviously not the only gay musician working in a church, even though I felt so incredibly alone. I thought there might be other “gays” on the staff or at my university, but we dared not share even the slightest hint. In fact, one of the saddest things looking back is that we were required to join in the systematic discrimination and even bullying of people just “like us.” I went to work every single day with a knot in my stomach for fear I might “drop a hair pin” or give a lingering look at a handsome coworker or church member and be discovered. It was a strangling existence.

So, you see, the perfect life was far from perfect. The entire picture was built on a fundamental lie about who I was at my very core. I wasn’t arrested. I wasn’t “caught” in any act. But through a series of events and misguided Christian counselors, I simply realized they were lying, too. One of us had to tell the truth.

The very day I was “outed” to my wife by the counselor we were seeing, she shared the information with the pastor of our church. I was called to his office and given a set of requirements if I wanted to keep my job. A few of those included in-patient reparative therapy (an out of state location had already been chosen), provide a list of all of the other staff members at the church who were also gay, stand before the congregation and acknowledge my sin and repent publicly.

I chose “None of the above” and walked out. Out of life as I knew it.

The losses were great. I lost my children, family, both jobs, house, car and most of my friends.

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Tim Seelig, after

The gain was astounding. Truth. I had told the whole truth for the first time in my life and now had a foundation to build on.

The proverbial bus rolled over me and backed up – many times. I thought I was alone under there and everyone I had ever known were either passengers or driving the bus. Many years later, one of my daughter’s friends wrote me as an adult and described what it was like for her at church. “One day, you were gone and no one ever spoke of you again. In my child’s mind, I assumed there was something that you could do that was so bad, you would disappear.”

I found out there was actually a gay men’s chorus (who knew?) in Dallas looking for a director. I jumped on it and the rest, as they say, is history. I conducted that chorus, the amazing Turtle Creek Chorale, for the next 20 years before moving to my current position with the grandfather of all LGBT choruses, San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

Working in the church for all those years absolutely prepared me for the next quarter of a century I have spent as a musical activist.   Even my Mom and Dad came to acknowledge verbally that I had found a “ministry” far greater than I would otherwise have ever known.

I came out at the apex of the AIDS pandemic. We were, as the Holly Near song says, Singing For Our Lives - a song she penned on the night of Harvey Milk’s assassination – and the lives of others. At the same time, we were singing songs of protest and of enlightenment – serenading a huge and multi-faceted movement. It was and is an honor and a thrill and also, very difficult at times.

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San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus

The hymn “There’s Room At the Cross For Me,” became “There’s Room Under the Bus for All.” That Southern Baptist, Republican, Texan bus is a big one. It casts a huge and very dark shadow. And it leaves a mark that never truly heals.

At the end of the day, the message is clear. I Am What I Am and no one can change that for whatever reason. Fear is our greatest enemy, not the bigots. Fear of rejection. Fear of what might happen if we tell the truth. Fear of loss. And yet truth gathers to itself the most amazing things, people and opportunities.

Today, I have found myself and in the process regained those things I thought I had lost: my children, my family, my career and a loving community, including my wonderful partner Dan.

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Tim with Dan, daughter Corianna and grand-daughter, Clara Skye | Photo Credit: Shawn Northcutt

From the song Everything Possible, “The only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you’re gone.” For me, that is the essence of what we are to do. Yes, we must fight and scream and yell and protest. But in the end, love is our strongest weapon and greatest ally.

Finally, from Stephen Schwartz’ song Testimony, all along the way, “there were loving arms I could not see,” and, when all is said and done, and my life over, given the choice, “I would come back as me!”

Life is amazing and astounding. And no more knot in my stomach going to work!

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Tim Seelig | Photo Credit: Shawn Northcutt

By Sean Higgins, Assistant Principal, Hoover Community School, Redwood City School District

About six years ago, I saw what has become my favorite piece of art. It was in my friend’s kitchen. Hanging on his wall, adjacent to his stove, was a small Keith Haring painting of a parent and young child holding hands.

“That’s me and my son,” I told my friend.

Holding my son’s hand is perhaps my favorite thing about being a dad. It’s not the simple act of holding hands. It’s what I feel when we hold hands. All the mushy love type stuff. And I know he feels the same. All unspoken with my hand wrapped around his.

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Just last weekend, my son and I were at the farmer’s market on Clement Street. He reached out and grabbed my hand as we were walking home. My son, Bailey, is 10 years old. I know time is ticking on hand holding. I’m an assistant principal of a K-8 school and a former middle school teacher. I’m well aware that I’ll be lucky to have one more year of holding his hand. Maybe a couple of more years if no potential cool person is anywhere in the vicinity to see us.

It’s hard being a dad. Bailey doesn’t go around saying, “Thank you dad for helping me with my homework.” He never once has said, “You play on the iPad, while I do the dishes.” I’ve never heard him say, “I understand that you had to work late and miss my baseball playoff game.”

That last one happened last month. Bailey’s team miraculously had gone from losing their first game without getting a single hit to the semi-finals. I was scheduled to present to my board of directors on the same night as the biggest game of his short life. It was an intense moral dilemma for me. Support my son or take the opportunity to impress very important work people? When I’m old and gray(er), I thought, I would remember the baseball game, not the board meeting.

It didn’t help that Bailey’s other dad, my ex, was already looking into postponing a flight to attend the possible finals. Ultimately, I chose work in this instance. There was a tinge of guilt though and a sense of jealousy that my ex just scored a run, while I struck out.

Gaints game 2014

They lost the game. My ex told me all about it. Bailey didn’t seem to care. Whew! He seemed more interested in hanging out with his friends than whether or not his team won.

Bailey’s indifference did not last. The next night was the league’s awards dinner. When Bailey and I walked into the lobby where the event was held, he told me he didn’t want to go. I asked him why. He explained he was mad at the coach for not pitching him in the last couple of regular season games or in the playoffs. I convinced Bailey to go in to support his teammates. Ultimately, he had a good time with his friends.

Later that night, Bailey and I were sitting on our couch. He placed his hand in mine and I squeezed his hand tight. He was still angry. I continued to hold his hand and comfort him as best as I could.

The Keith Haring painting of the dad and son seems so happy. But life is rarely two-dimensional. Sometimes it’s hard being a dad and an assistant principal and an ex. It’s hard too being a 10 year old and a baseball player. Sometimes the only thing to do is hold hands.

ImageIn my mid 20’s, I made a bucket list. Becoming a dad was on the list. Everything on my list has been accomplished. And I’m only 44. I’ve been very blessed. It’s not been easy. I’ve worked hard. I’ve persevered. I’ve also had lots of help and Bailey has 300 honorary uncles, my brothers in the San Francisco Gay Mens Chorus.

This Sunday, Bailey, my ex, and I will hike up Mt. Tamalpais to the West Point Inn for a pancake breakfast. It’s been our Father’s Day tradition for the last five years. We’ll laugh at Bailey’s potty jokes and create a conga line over each wooden bridge. Bailey will complain it’s too hot–or too cold—and when we get to a fork in the trail, we’ll try to remember which one leads to the pancakes. If we get lost, like last year, we’ll forge a new exploration. Maybe in a wide part of the trail, Bailey will hold both our hands and attempt to do midair summersaults.

When the hike is over, I’ll hold his hand as we walk along the narrow, curvy, paved road back to our car. When an oncoming car approaches us, he’ll let go of my hand and walk ahead of me. I’ll warn him to keep to the edge of the road and to not get too far ahead. I need to protect him, to love him. That’s what a father does. That’s what I get to do.

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Sean Higgins

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