Editor’s Note: Saginaw, Michigan could represent any American town in one of the 29 states where it’s still legal to fire someone just because they’re LGBT. Saginaw Councilwoman Annie Boensch introduced an ordinance that would protect LGBT employees locally. Boensch’s ordinance sparked opposition and heated debate. It didn’t pass. Yet Boensch still has hope. She explains why.

By Annie Boensch

Saginaw, Michigan is a welcoming place. Our citizens are kind and friendly people. We have a vibrant and active lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community here. One need not look hard to find examples of their contributions to the betterment of our city.

Yet, state and federal law has failed to keep up with people’s evolving attitudes on LGBT equality. Michigan has a Civil Rights Act, but it doesn’t include LGBT people. That’s why Michigan is one of the 29 states were you can legally be fired just for being LGBT. It only seemed natural to me that we would step in and fix this on a local level.

There is no guarantee that the state or federal government will eventually do the right thing. When it comes to protecting an individual’s right to fair treatment in employment and receiving basic essential services we can’t afford to wait for others to act. A city council has a limited scope of authority, but this is one area where we can lead. This is one simple and obvious thing that we can accomplish to improve the quality of life for a group of our citizens.

When I was elected to Saginaw’s City Council in 2011, a gay friend pointed out something surprising: Saginaw’s nondiscrimination policy for housing already included protections for LGBT people! But the city lacked an ordinance extending those protections to employment and public accommodations.

This bothered me a great deal because many of the people I love most in this world happen to be gay.

I asked my gay friends to share their stories with me and I learned a great deal. Most said they personally experienced some form of discrimination or knew someone who had. They all felt an ordinance protecting LGBT people in employment and public accommodations was needed.

It takes a tremendous amount of bravery to come forward and talk about this issue. The same people who shared their stories with me were willing to speak publicly at city council meetings. Their courage is what compelled me to act, because everyone who came forward to share their story took on a certain amount of risk. The meetings and public comments are now on the Internet forever, for every potential future employer to see. That means every LGBT person who spoke out remains vulnerable because we weren’t able to pass the ordinance.

I knew that this had the potential to be a difficult and controversial ordinance to propose, but I do not regret trying. It started a conversation that was not happening before. I know from personal experience that people need to be allowed room to evolve on the issue. While it may take time to move forward, the first step is hearing the personal stories that have emerged through this process.

Eventually the law will catch up to changing attitudes of our citizens and finally reflect the will of the people. It’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s also smart business and economic development policy. That’s been proven by the big employers throughout the state that have adopted inclusive nondiscrimination policies on their own.

Thanks to the help of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, Fortune 500 companies in recent years are now ahead of the law when it comes to LGBT equality.

Corporations headquartered in Michigan, including the Dow Chemical Company and Whirlpool, are now calling for a change in state law to include LGBT equality. Our legislators who claim they want to attract business to the state must listen. Young and educated people want to live in a diverse and accepting place. Saginaw, in particular, needs to stabilize its population and do everything it can to be attractive to prospective employers. An inclusive nondiscrimination policy would do just that.

Annie Boensch




By Guest Blogger Minal Hajratwala

Last Friday, India voted into office a Prime Minister whose opponents—and some of his fans—have regularly compared to Hitler. Narendra Modi is also the only person ever to have been denied a U.S. entry visa on the grounds of fomenting “severe violations of religious freedom,” for his still-controversial role in anti-Muslim violence that killed more than 1,000 people in 2002, while he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat.Image

Naturally, LGBT Indians are worried. At a key social moment for gay and transgender rights, the ascendance of a right wing party with a poor track record toward minorities threatens to call a halt to progress and perhaps even turn the clock backward.

Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) was one of the only national parties to celebrate the troubling December 2013 verdict of the Supreme Court, which upheld the constitutionality of India’s 1861 anti-sodomy law (article 377 of the Penal Code). While other politicians pledged to support the community’s efforts to overturn what they acknowledged as a “repressive” and “unjust” statute, BJP party chief Rajnath Singh lauded it, calling homosexuality an “unnatural” act that “cannot be supported.”Image

The party, whose roots lie in fundamentalist Hindu ideology, won with an overwhelming voter mandate. Mr. Modi has a pro-business reputation, but “Modinomics” contains contradictions. Certainly, it’s difficult to see how multinationals can continue to drive innovation and growth in a climate where diversity and inclusion efforts are dampened.

LGBT Indians depend on the central government directly for certain issues, such as funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and indirectly for many others, such as the securing of basic rights. Over the next six months, for example, the government is supposed to ensure compliance with a recent Supreme Court victory on transgender equality. Every agency, top to bottom, state and federal, should be adding third-gender options to its forms and developing plans to include transgender people in programs for economically “backward” minority groups—but of course, it takes great will to make such a change happen expeditiously.Image

It remains to be seen how the BJP will behave on such issues. Mr. Modi will enter the Prime Minister’s suite with a strong Parliament backing him and, therefore, the power to do—or not do—what he wants.

Moreover, a general disregard for minority opinions and rights could leave India’s left scrambling to protect itself on all kinds of fronts, from Dalit human rights, to land grabs, to censorship, to women’s concerns. A fragmented and beleaguered progressive movement in India may be less inclined, or have fewer resources, to support LGBT issues as strongly as it has in the recent past.

The anti-gay law awaits its final challenge in the courts: a long-shot petition claiming judicial error. If that petition fails to overturn the law, the only other remedy available is an act of Parliament—now unlikely, with the BJP in power for the next five years.

If there is any good news in this election, it is that the BJP won on a platform of economic expansion, not social issues. Unlike in the United States, where culture wars place homosexuality and abortion at center stage, in India LGBT rights remain a fairly obscure area of interest. The very invisibility of the topic is, perhaps, a strength. While the BJP is certainly no friend to the gays, neither has it made homophobia a rallying point, let alone a wedge issue.

As some gay activists have pointed out, one outcome of the election may be that the Indian LGBT advocacy community will be forced to reach out to a party with which it has, till now, had very few dealings. And if Mr. Modi can indeed deliver on his promise to expand the economy, some LGBT people—particularly those who depend on corporate well-being for their livelihoods—are even cautiously optimistic that they could join that rising tide.

ImageFor the moment, then, the impact of Mr. Modi’s victory on India’s LGBT movement, which has blossomed over the past five years, is an open question. If the BJP remains focused on economic development, the direct impact could be minimal. But if it fails on the economic front and goes looking for minority groups to target, there could be trouble.

And the picture looks even worse if the right wing becomes emboldened by its mandate, or entrenched with victories over the next few elections. In such a scenario, it seems unlikely that politicians will be able to restrain themselves from pursuing the narrow, moralistic agenda of their grass roots—and that cannot possibly be good for the rainbow that is India.

Minal Hajratwala is an author, coach, and consultant; editor of Out! Stories from the New Queer India; and a principal of PrideSpeak, which brings LGBT speaker panels to corporate India. She tweets at @MinalH and welcomes dialogue and inquiries at minal@minalhajratwala.com.


Posted by: outandequal | May 16, 2014

How rainbow candles made an activist

By April Hawkins, Out & Equal Senior Communications Managerrainbow candles

Tomorrow is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia.  This is a special day for all of us to show support for our community.

I’ll never forget the first time I experienced uncensored homophobia. It happened fourteen years ago in Houston, Texas after someone broke into my apartment. Two burly “good ole boy” police officers came to my house to check it out after I called 911. They took one look at my pixie haircut and rainbow candles and understood that I am an out and proud lesbian. They refused to write a report about the break-in.

“We don’t want people like you around here anyway,” one officer informed me. I filed a complaint with the Houston police department’s internal affairs department. The female officer who took my complaint chastised me for not calling 911 again when the officers refused to help. My complaint ended there. Not long after that, I took my rainbow candles and my pixie haircut and moved to San Francisco.

Almost every lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person my age has a story like mine. The times are changing, though. Houston elected openly lesbian mayor Annise Parker in 2010. Out & Equal honored her with the 2012 Workplace Advocacy award. I was really proud to be on the Out & Equal team that day, and grateful for the positive change in Houston.

The progress that has taken place in Houston is a snippet of the great change we’ve seen over the past two years. It takes the courage and the strength of our whole community to continue moving in the right direction.

The times are changing, but we still do not have equal rights, even here in the United States. Please take a stand on this international day against homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. Find a local event, donate to a LGBT organization, or simply share your story.

I was born and raised in a suburb of St. Louis. There was very little diversity where I grew up, and knowing I was different, I didn’t come out until later in life when I took a job in St. Louis.

ImageIn Missouri, there are no statewide workplace protections for LGBT residents or recognition of same sex unions. But I proudly call St. Louis home because the city has workplace protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity. Out & Equal’s overarching goal is to promote safe, inclusive workplace equality. In the St. Louis Regional Affiliate, our focus is on engaging employers in our footprint and helping them develop anti-discrimination policies, LGBT inclusive benefits, and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), as wells as bring the St. Louis community together to share best practices. St. Louis also has several LGBT friendly social and residential areas and an annual Pride Festival that is the largest in the Midwest. One more thing about St. Louis: We have the greatest sports fans in the country!

So it was no surprise to me that Michael Sam, the first openly gay collegiate football player, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Not only does this reinforce the true inclusiveness of our fine city, but sends a message to all NFL teams and employers that being LGBT does not impact a person’s talent.


I’m lucky that the commitment to diversity within my workplace is welcoming. The courage it took for me to come out was reinforced by the fact I knew that I could be myself at my job and in my city without fear of bias or discrimination.

I’m proud that Michael Sam can have the same experience at the St. Louis Rams. The fact that his jersey is now the second-most popular selling jersey in the 2014 draft class makes the statement that cultivating an inclusive workplace is good for business!

I am awed that my home team has stepped up in the biggest way to welcome a talent such as Michael Sam. Our LGBT Community has never felt more supported. My hope is that this inspires other young LGBT athletes to step forward and be themselves.

Rams players have heart, our fans give unconditional support, and you can bet that my season pass to the 2014 season is proudly in my pocket!


Jennifer Jones

Out & Equal St. Louis affiliate


Upcoming Out & Equal St. Louis Events:  We have several opportunities available to get involved in St. Louis and help us drive these initiatives, including our upcoming participation in both the MetroEast Illinois Pride celebration (held in Belleville, IL the weekend of June 21st and 22nd), and the St.Louis PRIDE festival (held at the Soldier’s Memorial in downtown St.Louis the weekend of June 28th and 29th.) For more information about our local affiliate and upcoming programming, please contact our Regional Affiliate Co-chairs, Laura Morrison and Michelle Smith. And, don’t forget to check out our Official Website or like us on Facebook to see more about our upcoming activities.

Posted by: outandequal | May 13, 2014

An Amazing Week for LGBT Equality

Did you notice the amazing week we’ve had for LGBT equality? At Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, we counted three milestones worth celebrating. Did you miss any in the whirlwind of social media?

Many of us became St. Louis Rams fans when Michael Sam became the first openly gay football player drafted to the NFL. Sam was nearly the last man picked, so history-watchers were on pins and needles for a couple days. But history was made and the positive outpouring on social media was bigger than the few negative comments some NFL players tweeted when Sam kissed his boyfriend on live television.ImageSam’s inspiring story seemed to overshadow more history a day earlier. Last Friday, a circuit court judge in Arkansas ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Dozens of gay and lesbian couples have wed in Arkansas since then. Now the state is trying to stop the weddings until a higher court can weigh in.ImageIf the Arkansas story was quickly forgotten by the rest of the country in the weekend flood of Michael Sam social media, the reason could be that Arkansas is just one of many Bible Belt states where judges have recently ruled against same-sex marriage bans. There’s Oklahoma, Virginia, Utah, Texas and Michigan. Marriage is up in the air in those states as the U.S. Supreme Court will certainly be asked to sort it out, but the quick movement shows we are headed to inevitable LGBT equality.

That’s why the third big LGBT news of the week was the television ad for Toyota featuring a married lesbian couple. Gay and lesbian couples have been seen in TV ads before, going back to an Ikea ad in the 1990s that generated lots of backlash. Earlier this year Coca Cola showed a gay couple with children in a TV ad among many diverse subjects. But in the Toyota ad, the two women were casually introduced as spouses and presented just like a million other straight married couples. The ad was remarkable for not remarking on the fact it starred two married women.ImageMeanwhile, in Europe, 180,000,000 people from Madrid to Moscow were agog as Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest.ImageOut & Equal has spent years building relationships with companies, which is why we’re so proud when those companies take a lead to ensure that LGBT people are presented and treated as equal to all employees and customers. Out & Equal is especially proud the NFL has joined the ranks of workplaces where anyone with talent can be star regardless of who they love. From the office to the football field, we are a nation that is truly becoming Out and Equal.

Selisse Berry

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates



John Tanzella, President and CEO IGLTA and Selisse Berry, Founder and CEO Out & Equal (center) with IGLTA leaders, Madrid Spain 05.08.14

Below are highlights from Selisse Berry’s keynote remarks to the general assembly of the IGLTA Global Conference in Madrid, Spain, delivered May 8, 2014: 

Buenos Dias!

I’m thrilled to be here in Madrid. I love being here in Spain. I love the food, the drinks, the art!  I love the culture and the language.

Thank you to John Tanzella and LoAnn Halden for inviting me to be part of the IGLTA Global Conference. And I want to thank each of you for being here this evening for this wonderful conversation.  It’s so important for us to come together to celebrate how far we’ve come… and to inspire one another for the journey ahead.

We have much to celebrate that would be unimaginable even 30 years ago.  Marriage equality is the law of the land in 17 states across the United States and in 17 countries around the world! Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings that move the United States closer to full marriage equality. And the world knows the European Union has been a leader of LGBT protections with its Employment Equality Directive.

Our work at Out & Equal is really about making the world and the workplace a better place for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. It’s about creating workplaces where everyone can truly be Out and Equal and where we can bring all of who we are to work every single day.

Our work is really twofold. On the one hand we’re working with companies to ensure that the policies are in place and benefits are provided so that LGBT people can come out at work and not be afraid that they might lose their job, or they will be denied a promotion, but they can be their true, authentic self. Those we work towards that gather at the annual Out & Equal Workplace Summit. This year, we’ll be in San Francisco, November 3-6, bringing together close to 3,000 of our closest friends from over 30 countries. I personally invite all of you to join us.

At the same time as working with companies, we work with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to help people get over their fear of coming out. Many European countries are very accepting of LGBT people – especially here in Spain. Yet, how many of you know someone who isn’t out at work?

We have to change hearts and minds so that we can all bring our whole selves to work – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.


Selisse Berry

Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates



By Paul Callaghan, Partner, Taylor Wessing: Law Firm of the Year 2013

Life was hard being out at work in the legal profession twenty years ago. When I started practicing law, there were very few out gay lawyers and those who were out were often viewed with suspicion. It definitely did not feel “safe” to be open about your sexual orientation in a law firm. In those days in the UK there was no legal protection for anybody who was discriminated against at work on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Then we got protections. Things changed in the UK in 2004 and now all employees as well as law firm partners are covered by anti-discrimination legislation that comes originally from the European Union. Life in a London City law firm for a gay lawyer has changed dramatically for the better since then.


Ironically, the challenge today is that these advances not be taken for granted by the next generation of young lawyers. Because of the new-found confidence that those of us who are becoming senior in our firms can feel in being out, younger members of our firms see it as normal to be openly gay in the workplace. Everything seems just fine for them and educating them about the need for an LGBT group is, in many ways, a good challenge for us to have!


It is not only the law that has changed, but attitudes have also improved dramatically. Now it is highly unusual to find a leading City law firm that does not have an internal LGBT group and look to promote its diversity credentials both to clients as well as employers.


That’s not to say that we still need to make more gains at the top. At my firm, Taylor Wessing, where we have made a point of taking a lead in supporting LGBT workplace initiatives both within the firm and around the City of London, I am currently the only openly gay equity partner. That’s why both I and other openly gay people within the firm have taken the lead in relation to a number of initiatives within the legal community and beyond.


I am the head of the Employment law group at Taylor Wessing in London. About two years ago I thought it would be a good idea to start a gay employment lawyers group for legal professionals throughout the UK. I spoke to a few friends in other firms and in barristers chambers and since then we have developed a highly successful group (“GEL“) which has not only helped all of us professionally by encouraging us to send each other referrals, but also to give each other support and develop really strong friendships with other men and women practicing employment law.


As an employment lawyer, I work regularly with HR professionals. Through this, I got the idea (together with an HR recruitment consultant with whom I work) of setting up a group for LGBT HR Directors. Again this is proved great fun, both socially as well as being a help professionally in building relationships.



Greater acceptance and mobility means that we now have the opportunity to make a difference through really important pro bono work. I am fortunate enough to also be head of pro bono at Taylor Wessing. This meant I was able to offer our support to the Human Dignity Trust, an NGO, which helps people, mainly in Commonwealth countries where homosexuality is still illegal, challenge the law in their country. Taylor Wessing recently worked with the Human Dignity Trust and a local firm on a claim in the European Court of Human Rights to strike down anti-gay laws Northern Cyprus. As a result of our claim and before we had a chance to be wholly successful, it was announced that the law was going to be changed in Northern Cyprus anyway. It is great to have been involved in something so constructive.


We can never be complacent, particularly in a professional service firm, about how the future will develop, but we have come a long way. Even ten years ago, I would not have been able to imagine the progress that we have made in leading UK law firms. I am proud to play a small part in that and to keep it growing.


The Future is bright both in and OUT of court…

Posted by: outandequal | April 28, 2014

Why middle America must not give up on protecting LGBT workers


Joel Engardio

By Joel Engardio, Out & Equal Associate Director of Communications

It’s easy to assume gay Americans have it good each time another state allows same-sex marriage and Ellen’s TV show gets renewed for a new season. From pop-culture to official wedding vows, acceptance of gay people has come a long way.

Yet it’s still perfectly legal to fire someone in 29 states based on sexual orientation — 33 on gender identity. Michigan is one of the states where openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) residents work at their own risk.

That’s why Saginaw, Michigan can’t give up on the LGBT non-discrimination ordinance that was indefinitely postponed by the city council last week. It’s well known you can’t fire someone because of their religion, sex or race, but sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t on the list in most places. This lack of workplace protection means a lot of skilled and qualified people are losing jobs or aren’t getting hired. That hurts everyone because it’s bad for business when companies and cities drive talent away.

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates is the leading organization that champions fully inclusive workplace equality and it is rooting for Saginaw. In fact, three members of Out & Equal’s San Francisco-based staff were born and raised in Saginaw.


Joel, Tony and Dave

Dave Bueche, Tony Talbot and I grew up within walking distance of Bill’s Party Store on Mackinaw Street where we have fond memories of getting summer Slurpees. Bueche and Talbot went to the Catholic high school St. Stephens and I attended the public Arthur Hill High School down the street. Today, Talbot is the chief financial officer at Out & Equal. Bueche serves as a development manager and I’m the associate director of communications.

“I enjoyed growing up in Saginaw despite the fact that I had to hide my sexual orientation from my friends and family,” Bueche said. “There were no resources available at the time to help me address my frustrations and confusion. To learn that this ordinance was even up for a vote in Saginaw is most reassuring.”

Special thanks goes to Saginaw Councilwoman Annie Boensch who had the courage to sponsor the ordinance despite vocal opposition and a lack of existing state or federal protections for LGBT workers in Michigan.

“I don’t see a risk in doing the right thing,” Boensch told the Saginaw News. “I see risk in waiting for our state legislature and congress to act. We need to ensure that people have access to public services and employment no matter what the state and federal government do.”

Hopefully Boensch won’t give up. Eventually, her ordinance will pass. History is on Boensch’s side.

Some good news for Saginaw’s LGBT residents is that major companies like Dow Chemical, headquartered in nearby Midland, are supporting workplace equality where the law falls short. Dow was the first company in the chemical industry to form a LGBT employee resource group.

Out & Equal honored Dow last year with its Workplace Excellence Award, given to companies that prioritize workplace quality for LGBT employees. Previous winners include Google and IBM.

“Respect for all people is core to Dow’s value system and to enabling every employee to feel they are able to reach their full potential,” Dow Executive Vice President Howard Ungerleider said, after receiving Out & Equal’s award. “A diverse company is a source of tremendous advantage, accelerating results and fueling innovation.”

Saginaw and towns across America like it can also experience the benefits of innovation if they only follows what forward-thinking companies are already doing.

Joel Engardio serves as Associate Director of Communications at Out & Equal Workplace Advocates


The current U.S. Supreme Court case Sebelius v Hobby Lobby is simply the most recent ploy by the religious right to superimpose their “family values” on the rest of us. According to their lawyers, Hobby Lobby is a “Mom and Pop craft supply business” owned and operated by “devout Christians” whose only concern is “saving the lives of the unborn.” More specifically, David and Barbara Green, Hobby Lobby’s owners, object to the Affordable Care Act’s regulation that forces a company to provide its female employees with health insurance that provides “morning after” pills and intrauterine devices, even if doing so would violate the strong religious beliefs of the family that owns the business. In other words, they are asking for a “religious exemption” to avoid complying with “Obamacare.”


Outside the Supreme Court last month

Fallacy #1. The Greens believe that life begins at conception and because both contraceptives prevent embryos from implanting in a woman’s uterus, the Greens claim they will be “complicit in abortion.”Whenever you think life begins, it is difficult to understand how stopping a sperm from reaching an egg makes you an abortionist.

Fallacy #2. The Greens also believe that the contraceptive devices they oppose will cause abortion even after fertilization has taken place when real (not religion based) science proves the opposite. The contraceptives in question will not work (not abort) after the sperm and the egg are comfortably settled in.

It is difficult to believe that the Greens are sincere in their effort to “protect their employees” from “abortion on demand.” Three months after they filed their lawsuit, the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions.[i] Sincere or not, this is another fallacy-based attempt by the religious right to undermine rights and protections guaranteed all Americans.

ImageAlso, is it possible that the Green’s don’t understand what might happen to corporate governance if the Supreme Court decides that a corporation can exercise religion? Imagine the chaos company executives will face if shareholders demand that their corporations live up to their religious beliefs. Already a staggering 25% of shareholder proposals made to Fortune 200 companies come from religious organizations. Do the Greens really mean to open that floodgate?

What happens when Southern Baptist shareholders demand that corporate executives put in place rules for employee hiring or deportment that reflect their literal understanding of the Ten Commandments? What happens when liberal (Episcopal) shareholders demand that a certain percentage of the profits be designated to help end global warming? Incorporating has always provided a wall of protection against the endless sectarian demands of shareholders whatever their religious beliefs. Do the Greens really want that wall to come down?

Here’s where it gets scary. Hobby Lobby is no “Mom and Pop” operation. With 28,000 employees in 602 big box stores across the nation, this mammoth corporation generates more than $3.3 billion in sales every year. Forbes pegs the Green’s personal fortune at $5.1 billion. In 2012, Forbes also discloses the ultimate goal of their charitable endeavors: “Hobby Lobby’s cash spigot currently makes [Green] the largest individual donor to evangelical causes in America.”[ii]

In 2004, while Gary and I were still living across the street from Jerry Falwell’s mega-church in Lynchburg, Virginia, Hobby Lobby donated an 888,000-square-foot Ericsson plant to Falwell’s Liberty University. With another $10 million gift to Liberty (currently with 50,000 students on and off campus) and a $70 million pledge to Oral Roberts University, the Greens have become the major financial force shaping a whole new generation of fundamentalist Christians in universities with strict anti-gay policies where students are taught that homosexuality is a sickness and a sin.


Mel and Gary

Hobby Lobby also has funding ties to a network of activist groups “deeply engaged in pushing a Christian agenda into American law.”[iii] Here’s where the LGBTQ community needs to see the connection between Hobby Lobby and the religious right’s determination to reverse our gains and eliminate our rights.

Hobby Lobby has donated tens of millions of dollars to the National Christian Charitable Foundation (nearly $65 million in 2009 alone). In turn, the NCCF donated much of Hobby Lobby’s money to anti-gay groups including organizations in Arizona working to pass a law [SB 1062] that would make it legal for businesses to refuse to serve LGBTQ customers. The bill may have been vetoed in Arizona but the same Green-backed attempt to deny service to LGBTQ Americans is spreading across the U.S.

In Kansas, for example, House Bill 2453 allows hotels, restaurants and stores in the state to refuse to serve gay couples if “it would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.” The bill would also allow government clerks to refuse to sign same-sex marriage licenses without the threat of a lawsuit. The Human Rights Campaign is monitoring more than a half-dozen similar bills across the country, all introduced in 2014.[iv]

Sebelius v Hobby Lobby and Arizona’s SB 1062 are very similar examples of the clandestine misuse of the “religious exemption” by the religious right. Along with their highly visible national anti-gay-rights campaigns, their organizers are spending more of their seemingly endless resources waging war against us state by state. “Death by a thousand cuts” is their latest strategy.   Sebelius v Hobby Lobby is another shameless attempt to use the “religious exemption” to superimpose their values on the rest of us, this time in small increments hoping we will not notice until it’s too late.

The so called “religious exemption” is also a clear and present danger to our hopes for passing let alone enforcing the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. Senator Orin Hatch, not an ally of our community, decided to vote for ENDA during its successful passage in the Senate (Nov. 7, 2013) because the bill had a “robust religious exemption built in.”

Here’s the danger. The “religious exemption” will never be “robust” enough for extremists on the religious and political right. And if there is some kind of miracle that ENDA gets passed by the current sanity-deprived U.S. House of Representatives, there is a good chance that the religious right and their allies will find all kinds of creative ways to undermine its effectiveness.

The U.S. Supreme Court will announce its decision in Sebelius v Hobby Lobby in June, 2014. Supreme Court watchers are already predicting that the Greens and their religious and political allies on the right will win. I’m not so sure. I still have hope that once again Justice Roberts will show his courage and support the rights and protections of all Americans. But if Hobby Lobby wins its “religious exemption,” our battle for LGBTQ civil rights just might have to begin all over again.


Rev. Mel White [photo credit: Gary Nixon]

* Guest Blogger: Mel White is Co-Founder of Soulforce and the author of Stranger at the Gate: to be Gay and Christian in America and Holy Terror, Lies the Christian Right Tells to Deny Gay Equality






[i] http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/04/01/1288906/-Hobby-Lobby-invests-in-contraceptive-abortion-drug-manufacturers

[ii] http://www.forbes.com/profile/david-green/


[iv] http://time.com/5918/gay-marriage-kansas-colorado-wedding-cake/


Posted by: outandequal | December 23, 2013

Listening to You

by Teddy Basham-Witherington, Out & Equal CMO

Teddy Basham-Witherington, Chief Marketing Officer

Teddy Basham-Witherington, Chief Marketing Officer

One of Out & Equal’s strengths is as a convener, which is why events are such a key component of our strategy for workplace advocacy. The annual Out & Equal Workplace Summit is, indeed, a mountain top experience for us and so many of you. With over 130 separate educational offerings, three general sessions, an exhibit hall, a fun-run, ticketed lunches, hospitality suites, social events, special sessions and networking galore, there is an abundance of opportunities for enriching experiences.

Each year, we survey Workplace Summit attendees to see what they thought. On a scale of 1-5 we regularly score over 4 and in a good year, like 2013, around 4.5. But, lest we rest on our laurels, there is always a better job to be done.

One of my great pleasures is to read through the comments in the survey, noticing patterns and paying special attention to the minority opinion, lest we become the victims of groupthink. There was much to take away this year and, as always, the suggestions for future keynote speakers were an invigorating read.

So, how do we choose a keynote speaker?

Our keynote selection process is just that – a process. It starts with some general principles about categories: politicians, sports and entertainment celebrities, community leaders and CEOs. We then overlay our desire to find a good mix of LGBTA folks, people of color and so forth so that we have a diverse mix of keynotes. This matrix results in an admittedly impossible goal, realizing that we only have five slots available: two on Tuesday, two on Wednesday (not including our CEO) and one for the Gala Dinner on Thursday.

We begin the invitation process in earnest in February, making our way through targeted prospects, again with additional layers of constraints – speaker availability, budget etc. All the while, we receive an abundance of suggestions from staff, board members, constituents and sponsors. These are carefully considered and, where the process described above allows, folded into the process.

Because we have more suggestions, and good ones, than available slots, we look at the Summit in total, identifying where prospects can contribute in a meaningful way as Featured Panel speakers, honorees and, in the case of our presenting sponsors, the champion of that sponsor’s message during the presented plenary session.

We do our best to accommodate ideas and suggestions within the parameters of the task. Sometimes the answer is “yes,” sometimes the answer is “not this year.” Rarely, is it a “no,” unless the suggestion falls outside of the scope described above.

We work with our speakers to tailor their remarks for our audience, but every once in a while we’re surprised. This year, the tragic circumstances around the murder of gender non-conforming teen, Lawrence King in 2008 were misstated, not intentionally, but the categorization of this as a “gay” hate crime came as a disappointment to many of our Transgender attendees and their allies. So, it is with all due sensitivity and humbleness that I get to say “sorry” and, “we’re committed to doing better.” In future we will work even more closely with our speakers to help them fact check and ensure that the underrepresented are not further marginalized.

We may never get a perfect “5” in the post participant survey, but my colleagues and I are committed to raising our eyes to that goal and walking steadily and with purpose in that direction.

Teddy Basham-Witherington

Chief Marketing Officer

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