by Selisse Berry | I’m just back from our fabulous and productive Out & Equal Northeast Regional Summit, with almost 200 people in attendance and 17 powerful workshops. One of the keys to the success of this summit was that the organizers worked with the national office to find workshops that were presented at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit last year in Los Angeles. They selected ones that had been given high ratings and invited those presenters, who were thrilled to be able to share their expertise and knowledge at the regional level.
It was great to be in Rochester, too, because we have so much shared history there. One of the organizations that went on to form Out & Equal, Colleagues, held a summit in Rochester back in 1997. That part of New York is also home to Kodak and Xerox, who have been such important corporate leaders in the movement for workplace equality. Kodak won our very first “Outie” award for workplace excellence in 2000 and their Lambda Network was our 2004 ERG of the Year award winner. Plus we had a number of individuals at the Summit who had won awards as trailblazers and champions, including Emily Jones, Laura Brooks, Cathy Brill & Lisa Vitale, all of Eastman-Kodak, and Chris Crespo of Ernst & Young.
But as much fun as it was to look back on our past, we spent most of our time looking at how to build a better world today for LGBT people and our families and allies. As I spoke, ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, was reintroduced in Congress once again. Even though there’s not a lot of hope that it will pass in this session of Congress, what’s clear is that it is still urgent for our stories to be heard so that our representatives in Washington know who we are and why our communities need this legislation. During the Summit, there were lots of opportunities throughout the day for people to tell those stories.
I want to give kudos to Emily Jones and Ralph Carter, who co-chaired the event, and to our wonderful keynote speaker, Enrique Atienza of Levi Strauss & Co. He spoke about their White Knot Campaign in Support of Marriage Equality and also told his own story of working to build a life with his American husband as a bi-national couple. They were legally married in Enrique’s home country of Spain and now are trying to navigate all of the immigration challenges just so that they can both work and live together. He reminded me just how important it is that we support the work of Immigration Equality and the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) that was also introduced in Congress last week.
We’re all in this together and we are making progress for equal workplaces and safe schools for our children. We need to continue to celebrate what we’ve accomplished so far, while rolling up our sleeves and continuing to work. The Northeast Summit was a great reminder for me of how far we’ve come … and I heard, once again, personal stories that remind us of the importance of all of the work we still need to do.