Pat Baillie, Out & Equal Director of Training & Professional Development, will be contributing to the Out & Equal blog while she is on the road for a month, traveling and training.
by Pat Baillie | I got into New Orleans Wednesday night, and the trip started off with a bang! Vice President Biden was in town to speak to the National Black Journalists Convention, and we arrived together. Well, we were not on the same flight but his flight landed just about the time my flight did. There were motorcades, security, airport and road shut downs that delayed my getting into New Orleans by about an hour. He was speaking near the hotel so there were two blocks of hauling luggage to get through the security in place. When I finally got in, it was too late to attend the dinner hosted by the the company at which I presenting, so I headed off to the French Quarter.
This weekend is New Orleans Pride, so Bourbon street was all dressed up in rainbows. The shot is me in front of one the local bars. It is warm down here (from a San Francisco perspective) and I had a great dinner of gumbo and jambalaya. Haven’t made it over to Cafe Du Monde yet for Beignets — hopefully today.
The company where I presented invited me to speak at their 10 year Diversity & Inclusion Summit, and there were 50 attendees representing their offices through the southeast United States. Many attendees work here in New Orleans, Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi. Their company scored an impressive 90% on the 2012 Corporate Equality Index. They are working on understanding diversity from different perspectives including generations, race, and gender, and had added “understanding the LGBT perspective” into the conference this year.
One of the attendees had seen me speak two years ago at the Linkage Diversity Conference and had connected Out & Equal with the planners. Don’t be surprised by the seeds you plant! I showed up at the Summit this morning for breakfast, and met a great group of organizers who were very glad to see me. I was invited to sit through the first session on “White Men have Diversity too!” It offered a great perspective, and the audience was engaged and asked tough questions on how to take these lessons back to their plants and offices. During the discussion, they talked about if their company would sponsor a Pride event. They didn’t think that the company would be ready for that. This was a great set up for my presentation.
The presentation went well, and they were making connections and gaining insights on how they could create common ground to address all their issues around diversity and inclusion. Women, people of color, people across the generations and LGBT people are all face issues, not around policy or benefits, but around workplace climate. The dyad exercise that is part of our Building Bridges course gave them ideas on how they could create a deeper understanding of difficulties employees face when they can’t be fully themselves and tell their story.
We set up a “Monday morning water cooler” discussion scenario about what everyone did over the weekend. We asked the participants to tell their story, but they could not use the other person’s name, and had to change the relationship (husband to wife for example) and change the pronouns (from he to she). They paired up and each took about a minute to share their stories. For most, this is a really difficult exercise to complete, and they walk away with an understanding of the amount of work it takes to stay in the closet, the impact on your memories, and the fear that comes up if you make a mistake. The attendees wanted to create this very gut level understanding of what it feels like when you can’t be yourself. They were engaged, and moved from awareness of LGBT to the first steps of being an ally.
As I finished up and was talking to the those who had questions, a man in his 30’s/40’s approached. He had asked some questions about changing the workplace climate, and what to do if people don’t want to make changes. The group launched into another round of discussion after the question; one that emphasized the need for allies (the point of the exercise). I thought he might be coming up to ask more questions but he said, “thanks for coming and talking about this, it’s really hard being out there in the field (he works in Mississippi) when all those comments are made. I am also a ‘friend of Dorothy’ and nobody knows that at work, and it is better that way.”
For those who don’t know the reference, it started during World War II when it was illegal to be gay, and men would make reference to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland was a gay icon in the United States and it was a way to identify other gay men. Another theory was it was a reference to the celebrated humorist and critic Dorothy Parker, who included some gay men in her famous social circle. In England, they said, “I am a friend of Mrs. King” (i.e. Queen). It is still used today in some advertising campaigns, and where communities don’t want to be visible as LGBT, but this felt like a statement based in fear — for himself or maybe for his career. It made me stop and think about the reality of LGBT life for so many. Here we had just talked about LGBT issues, and there had been support from all the attendees, but he still couldn’t find the words to be out as gay. I nodded and said, “thanks for the question and being here,” and he smiled. We made a connection, and I knew there was still more work to do!
Now off to some well deserved chicory coffee and beignets!