By David Landis, founder/CEO of Landis Communications and president of Public Relations Global Network.  Twitter_logo_blue@david_landis. This blog is a repost of an article that first appeared at The Holmes Report on June 18, 2013.

There’s a lot to celebrate when it comes to the progress that has been made for human rights over the past few years. The momentum of marriage equality, sports personalities coming out, and heads of state expressing their support has led to a sea-change in public attitudes, but how is the LGBT community faring in the business world, and more particularly, in my chosen field of communications? Depending on whom you ask and where you live, the answer appears to be better. . .or maybe not.

David Landis

David Landis

Full disclosure here. I’ve been an out gay man in the communications field since my early days at both KPIX TV (the CBS affiliate in San Francisco) and the San Francisco Symphony. I’ve been running my own PR agency, Landis Communications Inc., in our fair city since 1990. Here, it’s a badge of honor to be part of the LGBT community. 

Yet early on in my career at KPIX TV in the 80s, I took my then boyfriend (now husband) to our company’s holiday party and danced with him. For about two seconds I worried, “Would this impact my career?” Then I decided, it’s television and folks just need to get used to it. Turns out, it actually helped connect me with my co-workers because it was a great icebreaker – although my disco moves are still a fright to see! Still, I know full well that San Francisco doesn’t reflect the rest of the world.

In April 2013, when I was elected president of our agency’s international PR network, the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN), I got to thinking: how many out LGBT communications professionals are there in the field? Why aren’t people talking about this more? And more importantly, is there a glass ceiling?

According to Pew Research, “An overwhelming share of America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults (92%) say society has become more accepting of them in the past decade and an equal number expect it to grow even more accepting in the decade ahead.” 

Looking around, there are numerous examples of success stories: Kevin Brockman, EVP of global communications at Disney/ABC Television; Ben Finzel, SVP of public affairs and GM of Waggener Edstrom Washington DC; communications consultant Mary Cheney; my husband, Sean Dowdall, former CMO at Rabobank, North America; Stephan Roth president of OutThink Partners; and Ryan Peal, GM at FleishmanHillard Los Angeles. If we broaden the field to include journalists, of course we can add the likes of Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper, Jonathan Capehart, Robin Roberts and many more.

Maddow, Robbins, Capehart, and Cooper-7

But is this a positive trend – or are these errant examples?

Bob Witeck

Bob Witeck

Bob Witeck, openly gay president/founder of Washington, DC-based Witeck Communications (a prominent agency working with Fortune 100 corporations and the LGBT community) says, “It still can be an issue in the top, multi-national agencies. You don’t always see LGBT professionals at the senior level of running these agencies. Perhaps this is through self-selection: often, LGBTs may go to other, smaller agencies where they can be themselves. If the group of decision makers at the big agencies deciding who to promote are straight white men, they tend to select straight white men.”

Jesse Melgar, former communications director for Equality California, the state’s LGBT advocacy organization, thinks, “Acceptance and advancement depends on where you are located. A lot of LGBT communications pros move to San Francisco or LA for professional work because it’s more progressive and there’s more professional development. But it’s different in rural areas such as Fresno – or smaller communities such as Riverside.”

There’s also the question of whether lesbians have a more or less difficult path than gay men. Some in the industry say that like other women in business, it’s still an uphill struggle. But others think lesbians have fared as well as gay men.  

Barbara French

Barbara French

Barbara French, vice chancellor/university relations at the University of California San Francisco surmises, “To be honest, I have not encountered or witnessed a ‘glass ceiling’ for members of our community who are excellent in the field of communications. I believe that is due to the fact that my professional career has been primarily based in San Francisco. Here, members of the LGBT community are visible at the highest levels of private, public and not-for-profit organizations. My experience is that being out and proud is a benefit from the standpoint of professional growth and development. It means we bring our whole selves to the workplace. That means we are fully present and ready to do our best work.” 

San Francisco-based communications consultant Linda Gebroe, who has written for the San Francisco Giants Magazine, quips, “With respect to the glass ceiling, I don’t know what I would say on account of I’m not sure I’ve ever bumped my head on it. I have felt it as a woman, but not as a lesbian.”

Eric Latzky

Eric Latzky

Out communications professionals appear to be more prominent in the fields of entertainment, less so in industries such as financial services. But that is changing. Former VP of communications for the New York Philharmonic Eric Latzky adds, “Glass ceilings for out communications professionals remain in conservative business arenas. However, ceilings are getting higher constantly. Discrimination of any kind is bad for business and that is becoming more a part of the American vernacular. I’ve watched those ceilings yield to the need to retain talent.”

Echoing the legacy of visionary activist Harvey Milk, Mr. Melgar concludes, “The more out that people are in the profession, the more people know it’s OK and it should be celebrated.”

In reference to his now acclaimed anti-bullying video series, journalist/author Dan Savage would say, “It gets better.” I do believe nowadays that there are fewer obstacles for gays and lesbians to be promoted in the communications field – and hundreds of success stories – but we still have a significant way to go.

David Landis

David Landis

Posted by: outandequal | August 13, 2014

No Going Back – Indian and Out at Work

Editor’s Note: August 15 is India National Day. Last December, an Indian Supreme Court decision re-criminalized homosexuality. BJP (conservative) Prime Minister Narendra Modi, elected in May this year, is due to visit President Obama next month. Modi’s business-friendly message runs counter to business diversity and inclusion objectives and as the US and India explore their economic attraction, the future happiness of millions of Indian LGBTs hangs in the balance.

By Poonam Kapoor, Product Manager, Kaiser Permanente

Duty, honor, and sacrifice. That sounds like a slogan someone in the military would chant. Rather, it was the cultural anthem of the many Indian women I grew up with in Houston, Texas. My parents immigrated to the US over 40 years ago. Like many other Indians looking for the American dream, they wanted the job, the house, and the car, but not the culture. They felt more comfortable preserving the Indian culture they grew up with, so they lived and brought us up within that bubble. While we were frozen in time, India and America were changing.

Poonam Kapoor at the NCLR gala

Poonam Kapoor at the NCLR gala

Our middle class bubble was safe, and we felt protected as long as we maintained the cultural values and norms that were expected across the community. The idea of leaving the bubble was highly discouraged; therefore, watchguards were in place if any of us stepped out of line. I, along with my other female Indian friends, was not allowed to date. Spending time with boys was “bad,” unless it was with our brothers or cousins. Forget about the thought of dating or sex before marriage.

Duty. Doing our duty meant studying, helping with chores, the family business, temple work, etc. I pretty much did as I was told. Controversial opinions or saying anything that challenged our elders’ positions were not encouraged.

Honor. I couldn’t do anything to shame my family’s good name so as to maintain our honor. No lying, stealing, intoxicants, no bad grade, and no sex with a woman- that’s for sure. As a rebellious teen, every time I got caught dabbling in a vice I was immediately put back in line. Shame for me grew deeper the older I got. Shame was there for my parents too, as they chose to live double lives. For example; changing their names at work to sound more American, not bringing Indian food to work, and never wearing Indian clothes outside of Indian functions. I adopted these practices too.

Sacrifice. I was destined to marry a good Indian boy whether it be pre-arranged or of my choosing (which of course had to meet the same criteria as pre-arranged; good family, good education, good money, same religion, etc). As I began to realize my feelings for other women in college, I knew I was in big trouble. Despite going to a liberal undergrad, I knew my bubble in Texas, and family in India, would give me the scarlet “H” (for homosexual). As I was entering marriage age I knew time was running out and that I needed to explore my feelings for women and “get them out of my system.” I remember having to get drunk in order to muster enough courage to go into a lesbian bar. After falling for a few women, I knew I was definitely gay. I remember telling my Mom I was depressed, but never explaining why. She told me it was because I wasn’t married to a man. I was at a loss.

After college I worked for a conservative multi-national company in Texas. At work, when my all American co-workers would ask me about dating, I would always change pronouns so they thought I was straight. My boss would chuckle when someone brought up the token gay guy and his partner at work. I didn’t want to be ridiculed. More importantly, I didn’t want to be fired. Back then, a decade ago, (and even today) the state of Texas does not have non-discrimination policies in place in every city. Granted there are a few cities that have them today, but the majority of Texans are still at risk of being fired for being LGBTQ or expressing their gender identity.  My work culture was like my Indian culture. If you weren’t following the group norms then you risked being banished.


The same company moved me to San Francisco for a job assignment. In California, I was exposed to a world where diversity was more prevalent at work, in people’s lifestyles, in their thinking. It was a bit overwhelming for me to see how comfortable people were taking about politics, religion and occasionally even about sexuality. I still didn’t feel safe sharing my truth and didn’t even think to investigate whether California had non discrimination protections in place. I just assumed it didn’t and that because my company was conservative I should keep closeted in order to keep my job. Although California is well known as a blue state, I ended up switching jobs and working for another conservative company in Salinas, the central valley. What a shocker it was to go from right to left to somewhere in between. I was in my mid twenties and decided to slowly come out. My boss at the time was friendly and seemed progressive. When I came out to her she laughed at me. I felt humiliated by someone I respected and admired. After that I told very few people and only if they were LGBTQ or trustworthy.

In my next and current occupation which is for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, I was initially discouraged by a co-worker from coming out to everyone because of our conservative boss. By befriending other LGBTQ colleagues and after learning that I had legal rights, I felt more comfortable sharing. It was scary and liberating at the same time. People I worked with wanted to know about my life, supported equal rights for LGBTQ people and embraced diversity. I was in a different kind of bubble, but I liked this one. People were so respectful and inclusive when sharing their own lives. Straight and LGBTQ people would say things like “my partner”. They made me feel normal. To bring all parts of myself to work or any environment was a gift and fundamental right I’m not giving up.


After I burned my cloak of shame to ashes, I’ve been sharing my story to bring visibility to the plight of South Asian LGBTQ people. While the US government has made amazing strides which benefits South Asians here, it’s been disheartening to see India turn the clock back by reinstating Section 377, a 150 year old British Colonial law that criminalizes homosexuality.

The world’s largest democracy has deprived its minority citizens of their dignity and equal rights. The old Colonial law opposes the Indian constitution’s fundamental tenant of inclusiveness for all its’ citizens. The United Nations understands and made this video, which has accumulated over two millions views on YouTube:

In September, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting President Obama at the White House. I call on all LGBTQ people and our allies to ask President Obama to stand for equal rights for LGBTQ people in India and encourage the Prime Minister’s government to remove 377 once and for all. To learn more and get involved please visit the campaign website.

We need to stand together and proud for all people, here in California, the US, and in countries like India. LTBTQ people do not need to sacrifice who we love in order to do our duty as outstanding citizens and workers. We can lead honorable lives, ones that are true to ourselves.

Poonam Kapoor

Poonam Kapoor

Poonam believes LGBTQ rights are human rights and is an active volunteer with Trikone, the oldest South Asian LGBT organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can email her here.

Posted by: outandequal | August 11, 2014

Workplace Equality Down Under

Editor’s Note: Several companies that partner with Out & Equal are among the top places to work in Australia for LGBT employees, proving that good diversity and inclusion practices know no borders..

By Dawn Hough, Director – Pride in Diversity

While LGBTI is an assumed agenda item on most progressive diversity strategies in the US and UK, it is still (by comparison) relatively new to Australia. This week, Pride in Diversity released the annual Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI), first published in 2011.


Pride in Diversity is Australia’s not-for-profit employer support program for LGBTI workplace inclusion and the AWEI is the annual index that employers complete to not only assess their current practice in LGBTI workplace equality, but to benchmark themselves against top employers, their sector and (in some cases) industry.

While the main focus of the index is to gauge and shift Australian practice to ensure that it competes internationally with other aligned tools, one of the highlights of the AWEI is the announcement of the country’s Top 20 Employers along with a range of other awards recognising excellence in leadership, small business, country/rural areas in addition to the work and contribution of individual CEO’s, business leaders and champions.

The No.1 spot this year went to Goldman Sachs who have consistently maintained a high Top 10 position over the four year life of the Australian Index. Other Out & Equal partners that made the Top 20 list include IBM (Ranked Joint 6th), Chevron (ranked 13) and EY (Ranked 18).

Representatives of Goldman Sachs receive the 2014 Employer of the Year Award

Representatives of Goldman Sachs receive the 2014 Employer of the Year Award

The index is a comprehensive 200-point index that assesses work for the previous year in the areas of

  • Inclusive Policy and Practice (30 Points)
  • Inclusive Culture and Visibility (60 points)
  • Staff Awareness ,Training & Development (30 Points)
  • Monitoring (Data Collection & Analysis) – 10 points
  • Supplier Diversity (15 points)
  • Community Engagement (30 Points)
  • Inclusion Beyond (10 points)
  • Additional Work (10 points); and
  • Optional participation in an employer survey (5 points).

The optional employee survey this year attracted responses from 5,663 employees of participating organisations and gave insights into the perceptions and awareness of LGBTI employee initiatives in addition to the lived experiences of LGBTI employees within those organisations.

Key findings of the survey showed that lived experiences amongst LGBTI respondents differed across the age groups and across gender. Younger respondents were more likely to have personally experienced negative commentary during the previous year and a startling 13% of 18-24 year old would not report being bullied or harassed at work as it would mean outing themselves to other employees. Other findings show that an LGBTI inclusive culture was an influencing factor for 80.3% of gay men when deciding whether or not to join an organisation while only 74.9% of gay women. Gay men’s perceptions on several indicators were much more positive than those of lesbian/gay women. Gay men were more aware of diversity initiatives and more likely to say that these initiatives had a positive influence on how they felt about their orientation. Bisexual employees on the other hand were far less likely to be out at work (27% as opposed to 81% of gay men and 76% of gay / lesbian women) and that while they believed that an LGBTI inclusive culture was important, only 57% were likely to use it as an influencing factor on whether or not to join an organisation.

Overall, responses from LGBTI employees in the Top 10 organisations were markedly different than from LGBTI employees in non-Top 10 organisations, indicating the positive impact of inclusion initiatives. LGBTI employees within Top 10 organisations reported:

  • Lower levels of negative homophobic/transphobic commentary
  • Lower levels of awareness of homophobic/transphobic bullying
  • More confidence in managers addressing homophobic/transphobic harassment

Inclusion initiatives also had a much more positive impact on how LGB employees felt about their orientation at Top 10 organisations.

Top 20 organisations in Australia for LGBTI workplace equality 2014 are (in order of ranking):

  • 1 – Goldman Sachs
  • 2 – Curtin University
  • 3 – Westpac Banking Corporation
  • 4 – Commonwealth Bank of Australia
  • 5 – ANZ
  • 6 – Tie: Australian Federal Police | IBM
    7 – Forfeited (Tie 6th Place)
  • 8 – The University of Western Australia
  • 9 – Lend Lease
  • 10 – Tie: KPMG | Accenture
    11 – Forfeited (Tie 10th place)
  • 12 – Herbert Smith Freehills
  • 13 – Chevron
  • 14 – Tie: National Australia Bank and Macquarie Banking & Financial Services
    15 – Forfeited (Tie 14th place)
  • 16 – Children & Young People’s Mental Health
  • 17 – American Express
  • 18 – EY
  • 19 – Macquarie University
  • 20 – Tie: Gilbert + Tobin and Australian Red Cross Blood Service

In 2011 we started with our Top 10 and the momentum is clearly with us. We salute the growing number of diversity champions and thank them for working tirelessly to create workplaces that are safe and inclusive.

Dawn Hough

Dawn Hough

To connect your Australian Office with Pride in Diversity or participate in the AWEI, please contact Pride in Diversity Director Dawn Hough at +612 9206.2136 or via email.

Visit Pride in Diversity at

To find out more about the AWEI or to download the full benchmarking publication go to:

Follow Pride in Diversity on Facebook: or Twitter: @PrideDiversity

Posted by: outandequal | August 7, 2014

At-Will Employment, Not Illegal Discrimination

By Out & Equal staff: Pat Baillie, Director of Training and Professional Development and Teddy Basham-Witherington, Director of Institutional Partnerships

Most people are unaware that in 29 U.S. states you can be fired simply on account of being gay, lesbian or bisexual. Although some cities have LGBT protections, you would have no recourse at the state level to appeal being fired. Not only that, you can be discriminated against in those same states at all phases of the employment process, from application all the way through to termination.


If you happen to be transgender, those same 29 states, plus four more have no legislative protections in employment on the basis of gender identity. A first step has been made with the landmark Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision in the Macy case of 2012. The EEOC extended the Federal Civil Rights Act, Title VII prohibition against sex discrimination to include discrimination against transgender employees. However, this finding does not carry the weight of law so there is still a need for explicit state inclusion that discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression is illegal. Until laws are in place, both employers and transgender employees will be in doubt as to their responsibilities and their rights.

In the U.S., most employment (unless you have a specific contract of employment) is “at-will” – meaning that both employer and employee can end the employment relationship at any time without reason or warning. This means an employer can dismiss an employee without cause. There are, however, exceptions to this general statement, such as an employee cannot be fired due to an illegal reason, if they are covered under public policy (expressed in state constitutions and statutes) or they have contracts that modify the “at-will” relationships. These exceptions vary from state to state, creating challenges for LGBT employees living in states without explicit protections.


Looking at these exemptions, the most significant and in our case, relevant, exception to the at-will rule is in the area of statutory exceptions. Federal protection examples of this would be Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin), the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. There are no federal statutory protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression included in this list. At the state level, the 21 states that offer statutory protections on the basis of sexual orientation and the 17 on the basis of gender identity create the basis to challenge “at will” firings for LGBT employees, if there is evidence that the firing occurred as a result of discrimination based on those characteristics.

So, the next time someone tells you that you can be fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender because employment is at-will, they are right, but if you have the time, connections, and money to pursue a case, in some states at least, you can take the employer to court, and win. In the others? Well, sadly, without the legislative protections, there is no established basis to take an employer to court, excepting of course the EEOC Macy ruling.

President Obama's Executive Order banning Federal Contractors from LGBT workplace discrimination is a step in the right direction, but we need to finish the job

President Obama’s Executive Order banning federal contractors from LGBT workplace discrimination is a step in the right direction, but we need to finish the job

An interesting twist on this discussion has been created by the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the expansion of marriage equality around the U.S. You may now live in a state where marriage equality is a reality, but work in another where you can be fired for putting your wedding photo on your desk. This absurd state of affairs is not only morally wrong, it’s also bad for business. Worrying about these factors keeps both employees and employers from being fully engaged in their business!

The solution? We need a single national standard so that every LGBT employee can feel safe at work and not face a patchwork of discrimination. It’s time to engrave the terms “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” into Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Pat Baillie and Teddy Basham-Witherington

Pat Baillie and Teddy Basham-Witherington

Posted by: outandequal | August 5, 2014

Houston Equal Rights Ordinance Rebuffs Repeal Attempt

By Mike Craig, Chair Emeritus – Out & Equal Houston

Last month, in Houston Sees Red and Passes Equal Rights Ordinance, I wrote about the passage of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance – #HERO – and the coalition that was prepared to fight the repeal petition effort.

On July 3rd, the petition organizers claimed (initially) to have turned in over 50,000 signatures. Never ones to be completely forthright, they also claimed to have already pre-verified more than 31,000 signatures prior to turning in the seven (7!) boxes to the City Secretary.

For the record, they turned in 5,199 petition pages – all of which would have fit in a single box.

Seven boxes, but full of what?

Seven boxes, but ‘full’ of what?

During the past three weeks, over 100 community volunteers – gay, straight, trans, allies – from all walks of life, came together to independently review what had been turned in. Our goal was simple: keep the #HERO opposition honest.

It was a painstaking process – but one that could only be done with today’s social media, crowd-sourcing technology and our volunteers’ tenacity. I’d like to thank everyone involved in the independent petition review – organizers Kris Banks, Kristen Capps, Dane Cook, Noel Freeman, Brad Pritchett, Mike Pomeroy – and to Januari Leo and Mark Eggleston for helping to secure space (with WIFI) for volunteers to work at Legacy Community Health and Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church. To our volunteers who poured hundreds of long hours into this effort – I can’t say thank you enough.

Last Wednesday, based on the results of the independent reviews, Noel Freeman (Houston GLBT Caucus) and I testified before City Council and turned in our preliminary analyses showing that there were serious – potentially fatal – flaws with the petitions. A final report was turned in to the City Secretary, City Attorney and Mayor on Friday.

View The Testimony Here

View The Testimony Here

Our hope was that the City would – as part of their normal review process – find what we had found: that the petitioners had failed to qualify enough signatures to meet the 17,269 threshold.

From Friday evening to Monday afternoon, we held our collective breath.

Then at 5:00 PM on Monday, August 4th – the City Attorney and Mayor affirmed the news. To quote City Attorney Feldman: “There are simply too many documents with irregularities and problems to overlook. The petition is simply invalid. There is no other conclusion.”

Houston City Attorney David Feldman and Mayor Annise Parker who said: "Clearly, the majority of Houstonians were not interested in a repeal process."

Houston City Attorney David Feldman and Mayor Annise Parker who said: “Clearly, the majority of Houstonians were not interested in a repeal process.”

Predictably, the #HERO opponents were unhappy and lost no time in vowing to take the battle to court. We’ll see what happens, but even if by some legal maneuver this ends up on the ballot, we agree with Mayor Parker’s assessment that “clearly, the majority of Houstonians were not interested in a repeal process” and that equality will win the day. Whether in court, at the ballot box or at the water cooler, we’re ready for the next round in the quest to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to be Out AND Equal!

Mike Craig

Mike Craig


For UPDATES and more information:

  1. Out & Equal Houston Website
  2. Out & Equal Houston Facebook Page
  3. Equal Rights Houston


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.


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.

Battaglino, Stephanie, NYL-HO_380x250 (2)

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.

Hobby Lobby

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: 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.


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.

Global Series Panel 1 Audience

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.

Summit 2006 Reg

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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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:

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