Hurricane Sandy Fails to Disrupt Week Dedicated to Building Equitable Workplaces for LGBT People
November 5, 2012: Though the week of the Summit began with a threat of disruption from Hurricane Sandy, Out & Equal Workplace Summit attendees persevered to advance the momentum of LGBT workplace equality. 1,400 executives, human resources and diversity professionals, employee resource groups and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and allies gathered in Baltimore, Maryland, October 29-November 2, to share their best practices and ideas for creating workplaces where all people are safe, accepted, and valued, inclusive of all sexual orientations, gender identities, characteristics, and expressions. The Out & Equal Workplace Summit, held annually since 1999, typically draws thousands attendees from across the world.
This year Hewlett-Packard and IBM were the presenting sponsors for the Workplace Summit, in addition to support from 118 sponsoring corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.
Out & Equal Founding Executive Director Selisse Berry welcomed attendees to the Summit with a message emphasizing the importance of storytelling to push forward LGBT workplace equality. She revealed the new book Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office, featuring the stories of LGBT and ally leaders who introduced new policies and procedures to their respective organizations, improving the workplace experience for countless of LGBT employees who have felt unsafe or treated differently simply for being LGBT. Berry said, “Today, we celebrate your stories and our powerful shared voice. Because, together, we have literally written the book on workplace equality.”
Guest Speaker and Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young, Beth Brooke shared her public coming out story and reminded attendees of the positive influence each coming out story provides for the LGBT equality movement. Brooke said, "I was on the [Forbes World's 100 Most Powerful Women] list for five years. Now, I'm out and on the list... There's an incredible responsibility that comes with that."
Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP and a long-time ally to the LGBT movement for equality spoke from both a personal and professional perspective. He stressed that all communities seeking equality must work together to achieve equal rights, regardless of gender, orientation, ethnicity or race. He shared his vision for cooperation of different communities in the United States. "Every nation has a destiny,” said Jealous, “and our nation's destiny is to be the most perfect example of unity that the world has ever seen. The work of the civil rights movement is to empower America to be America—that most perfect example of unity."
Political humorist and entertainer Kate Clinton hosted the Gala Dinner, presented by Hewlett-Packard and Target. Sister Sledge—featuring Kathy Sledge, Suede, and Potomac Fever, an a cappella ensemble of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington provided the evening’s entertainment. At the dinner Out & Equal presented its prestigious Outie Awards to individuals and corporations who have made a significant contribution to workplace equality and continue to do so.
Gala special guest Brigadier General Tammy Smith remarked on her experience about rising through the ranks of the U.S. Army while remaining true to herself. "If I am able to stand here as a soldier and as my authentic self it is thanks to you... so don't stop, don't even slow down in creating equal workplaces. I am in your debt."
The list of dynamic presenters at the Workplace Summit included Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, America’s first African-American female combat pilot; Harry von Dorenmalen, Chair of IBM Europe; and Zach Wahls, who addressed the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in support of gay marriage, becoming an internet sensation, and who spoke to an ecstatic reception at the Democratic National Convention.
The Workplace Summit also featured special screenings of Out of Annapolis and Codebreaker, as well as a Global Panels that addressed the state of workplace equality throughout the world, including Europe, Latin America, and Asia, and addressed the ways in which globalization impacts the LGBT experience. 120 workshops, a day of leadership seminars, luncheons and networking opportunities rounded out the week’s events, equipping attendees with the tools necessary to build equality in their workplace, so that no person is faced with the impossible decision of choosing between a career they love and who they love.
Attendees were undaunted by the threat of the oncoming hurricane. Out & Equal worked in tight cooperation with City officials to put safety first and was able to re-build the summit from the ground up, breaking at 3pm Monday, October 29 and back in business by lunchtime the following day. Once the storm had passed, Out & Equal asked attendees during the gala dinner to take a moment to send peaceful thoughts to everyone suffering from the storm.