The American South has far too long been counted out when it comes to cultures of belonging and LGBTQ equality.

That’s a mistake.

Last week, over 250 LGBTQ and Ally professionals participated in the second annual Out & Equal Southern States Forum on December 4th, in partnership with our virtual host, Milliken & Company. Together – CEOs, senior executives, ERG leaders, D&I professionals, and other LGBTQ advocates – broke the mold on “corporate conversations” about inclusion. Instead, they articulated the need to evolve and have courageous conversations solidifying true belonging.

Global business leader and living legacy of the Black Civil Rights movement, Sandra Evers-Manly spoke movingly of the “heart decisions” that ultimately lead day-to-day culture changes. Today, Evers-Manly is Vice President, Global Corporate Responsibility at the Northrop Grumman Corporation.

The South presents rich opportunities for deepening LGBTQ and Ally engagement in workplaces. The Southern States Forum helps employers build cultures of belonging in this region, taking into account the broader cultural context of the South and the daily realities LGBTQ workers and their families face.

No meaningful topic was off the table at the forum – from religion, to race, to allyship – each workshop built on leveraging empathy as a tool for organizational change.

“When we empathize, we do more than connect with people. For businesses, empathy builds individual capacity for creativity and innovation. By empathizing, we see various perspectives at once, transforming workplaces and opening the business up to new ideas and markets.” – Deena Fidas, Managing Director and Chief Program & Partnerships Officer, Out & Equal

For many LGBTQ Southerners, the workplace is often the safest, most open space to be their authentic selves or the very first place a future ally learns important ways to demonstrate respect towards the LGBTQ community.

This community of hundreds will bring these learnings back to their organizations, harnessing the collective power of businesses to push LGBTQ inclusion forward in the region.

As we move into 2021, Out & Equal will continue to work with our partners in the South to build additional resources, share best practices, deliver new virtual offerings, and plan the 2021 Southern States Forum! Looking forward to seeing you at our forum next year!

Highlights from the day:

Watch a sample of the programming:

Southern States Forum Featured Partners

Host Company

Titanium Sponsor

Platinum Sponsor

Silver Sponsor

Bronze Sponsors

Copper Sponsors

Community Partners