Good morning and welcome!
Take a moment right now to look around this room. Look at the thousands of beautiful faces that are lighting up this space after three years.
And good morning, good afternoon, and good evening to the thousands more joining us live from all over the globe!
We are so lucky that you all join us today. Welcome all to the 2022 Out & Equal Workplace Summit!
My name is Erin Uritus. It is my honor to stand before you today in my fifth year as CEO of Out & Equal.
Picture this. Orlando. 2002. In a ballroom about the tenth the size of this one.
Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell. The Defense of Marriage Act. These are laws of the land.
The Fortune 500? They don’t protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.
Your workplace can deny you a job. Your boss can fire you for being LGBTQ.
There are no out CEOs.
Pride is not on the corporate calendar.
The rainbow is not in the corporate palette.
We are not in the rooms where decisions are made.
But we do have at least one thing, and I got to see it for the first time.
A group of LGBTQ people and allies meeting for a conference, preparing to break down barriers.
They were only five years young. They called it Summit. They were Out & Equal.
What do you think it was like?
I’ll tell you what it was like for me.
At that Summit 20 years ago, Out & Equal was a portal to a different future for the workplace.
Did they really imagine a workplace that not only valued the talents of people like me but sought out the contributions of LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized and overlooked groups?
Yes, they did.
I saw the vision of Out & Equal, and I loved what I saw:
To create safe and welcoming workplaces where we could show up, be out, and give to our fullest potential.
No hiding and no shame. Be open and be proud. And be loud about the changes we knew our workplaces needed.
I heard the conviction, and I loved it:
Not just boxes would be checked, but long-lasting change.
Inclusion meant including in earnest and with intention,
not following some generic formula.
They knew there was no one recipe or silver bullet for renovating the culture of a company.
And they understood then what more and more employers[us] know for certain now: that true and lasting change must be big – transformative change. Transform. Not transact.
Incremental betterment was great, but not at all sufficient when profound and lasting change could be possible!
They knew that leaders had to come from different places with different perspectives.
They knew we needed a workplace where we would not merely be tolerated, but a workplace where we would belong.
And in the 20 years since my first Summit—since many people’s first Summit—we have shown up.
Through the sadness and through the celebrations. We have shown up.
Through the tragedies and through the triumphs. We have shown up.
Through acts of hate and through acts of love. We have shown up.
Be it breakdown or break-through we have shown up.
And we have shown others what those who came before us knew we needed to be: unstoppable.
Their hard work, your hard work, and that unstoppable spirit has carried us far!
Show me a Fortune 500 company today that doesn’t have a suite of LGBTQ+-inclusion policies, and I will show you a dying minority and a losing business.
Today, hundreds of companies stand with us and urge Congress to pass the Equality Act.
Today, “same-sex marriage” is simply marriage, and we will keep protecting it as such, supported by hundreds of businesses, here in the US and in more countries around the world.
Today, the vision and conviction of Out & Equal—born in San Francisco in 1996—has blossomed into a global community of tens of thousands of global changemakers.
If there is one community that is unstoppable in the face of abject adversity, it is this one right here… in this room and online today… the unstoppable Out & Equal workplace community!
When the Out & Equal Board selected me to lead this organization after our Founder, they were addressing the convergence of a rapidly changing demographic, the explosion of CEO and corporate “activism”, and the opportunity to expand our mission and global reach through emerging technology and a more community-centered approach.
I have spent my life – by choice and by chance – in the space of change. Of transition. And in-between.
For the decades before assuming the CEO-ship at Out & Equal, I was an OD leader, gravitating to the toughest structural and cultural challenges I could find. The work took me to Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Europe.
Where others saw discomfort, I saw the sweet spot when the space was about to open up to transformation. And it’s that space that we all need more of – the necessary discomfort before a major shift.
I stand here today as the only Bi woman to lead a global LGBTQ+ organization of this size.
I come out of – not the policy space- but the global business transformation space.
I stand here as and single parent of a genderqueer child.
I won’t lie to you.
As a Bi woman, I have entered queer spaces for years, craving the safety and connection that our community has made commonplace—only to sometimes get an unexpected splash of cold water thrown right in my face.
Bi-erasure. Biphobia. It’s enough to make you feel like the fly in the punchbowl.
I know I’m not alone.
The B in LGBTQ+ does not stand for a blank zone between two other letters of an acronym.
It stands for the largest estimated population in the Queer community.
All my adult life people have suggested that being Bi is just a phase.
Well, let me tell you something: if it is just a phase, then your whole life is just that little phase between being born and falling down dead.
I have spent my whole life—by choice and by chance—in the space of change.
I can remember the first time my youngest child came out as genderqueer and pansexual.
They were 9 years old.
At 9 years old, they made me so happy to have the courage to declare their authentic self.
The courage and audacity to do that at such a young age.
Can you imagine?
But it also made me fearful.
Was my kiddo’s school queer-friendly enough? Was I prepared for the unknown challenges that lay in store?
Like the time she shared that her classmates told her she had to cut her hair if she was “really” non-binary. Like the time that I discovered she had spent weeks writing a Valentine’s Day letter to a girl in their class. And when that girl’s mother discovered the letter, she threatened to yank her own daughter out of school.
That wasn’t easy.
My kid reacted by thinking the only acceptable alternative would be a Valentine to a boy in their class, and by switching back their pronouns. Pronouns they had fought for and were proud of.
9 years old. Already staring right at the core of our problem. Already choosing to cover and change themselves. To silence their authenticity. To shame it.
Anyone who knows me knows that my kids are my everything.
Raising a gender-fluid, queer child has put me up against some uncomfortable facts and in the middle of some uncomfortable conversations.
But I wouldn’t want it any other way…
Everyone here has agreed, in some way, to be willing to face uncomfortable facts and have uncomfortable conversations…
That’s what makes us a safe and welcoming community, on top of everything else.
You who have joined us today did so, like I first did, in hopes of finding that disruptive practice, or that lightbulb-sparking idea, or that game-changing meeting that will send you back to your workplace like a wave, knowing exactly how and precisely where to crash through whatever has been stuck in place.
For yourself. For your teams. For your company. For our community. And for society at large.
I guarantee you that Summit will give you the greatest gifts if EACH of you commit to four things.
Commit to empathy – E.
Commit to accountability- A.
Commit to courage- C.
And commit to humility. H.
Each of us must believe enough in the unstoppable future to weather the discomfort of shaking up the present.
I want each of us—members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies alike—to take this moment this morning—right now—to allow ourselves to get uncomfortable at Summit.
If you allow yourself to brave asking the “stupid” questions, each of us will get better answers.
If you allow yourself to be the person who knows the least, each of us will know more.
If you who are used to leading and allow yourself to follow, each of us will become better leaders.
If you who are used to following, allow yourself to be a leader, each of us will be stronger as teammates.
Finally, give yourself, and each other, a round of applause for allowing yourselves to show up fully at Out & Equal 2022!
Belonging begins with each of us.
Ask yourself first:
What is my role in the workplace? What is my sphere of influence?
Let’s get honest right away at Summit.
We have thousands of people here and virtually from Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, internationally renowned non-profits, and media… talking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Racking up wins for progress and change in the workplace.
And we have sincere awards to give out to fierce changemakers who have left their mark around the globe.
That’s all well and good… and true… and deserved.
But we’re also talking about basic victories, basic rights, and basic benefits. When each of us knows that we can do so much more.
We know that Out & Equal has been around for nearly 25 years because it has taken 20 years minimum to get a boardroom to decide that DEI is a basic building block of doing the best business, and not just a bonus for the queer talent they can’t afford to lose.
Let’s get honest.
A lot of us are angry. We are tired, frustrated, and aghast at our hard-won victories being pushed back.
Because H.R. Departments and DEI practitioners want big change, and fast. I want big change, and fast. You want big change, fast.
And we know that the same highly intelligent, highly competitive engineers, analysts, executives, and decision makers can move mountains and innovate like there’s no tomorrow when the business is on the line. These same people could bring that same force and energy to their company culture tomorrow if they wanted to (if cultures of belonging exist and support their talent and contributions)
That’s why I urge you, over these next three days, to enter the rooms or log on to those sessions with the urgency of a sprinter poised on the starting blocks. Ready to go. And ready to go fast and far until you’ve given all you’ve got to give. This moment demands it. We all need our best selves here so we can bring back out best selves out THERE!
I’m telling you I have witnessed the Eureka moments. I have felt them change me. As an in-person attendee 20 years ago, to recent years when Out & Equal was a digital haven during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
And those moments erupted when each of us allowed ourselves to get uncomfortable … to demand that future that the generations of yesterday have fought for.
Those moments are when we are unstoppable. As individuals. As a collective. As a movement.
Let’s get honest.
Even some people in this room and joining us online treat what we do here as a nice-to-have detour, not a must-have demand.
Unstoppable is a demand.
And it’s not just a demand for a few LGBTQ+ people who fit the palatable corporate image.
It’s a demand for the people of color without whose struggle there would be no Out & Equal.
It’s a demand for trans people who, every year, have to fight from being dropped from the back of the sled as we wage our uphill battle for progress.
It’s a demand for the differently abled. It’s a demand for the fluid. It’s a demand for my child. It is a demand for EACH of us!
Yes. These next three days will be demanding but rewarding.
But I know that if you spend the next 72 hours giving yourself over to what Summit has to offer, participating with alertness and attention, stepping back so others can step forward, and embracing with openness and intention, you will leave this Summit a changed person.
You will leave unstoppable.