One of the most rewarding parts of last week’s HRC Carolinas Gala for me was the variety of people that were there representing our company. We had young men and women just starting their career, and seasoned professionals with decades of service. We had people of different ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, and points of view.
And we had several straight allies, there to show their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues and concerns.
The dinner itself was inspirational and emotionally satisfying, helping to get the audience good ‘n riled up about LGBT equality. Meredith Baxter, TV’s mom from the show Family Ties, recently came out as a lesbian and was happy to tell us why she did so. Clay Aiken, runner-up on American Idol several years ago, recently came out as a gay man and was happy to tell us why he did so. They both had compelling stories, and understandable personal interest in striving for LGBT equality.
And then there were two senior executives from my employer, there at my invitation, whose motivation in supporting LGBT equality stems primarily from the fact that it’s the right thing to do.
Sure, there are organizational benefits to having empowered and motivated LGBT employees in your workplace. People who are comfortable bringing their “whole selves” to work are more productive, more relaxed and less distracted, and are likely to build better and more lasting professional relationships with coworkers. And as senior executives (especially one, whose role is specifically in the Diversity department of my company) it’s expected of them to support diversity at work.
The thing is, I feel completely confident in saying that they’d be just as supportive for LGBT employees at other companies, or supportive of LGBT equality in the legislature or the courts. As I said, it stems from their unwavering belief that LGBT issues are human issues, affecting human beings, and that equality is a concept that goes beyond race or gender.
Spending time at the HRC dinner talking with these two people and their spouses, engaging them in conversation with lesbian, gay, and straight coworkers (and some straight guests of employees) was such a treat… So much so that some of us starting chatting at the hotel bar when the Gala was over, and ended up sitting there and talking for so long that it became “last call” and we realized that we had forgotten to go out to the official after-party!
People ask me what the highlight of the weekend was… And I say without hesitation that it was that evening, exchanging ideas with a diverse group of friends and colleagues, finding common ground and reveling in our core shared humanity.
It was the perfect embodiment of what the Human Rights Campaign seeks to accomplish: equality that goes beyond sexual orientation, goes beyond race or ethnicity, goes beyond gender, goes beyond religion, goes beyond age… All of these things became topics of conversation, but through genuine desire to embrace our differences and let them bring us together, not because they drive us apart.
It was poetry, and I still can’t get past the simple joy of it.