Top companies tout a new attitude to gay and lesbian workers
October 3, 2003
MINNEAPOLIS — When 600 gay and lesbian professionals gathered Thursday for an
annual conference, they had company - Best Buy, IBM, Target and
other major corporations pitching themselves as fair, open,
inviting places to work.
"Some of these companies I shop at every day. I didn't realize
they were as open," said Carlos Trevino, who arrived from Dallas
for the opening of the Out & Equal Workplace Summit.
Trevino's employer, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., was one of 60
companies that sent representatives to the three-day conference for
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered workers, passing out free
pens and flying discs to attendees from across the country.
Many cited improvements in work environments for gays, including
company domestic partner benefit forms that increasingly list a
"significant other" option, and employers whose senior executives
serve on diversity boards.
Yet, some of those attending the conference say discrimination
remains prevalent and gay concerns can be become lost when
companies group them with religious and racial issues in broad
"We're kinda like the invisible minority as far as diversity
training goes," said Lori Mahla, who is gay, and works at a nursing
home in Ramsey County, Minnesota.
Most of the questions Adam Wolf fielded at the Hewlett-Packard
Co. booth were about the atmosphere at HP - which he boasted had
created a global council to address gay issues - rather than the
company's long-term strategy or business outlook.
"The questions are less about the overall lookout of the
company," said Wolf, who is gay and from Loveland, Colorado "It
shows that people really do care about the work environment."
Many attendees said just the presence of companies including
Honeywell, Deutsche Bank, Motorola and Daimler Chrysler at the
conference was a big step forward, but they also acknowledged
Candi Wallace, who works for Cargill Inc. in the Twin Cities,
said gay workers face small challenges - like being allowed to hang
a partner's picture on a cubicle wall - as well as larger ones like
same-sex health benefits. Cargill does not offer such benefits.
"We're really changing the face of diversity," said Debra Davis,
who is transgendered and is the executive director of the
Minnesota-based Gender Education Center.
She has been hired by companies and government agencies to speak
on transgender issues since her well-publicized transition in 1998.
Davis, then a Minneapolis high school librarian, left work as a man
on Friday and returned on Monday as a woman.
Davis was later involved in a federal lawsuit by a woman teacher
who objected to using the same restroom as her. An appeals court
ruled last year the school district met its legal obligations when
it offered alternate facilities to the teacher who complained.
"We're starting to make noise. We're starting to make a
difference," said Davis, who presented a workshop at the conference
on attitudes toward transgendered workers.
Nearly two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies now include sexual
orientation in their non-discrimination policies, according to an
August study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Seventy-one
percent of the companies surveyed advertised to the gay community,
up from 61 percent in 2002.
The report looked at 250 companies from the Fortune 500 and
Forbes 200 lists. It gave perfect scores to 21 companies for their
treatment of gay and lesbian employees, up from 11 last year. No
company received a score of zero - last year three companies did.
The scoring included whether health insurance coverage was
offered to same-sex partners and whether the companies had
nondiscrimination policies covering sexual orientation and gender
Another study by the gay rights advocacy group found that 15
cities and counties enacted laws in 2002 banning discrimination
based on sexual orientation, compared with eight in 2001. By the
end of last year, 119 cities and 23 counties had such laws in
Joe Campbell, who works in consumer relations for consumer
products giant Procter & Gamble, said awareness of gay, lesbian,
bisexual and transgender issues is increasing on the work front -
but at its own pace.
"It's getting better," said Campbell, of Cincinnati, "and it's
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