Posted: 2/24/20

Why Pride Month Is More Important Than Ever: RaceAhead

By Ellen McGirt June 3, 2019
Pride Month has begun, and with it, a series of events, testimonies, and think pieces designed to remind us that while there has been so much progress, the struggle for LGBTQ equality is far from over.

We are welcoming a series of long-overdue firsts in 2019 – the first openly gay album in India, first same-sex marriage law in Asia, the first openly gay state governor in the U.S., moments of courage and hope that serve as optimistic beachheads in a world that continues to devalue the dignity and safety of others. The headwinds have been profound lately, for transgender people in the U.S. military, for LGBTQ students, for same-sex couples who want to buy a wedding cake in some states. One haunting statistic: The rate of violence against transgender women, particularly those of color, continues to rise unabated.

Corporate America has stepped into the conversation in a big way.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, legislation designed to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, education, housing, public accommodations, and other areas, like in retail settings and jury service. The bill passed 236-173.

While it faces an uphill battle in the Senate, it fills in important gaps from previous civil rights legislation. For one thing, it would protect the fifty percent of LGBTQ people who live in the 30 U.S. states that still allow for widespread discrimination based on sexual or gender identities. An earlier version was proposed in 2015, and again in 2017.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), more than 200 major brands and businesses, with a combined 10.4 million employees and $4.5 trillion in revenue, publicly advocated for the legislation in part by joining the HRC’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act. Click through and see a strong showing from Fortune 500 companies.

By comparison, the only four companies publicly supporting the 2015 version of the legislation were Apple, The Dow Chemical Co. and Levi Strauss & Co.
The corporate shoulder to the wheel is welcome. Obviously, it sends a message. (As does smart LGBTQ-inclusive marketing and advertising.)

But, I believe, one of the unexpected gifts of this kind of advocacy is that it helps people more quickly find the heart of inclusion work: seeing and sharing the fear of others.

When someone casually kneels down to set a rainbow flag alight in front of a gay bar (see below) it’s an annoying act of minor vandalism for some. For others, it’s a death threat. For some, debates about same-sex marriage is a bunch of political noise and a distraction from more important issues. For others, it’s the right to care for dying spouses, be acknowledged as parents, access essential benefits, and be accepted in the world unconditionally.
Understanding this distinction is the crux of the work.

When an individual decides to be an ally, whether they realize it or not, they’re making a choice to be alarmed by and share the weight of the specific fear felt by people unlike themselves. From there, they can act from a place of understanding and support. When a corporation takes a position as an ally, they make it safe for employees, customers, investors, partners, and others who might otherwise be on the sidelines to make the same choice. Yes, it’s good for business. But it’s also just…good.

The bill is far from becoming a law, and there is a legitimate debate to be had about the language it uses, particularly around unintended consequences for faith-based conscientious objectors of all kinds. Professor Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia and a longtime supporter of a federal gay-rights non-discrimination law, has an informative take here.

So, happy Pride Month everyone. If the past is any indication, the debate about the Equality Act will get contentious, and everyone will need to get their empathy on if we’re to settle on a solution that will protect the rights of all involved.

Now, being willing to share the fear of others won’t magically solve the many leadership speed bumps we face on a daily basis—the injustice-collecting manager, the credit-stealing team lead, the perpetually silent diversity hire—will all live to vex you another day. But I’d argue it’s a good start.


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