One Equal World

Archive for the ‘LGBT’ Category

The logo for the American Mortgage Diversity Council.

More than half of America’s states don’t have protections for LGBT identities in their housing discrimination laws. Same-sex marriage is legal nationwide, but a queer person in Texas, Tennessee, New Hampshire, or 27 other states could come home from their honeymoon to a perfectly legal eviction notice on their door. It’s worse for transgender individuals, as only a few states have language that explicitly includes them in legal protections.

On Thursday, December 7th, the American Mortgage Diversity Council, supported by Bank of America, hosted a roundtable conference in Dallas, Texas to discuss legislation that includes sexuality and gender identity in Fair Housing Act protections.

The council also discussed instituting programs that encourage LGBT home ownership, particularly programs at the federal level. This would also include a training program about unconscious bias for industry professionals in loans and realty.

“This round-table Town Hall connects the leaders of the Dallas LGBT community into a collaborative dialogue with the leaders of the mortgage banking and financial services industry to shed light on the challenges facing all facets of their community in an effort to ensure that diversity and inclusion remains a top priority,” said John Rieger, the Executive Director for the American Mortgage Diversity Council.

The reason why it needs to be a top priority is apparent in the words of Neil Cazares-Thomas, Senior Paster at the inclusive Cathedral of Hope:

“It is imperative that the full power of the banking industry is both seen as being diverse and supporting the many causes that support the fight of discrimination and stigma that is seen in the LGBT community, which leads to homelessness, issues with addiction, and other social needs.”

The American Mortgage Diversity Council intends this to be the first of many such roundtables held in cities around the country. In each, it will loop local LGBT resource centers and educational programs in with banking professionals and experts in property loans.

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A photo of Hudson River Park taken at sunset.

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In June of 2016, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo established a commission to seek out a design for a memorial dedicated to the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida that had happened earlier that month. Submissions were accepted in October, and on Sunday, June 25th 2017, the winning design was announced

Anthony Goicolea, the victorious designer, was perhaps destined to win it. A Cuban-American who grew up in the south and now shares a Brooklyn home with his husband, he is a part of the communities hit hardest by the shooting, which stands as the deadliest civilian incident of gun violence in the United States.

His design is an arrangement of nine boulders, most of them bisected by thick, polished layers of refractive glass. The glass slices will act as prisms, using any available light to throw rainbows in all directions. The boulders, in their loose circle, will remind visitors to the space of ancient sites, like Stonehenge and burial mounds.

“This monument will serve as a communal space filled with light, color, and hope where the visitors can sit, mourn, love, and remember for years to come,” Giocolea stated. 

The site of the new monument, Hudson River Park, is Giocolea’s home turf. He often runs there. And it is an important place to the LGBT community as well; the Stonewall Inn is only a short walk away.

“It feels like there are certain shapes and patterns that are encoded in our DNA as humans that transcend any particular culture and speak to how we are unified in the larger scheme,” Giocolea added. “I wanted to create a space that feels familiar, even though it is new.”

While the announcement of the winning design was timed to coincide with NYC Pride festivities, there is currently no official date for the completion of the installation.

A photo of a legal document that's titled "lawsuit."

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Donna Kikkert calls herself a “mainstream” student. By that, the 59-year-old woman chasing her first degree at the University of Wisconsin means that she is straight, white, and Christian. She took a poetry class, and is suing the professor for choosing a reading selection that did not “serve her needs.”

Without naming titles, Kikkert claimed in course records that the assigned readings for her Creative Writing Poetry course focused on “lesbians, illicit sexual relationships, incest, and frequent swearing.” She had demanded more “classic” works, and when that was denied, she complained first to the professor, then to the university, and then, after her failing grade was upheld and the course was finished, to court.

Kikkert’s demands included not only an A grade for herself, but also that the teacher, Professor Patricia Dyjak, be fired or suspended without pay for a full year—four times the length of the course. Kikkert also made personal accusations of inappropriate behavior against Dyjak, accusations refuted by other students.

For generations, literature studies have included only the works of white men and the occasional white woman, only the experiences of the majority. Decades of poetry written by LGBT people, people of color, women, and other “fringe” populations have been left out of the curriculum, and now that they are there, the “mainstream” students feel attacked by their very presence.

There’s a supported study by Australian Dale Spender which indicates that men feel that women are dominating the conversation if women speak 30% of the time. One assumes the same winds up true no matter which majority and minority you substitute in.

Kikkert could have chosen to include the titles from her professor’s curriculum. That she didn’t implies that she knew an actual review of the content wouldn’t support her accusation. And even if those accusations were true, there’s nothing in the law or in the tenants of University of Wisconsin that requires a course to cater to her. That’s why the court not only dismissed her case, but also her request for free counsel.

A photo of the outside of a Target store.

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This decade has seen a long parade of businesses publicly wearing the rainbow. It’s difficult to tell, in most cases, whether they’re honestly supporting their LGBT customers, or just courting an emergent customer base from an angle historically denied.

On May 12th, 2017, Target announced a new line of products to feature LGBT imagery, for the fifth year in a row. Their “Take Pride” products are mostly bold, rainbow-printed clothing, and each purchase will see half of the proceeds donated to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

Optimistically, Target doesn’t seem to be only talking the talk. The Minnesota-based mega-corporation has also fiercely defended their policy allowing trans people to use their correct restrooms, and have made a point to be a good employer for trans and LGBT people as well. Many Target locations require gender inclusivity training of their management team members.

Furthermore, they coordinate volunteer opportunities for their employees at both the store and corporate levels to work with LGBT initiatives and charities, most of that volunteer labor matched by corporate contributions. They even used their commercials in 2014 to campaign for same-sex marriage, effectively putting their money where their mouth is.

The commercial with which they launched their newest line is a good one. It hints at the wealth and struggles of LGBT history with archival footage of major milestones, indicating a real recognition of the cause they are supporting, not merely a lip-service token.

The products themselves are summer-themed, whimsical, and fun. T-shirts featuring a dinosaur, unicorn, or pocket-cat waving a Pride flag. There’s even one with a rainbow spread like butter on toast. Shawls, pins, badges, and bumper stickers. A beach towel. Children’s tees declaring their love for moms or dads. Everything a person could want to let the world know on which side of LGBT history they intend to stand on.

A businessman dressed in a suit and tie rips open his shirt, revealing a rainbow shirt underneath.

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In all fifty states, same-sex marriage has been made legal. But in 28 of those states, mentioning your fiance’s name when asking for time off for your honeymoon can get you fired, because in more than half the country it’s still legal to discriminate against LGBT people in the workplace. And in the midst of the current conservative backlash against gay rights, it’s important to take grassroots stands in the workplace.

Here are a few suggestions for what you, your coworkers, and your boss can do to make acceptance one of your core values.

1. The big one: benefits. This is your employer putting their money where their mouth is. Make sure your coworkers with same-sex partners and non-traditional families have the same access to health care that you do, including gender-blind parental options, allowances for adoption and surrogacy, and gender-affirmation and transition-related care.

2. Help support resource groups for LGBT employees, particularly if you are in a state that still supports discrimination. They need a place where they can discuss the weight of those issues.

3. Ask what your company is doing to support LGBT people outside their walls. Do they give preference to relationships with other inclusive companies? Devote any resources to outreach? Does your leadership do any communicating on this issue, or is it just a line for show in the company’s values posters?

4. Track what’s actually happening. Does the data indicate that your goals for diversity are being met? This doesn’t mean hiring to a quota–if you’re truly inclusive, that should be entirely unnecessary. If you can’t have this data, ask your HR why.

5. Speak up when you hear ugly speech at work. It only takes one bigot to make LGBT employees feel unwelcome and under fire if everyone else lets their behavior go unremarked. Report what you hear, and hold your employer responsible for responding.

There are many, many more tactics to take to make your job a shelter for those who still need it. Most of these tactics can be applied to any under-served population, and will make you a role model for other employers in your community.

A road sign that reads, "Silicon Valley."

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More than two thousand adults in the United States responded to the “Tech Leavers Study,” a survey issued and analyzed by the Kapor Center for Social Justice, an Oakland-based organization. Respondents were selected for having left a job in the tech sector since 2013.

One of the primary aims of the study was to research what kept LGBT workers in or out of tech industries. The results were depressingly predictable.

More than any other minority group, LGBT people are still likely to be bullied out of the tech sector.

“People may think of Silicon Valley as a generally progressive place, but unexamined bigotry can still be pervasive,” study lead author Allison Scott, Ph.D., the chief research officer at the Kapor Center, said in an email to the Bay Area Reporter.

The study found that bullying and hostile work environments were pervasive, but that LGBT employees were the most common target. One in four were the target of rude behavior, another quarter report being publicly humiliated. Nearly two thirds of the LGBT subjects of the survey reported that they had left their tech job because of bullying from coworkers or superiors. As many reported that they would have stayed, if the company had done anything to address the behavior.

Perhaps more broadly meaningful, the study’s results looked at average training and severance costs to estimate that this bully-driven turnover costs the industry around $16 billion every year, more when it’s taken into account how many victims leave the industry entirely, taking all of their lifelong potential for output with them.

“For many years, we were unable to get anyone’s attention to the issues of diversity. This report is incredibly timely and important because if we don’t accurately diagnose the problems, we won’t be able to craft effective solutions,” said Freada Kapor Klein, Ph.D., a co-chair of the Kapor Center for Social Justice. Companies can look to this study and others like it to provide focus to their own solutions.

A photo of a skyscraper with rainbow colors on it.

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Although the White House backed away from an executive order that would have allowed federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, it is still clear that this is not an administration that will go out of the way to defend the LGBTQ+ community. With a number of states having passed or considered passing various “bathroom bills” or “religious freedom” bills that would enshrine discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, the situation for LGBTQ+ rights is precarious.

But there are allies, especially in the one sector that conservatives value more than any other: business. As we’ve seen, discriminatory laws don’t work out well for the states that enact them, and in a number of cases, it is local and national companies that are first in line to oppose such bills.

For example, 82% of Fortune 500 companies explicitly forbid discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. In Texas, 1,200 companies came forward in opposition to SB-6. And in Tennessee, the Hospital Corporation of America, FedEx, Jack Daniels, and Country Music Television opposed a proposed law that would allow mental health counselors to refuse treatment based on their religion. In Georgia, Salesforce, Apple, Microsoft, Disney, Intel, and Home Depot urged the governor to veto that state’s discrimination bill, which worked.

Republicans have made it clear that they don’t listen to people who won’t tell them what they want to hear, and this administration will absolutely be no different in that. But that’s people. When it comes to businesses, they’re a lot more likely to listen. While it may bother many of us that companies have so much more clout with politicians than do the people of the United States, when they use that clout to help prevent the passage of discriminatory bills, it would be absurd to turn away such allies.