Where Bluebirds Fly: How (and Why) We Build LGBTQ Pride in the Workplace and Beyond

Issue 97 — June 10, 2019

“Over the Rainbow,” the signature song from “The Wizard of Oz” movie, hasn’t been called the world’s greatest song for nothing. It captures the yearnings of whoever happens to be listening to it, in the same way that the rainbow flag, symbolizing the gay rights movement, captures the yearnings of all individuals who rightly want to be seen and appreciated for who they are, as they are.

As the colors of the rainbow span the spectrum, so the rainbow gay pride flag symbolizes the diversity of humanity, and more specifically the diversity of human sexuality and gender.

To most of us, the symbolism of the rainbow is beautiful, and diversity is a value to be treasured. Hence the term “Pride” to recognize that anyone can take pride in themselves/himself/herself — choose your pronoun.

But to many others, those once clear but now blurry lines are confusing. And confusion can be quite frightening.

The good news is we’ve seen tremendous progress for LGBTQ rights. From the absence of basic legal rights a generation ago to Supreme Court decisions that affirm the right to same sex marriage now, the change has been rapid and real.

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But as we’ve seen with women’s rights and civil rights in general, changing laws doesn’t necessarily change minds or behaviors. Further, as gay rights have become to a large extent normalized, transgender rights have become the cultural and political hot button, and non-binary people require us to recognize that with some exceptions, by and large gender is a social construct and human sexuality exists on a rather wide continuum.

So injustices remain, making it important to fly the rainbow flag, as a number of US embassies did around the world despite the Administration’s instruction to the contrary, and to highlight the importance of equality regardless of gender or sexual identities.

As Michele Weldon reported in Take The Lead’s blog:

“Last month, ‘The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a bill that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, the workplace, public accommodations, and other settings,’ according to Vox, but faces challenges in the Senate. ‘The bill, first introduced in 2015, would also expand public accommodations protections to prohibit discrimination based on sex, and strengthen other existing protections in public accommodations — by, for instance, ensuring that retail stores and banks are covered.’

“Recently, The Center for Reproductive Rights, Lambda Legal, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Santa Clara County filed a federal lawsuit asking the Court to strike down the Denial of Care Rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services in May. Under this rule, health care workers can deny treatment to LGBTQ patients — and others — due to personal, moral or religious beliefs.

“A 2017 survey conducted for National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that more than one in five LGBTQ people have experienced institutional discrimination when applying for jobs, negotiating pay, or being considered for promotions.”

June has been designated as Pride month in a nod to the month in which the Stonewall riots occurred. Those actions mark the beginning of the LGBTQ movement in the U.S.

While the New York City Police commissioner recently issued an apology 50 years after the raid on the gay club that prompted riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York, inclusion and fairness for LGBTQ persons are still not fully realized. This month is therefore a good time to take a look at the evolution of workplace cultures within the context of the changing culture overall.

The personal is always political, and the politics of the body are among the most passionately ingrained, believed, and debated.

The gender binary is especially important in fundamentalist cultures, for it is one of the main ways power is allocated. Changing women’s rights and social roles, and LGBTQ identities, mess with such cultures’ rigid world views which in turn can present itself in negative or even violent reactions. These questions have little to do with science and everything to do with social power and control.

And that is why LGBTQ rights have particular resonance for those of us committed to gender equality in leadership. Just as racism and sexism have always been joined at the head, so homophobia, sexism, and racism are joined. It’s in our mutual best interests to create a workplace and a world where each of us can contribute our highest and best talents and be rewarded with the respect, opportunity, and remuneration we deserve.

But these results don’t just happen by themselves. How leadership approaches diversity and inclusion is important.

In its 2018 State of Diversity in U.S. Tech report, the software company Atlassian reports that to increase retention and a sense of belonging, leadership needs to:

  • “Equip individuals with the skills to make an impact within their sphere of influence
  • Begin by listening to and believing marginalized people who tell their stories
  • Listen to them about the solutions — their expertise is valuable.
  • Create a place where teammates can have open, respectful dialogue.”
Click here to register for Virtual Happy Hour!

Join me to discuss more about this topic on Take The Lead’s June 12 live, free Virtual Happy Hour, “Pride In The Workplace: Why Building LBGTQ Inclusive Culture Is Critical”. Reshma Gopaldas, Vice President of video for SHE Media, and I will host a lively conversation with our guests this month, Jehan Agrama, President and CEO of Harmony Gold, and founding member of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and Natalie Jane Egan, CEO and founder of Translator, where she and her team are on a mission to scale empathy and equality through technology. Egan is a transgender B2B software entrepreneur with 20 years of experience driving digital change, developing high performing teams, building complex products, and selling enterprise solutions. You will not want to miss this discussion, and as always, we’ll have lots of specific takeaways you can use right away.

For as the lyrics to “Over the Rainbow” promise: “Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.” If we dream a world of equality and inclusion, and act upon those dreams, we will indeed make it come true.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of four books, most recently No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet @GloriaFeldt.