LGBTQ+ equality does not stop at the corporate door

Pride flags wave in the wind
Pride flags at Philadelphia City Hall. (June 2022)

I just returned from speaking at the Out & Equal conference — the annual summit for the country’s LGBTQ+ workplace equality nonprofit organization — in Orlando, Fla. This experience showed me the importance and the success of the work we have all done since Stonewall in 1969. When I was an 18-year-old boy who stood outside Stonewall in June 1969, I could have never dreamed or imagined this. Here I was: one of the most radical members of the community in the midst of LGBTQ+ corporate America, and I was invited to speak by one of America’s major financial organizations, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Now if that is not enough to wrap your head around. Let’s talk about the conference’s location this year: Florida, home to the “Don’t Say Gay” law. 

That one is a lot easier for me to embrace. Let me explain why.  

The one word that has made our community succeed and has been my mantra is “visibility.” From those days after Stonewall in 1969 comes that famous phrase, “Out loud and proud.” Visibility is our way to fight “Don’t Say Gay.” It is the spirit of Stonewall. Say “gay” and say it loudly. At Stonewall, we fought against being invisible, which allowed society to label us and then oppress us due to the label they had given us. We didn’t get to marriage equality by staying in the closet. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law is intended to keep you in that closet and invisible again. As ACT UP said so rigorously: “Fight back.” 

Those in attendance at Out & Equal might not have known that they were fighting “Don’t Say Gay,” but they were. There are drawbacks, though. I agree with one participant who told me by being in Orlando, we were giving our money to those who oppress us. Out & Equal counteracted that by hiring LGBTQ+ vendors and placing the conference in a place that has now become known as a fighting force against DeSantis: Walt Disney World Resort. Disney took every opportunity to make us feel welcome.  

Recent debates in our community have centered around intersectional, inclusive and diverse leadership in our community organizations. Shouldn’t that also include corporate America? What impressed me most at Out & Equal is how they had also made us feel welcome, and that message extended to their corporate partners. As Brad Baumoel, managing director and global head of LGBTQ+ Affairs at JPMorgan Chase put it: “We at JPMorgan Chase, run a first-of-its kind business with a global, full-time team dedicated to LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion. Today, I’m here to tell you a little more about our journey to advance a more equitable and inclusive world for LGBTQ+ people and I want to start by focusing on the role of allies in our journey.”

These are LGBTQ+ people in corporate America. They are part of our community and they, like all of us, are looking for best practices in their places of work, and in the case of JPMorgan Chase & Co, taking that message to our allies.  

There are schools that now teach students how to run LGBTQ+ nonprofits. It seems, to me, that Out & Equal is that equivalent in corporate America. Back in 1969, another phrase we shouted was “We are everywhere.” Let’s work to make the world accepting for all of us everywhere. LGBTQ+ equality does not stop at the corporate door.

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