Twenty years ago, only four percent of Fortune 500 companies had any kind of protection for LGBT people. Today, only about four percent don’t have those protections. Selisse Berry, Founder and CEO of Out and Equal Workplace Advocates reflects on the work she and her organization have done over the past two decades and the work yet to be done for LGBT Equality. This discussion continues in part 2 (Journey to Workplace Equality).
Interview recorded on May 17, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham. Part 1 of 2.
Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: In more than half of the United States, employees can be fired for being lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transgender. Currently, there is no federal law barring employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Comcast Newsmakers.” I’m Robert Traynham. Selisse Berry, founder and CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, joins me to discuss the status of equality in the workplace. Selisse, welcome to the program.
Berry: Thank you, Robert.
Traynham: You know, I think we should stop and reflect for a moment that 20 years ago, you founded this organization. 20 years ago, the United States was a very different country, as it relates to LGBTQ rights, privileges, acknowledgement in the workplace. Why did you stop what you were doing in 1996 to found this organization?
Berry: Well, I started Out & Equal after my own experience of workplace discrimination. I actually taught school for a number of years and went to seminary to become a Presbyterian minister, and wasn’t able to get ordained simply because of who I love. And I just had so much passion for people never having to choose between a career that we love and the person that we love. So, that’s…
Traynham: Fast-forward to 2017. Have we made significant progress, from your perspective? -We absolutely have. When I started Out & Equal, on 4% of Fortune 500 companies were even, you know, had any kind of protection for LGBT people. And today, only about 4% don’t have those protections. So we’ve definitely come a long way. And like you said, you know, we can be married in all 50 states, but we still have work to do because we can be married on Saturday…
Traynham: Saturday, you’ll get fired on Monday.
Traynham: Let’s talk about that for a few moments, because I think a lot of people that perhaps are watching the program on their smart device or at home, they’re saying, “Wait a minute. The Supreme Court made marriage legal for gay and lesbian individuals. But, so, you can get married on a Saturday but still come to work on Monday and get fired? How can that be?”
Berry: Yeah, because there’s still no federal law to protect the LGBT community in the workplace. And so, for all these years, we’ve been working toward an employment nondiscrimination act. But because of that, that means that if states put in their nondiscrimination policy sexual orientation and gender identity, people are protected. But what I’ve done with Out & Equal is recognizing — our headquarters are in San Francisco — and realizing that I needed to go company by company and make sure they had internal policies so that LGBT people can feel comfortable being out and equal at work.