|Executive Director Selisse Berry with honoree Robert Hanson of Levi Strauss at the Out & Equal dinner. Photo by Rink.
The Out & Equal National Celebration of Workplace Equality Dinner and Awards, held on June 11 at the San Francisco Marriott, honored workplace courage and leadership in supporting the fundamental civil rights of marriage equality through exemplary opposition to Proposition 8 in California. The winners and honorees of the Signs of Courage Advocacy Awards - “The Addies” - took the lead in supporting marriage equality, courageously choosing to take positions against the proposition. They stood as role models through their leadership, prompting other businesses, corporations, and individuals to join in the campaign for equal rights for everyone - becoming inspirations in the process. Openly lesbian comic Karen Williams emceed and provided entertainment. She addressed the long alphabet of different queerness: “L,G,B,T, Q, I, I for Interested, and C for curious – I just hope nobody else comes out – and one day we will all be just human beings.” She joked, “We’re not looking for special rights – but we would like discounts.”
Founder and Executive Director Selisse Berry noted that both Out & Equal and three Addies winners had ampersands in their titles, joking, “Ampersands are our friends.” She said she was proud that Out & Equal Workplace Advocates is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to workplace equality for the LGBT community. She said she and Cynthia Martin are among the 18,000 couples who were legally married during the five-month window of equality prior to the passage of Prop 8. “It’s just a matter of time; hope springs eternal; and when I get depressed I just think of Iowa and feel better.” She said, “And I think of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, Canada, Spain, South Africa, and the list keeps growing.” She said, “We are changing the world – one cubicle, one workplace, and one California proposition at a time.”
Williams introduced the fashion show with female models from the Bay Area Slackjaw Women’s Ultimate Frisbee Team and male models from the SF Rockdogs Basketball Team (of the LOGO TV show, Skins and Shirts). She joked, “Fashion: as a lesbian, I have been traumatized by it, and just learned how to match not too long ago; and if it weren’t for many of our gay male friends, we’d still be in flannel.” The models wore casual, workplace, and evening wear from Banana Republic. When it came time for the auction, Williams joked, “I once auctioned off a white lesbian woman for $5,000.” She added, “It was my own form of reparations.”
The Host Committee chairs presented Signs of Courage Advocacy Awards to three companies, Levi Strauss, PG&E, and AT&T.
Levi Strauss America President Robert Hanson accepted, saying they were continuing the founder’s legacy in giving back. He said with Strauss’ first five dollars earned, he contributed to an organization supporting minority women and children. He said, “Being in collaboration with such great organizations as PG&E and AT&T is what leads to lasting social change in the end.” He concluded, “Though we are disappointed in the Court ruling, the goal is to be undaunted, because in the end history has shown the only thing that prevails is true social justice and equality.” He made a pitch to wear Levis over Wrangler jeans, as he has been getting hate mail and threats to get everyone to wear Wranglers. He joked, “My personal opinion is their butts will not look nearly as good as in our jeans.”
Pacific Gas & Electric was extremely generous in funding the fight against Prop 8. It formed a coalition of businesses and business leaders to move equality forward, said Athanasiu. PG&E Pride Network, formed 22 years ago, has been instrumental in advancing LGBT issues at work and outside with other companies. Accepting for PG&E and its Pride Network were Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Nancy McFadden, and past president of Pride Network Tita Gray and current president Matt Duncan. “It’s really in the core, the DNA, the values of PG&E to work for social justice,” said McFadden. PG&E was a leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS and AIDS awareness, as well as for ENDA, domestic partnership rights, and same-sex marriage. “I am proud we have stood for the right things,” she said. She quoted Martin Luther King who said we must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope. Duncan said the award was “validation for us that we are on the right path, and we can continue to do what we can from corporate America’s standpoint.” He said when an email questioned what the letters L,G,B,T stood for, a great reply was “Let’s Get Better Together.”
AT&T has a rich history of embracing its queer workforce and giving ardent support of equal rights. President Ken McNeely accepted the award, saying diversity and inclusion remain top priorities for the company. “Being an openly gay business executive is like the hair replacement ad, because I’m not only president, but a member too,” he joked. “We are so blessed to live in an area where we have such wonderful support in corporate leadership for LGBT rights.” He said, “We are changing minds – not by judicial or legislative mandate – by winning over converts by living genuinely authentic lives.” He added, “A quiet battle goes on in corporate hallways where gay and lesbian executives and our allies make our presence known, speak out, and are counted.”
Six honorees thanked were Google, California Teachers Association, California State Services Employees International Union, H5 (providing information retrieval and consulting services for the legal industry), San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and Valley Industry and Commerce Association of San Fernando Valley.