In late October 1997, I traveled from Chicago to Cleveland to co-facilitate a diversity training course for managers of a large financial institution.
Charles was the lead consultant on the project. We had teamed up before. He was black and straight. I was white and gay.
I felt inspired, watching him begin the session, explain the merits of an inclusive workforce, and preach the business rationale for embracing diversity.
The idea was to challenge the bank’s managers to respectfully acknowledge and maximize the differences of employees: skin color, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, religious and cultural beliefs.
By maximizing the mosaic of its differences, the company would be better equipped to create a more collaborative, welcoming culture that would produce happier employees who could more effectively understand and reflect the needs of diverse customers. I believed every bit of it. I still do.
Charles’ dark skin color was obvious, but perhaps my sexual orientation wasn’t. I typically didn’t divulge my gayness, unless the training warranted it.
At one point, a male manager stood up. He said he believed gay people were immoral. He thought they didn’t deserve respect or equal treatment.
The room of forty managers and two facilitators froze. Somewhere inside, despite my anger, I mustered the words and focus to break the silence and challenge his thinking. Essentially, I said something like the following:
“I’m gay and I don’t believe I’m immoral. I can assure you there are lots of gay employees you work with you, who feel the same way. If they don’t feel respected here, they’ll take their talents elsewhere.”
The manager sat down and mumbled a few comments under his breath. The training continued. Charles smiled. He took the training reigns and proceeded without missing a beat.
It was a watershed moment for me in my personal development and professional life to have the opportunity to defend myself–all LGBTQ people, really–and feel the support of a trusted colleague.
In 1997, I never imagined that one day I would live in a country where it would be legal for two men or two women to marry each other. I never imagined I would have the opportunity to marry the man I love. But, remarkably, it happened.
On September 6, 2014, Tom and I were married before about sixty of our family and close friends. It was a shiny, crisp afternoon in Illinois.
Our sisters walked us down the aisle. Though she was ailing, Tom’s mother made it. She wore the paisley silk scarf we bought for her in Florence, Italy.
Tom and I were surrounded by sunflowers, smiles and a few tears that day. Six years have passed. Though all four of our parents have been gone for five years, with every passing season–with every highlight, loss or moment of vulnerability–our love has grown deeper. I’m thankful for that.
Despite marriage equality in the United States, we now live in a country with a president who believes it’s “un-American” to be different. A few days ago he directed the White House Office of Management and Budget to prevent federal agencies from spending money on diversity training.
I don’t know where this chapter in American history will lead us, but I have faith this dark period will end soon. We are a country founded on the notion of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all of its people.
Even with all of the hateful comments of the past four years, I think the majority of Americans still believe in freedom and equality. We’ll find out in November.
6 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Happiness”
People don’t realise that the chaos they feel comes from living in a tiny tiny bandwidth of experience. Ignorance sucks. Which is why I practised active curiosity. It bothers me how people could callously deny the rights and dignity of fellow humans. Sometimes I meet people and I count down to when they’ll remind me “that” my skin colour and pretend I’m not good enough to do my job. This week, my “diversity” helped a transaction to go through in mere seconds. I walked into a room, and people changed modes, working quickly to help me. I used to think I was suffering because of the way other people behaved. But now I feel sorry for them.
Thank you for your comment and for following my blog. Though ignorance abounds, so does courage. We have to continue to be visible, voice our beliefs, and speak our truths.
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What a nice story to commemorate 6 years of marriage! Diversity training may be in danger for now, but I think attitudes in general are changing for the better in spite af a small, vocal, hateful group.
Thanks Tom! That’s my hope.
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A majority, yes, but an extremely vocal minority is making it hard for the rest of us to feel good about being American. This morning, I was thinking about the list of disqualifying statements and actions from Trump. Disqualifying meaning this incident alone should be enough to make him unelectable. They’re coming so fast now that I can hardly keep up. Diversity training has been a staple of corporate america since the eighties. I’m flabbergasted that anyone, much less a president, doesn’t see it as worthwhile. I hope you’re right about coming out of the darkness. I don’t see it that way.
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True. In a different era, his actions would have disqualified him long ago. Anything can happen in November, but if women and minorities show up and vote in large numbers, he’s done.