International Day Against Homophobia Breakfast 2012: "A room full of courage"
One thing's for certain: the 376 people who assembled at Qmunity's eighth annual International Day Against Homophobia Breakfast can't be called cowards.
BC Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair, one of three keynote speakers at the May 17 event held at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, perhaps put it best.
"I understand this is a room full of courage," he said of the room packed with queer and straight attendees. "It takes courage to fight for rights. They don't come easily. And all of us…are sitting here today because the people who came before us had the courage to say, 'I am who I am and I will be who I am.' "
The event, hosted by CBC's Kathryn Gretsinger, included city councillor and deputy mayor Tim Stevenson (who is also a member of the city's LGBTQ Advisory Committee) officially proclaiming May 17 the International Day Against Homophobia in Vancouver.
Another keynote speaker, Telus risk management vice-president and chief internal auditor Kasey Reese, reflected both the theme of courage and this year's IDAH theme "Queering the Workplace: How LGTB Inclusion is Good for Business" by entitling his speech "Come out, come out, wherever you are—and that includes the workplace".
Reese joined Telus' Diversity and Inclusiveness Council in 2009 and formed a queer resource group called Spectrum, which now has 300 members with chapters in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto. (The company also has resource groups for women [Connections] and aboriginal people [Eagles]). After he attended the first Vancouver networking session of Pride at Work Canada, Telus joined the organization as a national partner.
"Organizations that really understand the value and reflect the diversity of their customers are able to out-innovate their competitors," he said.
One such company is Vancity, which copresented the event and has supported numerous gay organizations, including the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. Vancity board of director's David Wong pointed out that at his company, 67 percent are female, 40 percent are visible minorities, and 60 percent were born outside Canada. He added that Vancity has a board of directors that is two-third female with two queer members, half of their executive team is female, and the company also has a female board chair and female CEO.
"At the same time," he said, "we posted our best financial profits over the last two years. Is that a direct linkage?"
For companies that are seeking to increase their diversity and become more inclusive, Qmunity's new executive director Dara Parker pointed out that Qmunity offers queer competency training for companies interested in becoming queer-friendly and inclusive.
While Parker said that homophobia can manifest in the workplace in overt behaviour such as receiving dirty looks after talking about a same-sex partner or being physically or verbally harassed, she noted that often it takes place in "subtle, discrete, and mostly invisible" ways. For example, intake forms offering only two genders or erroneous assumptions about colleagues can leave employees feel isolated or alienated.
Electronic Arts producer Kelly Worrall's story illuminated some of these points from a personal perspective. Allowing herself to be who she truly is took a lot of courage to overcome the negative messages she had deeply internalized.
"Growing up in the '80s and '70s in Virigina, I felt that there was something terribly, terribly wrong with me," she told the audience. "And I knew…that if anyone found out about that I was in deep, deep trouble. I was in trouble with my family. I was in trouble with my church. I would be in trouble with the people in my school. I would be in trouble anywhere I went. So you don't grow up with that understanding that, 'Hey, I'm okay and people just don't understand me.' You grow up with this deep-seated belief that there's something fundamentally broken about you as a person, and if anybody finds out about it, there's going to be hell to pay.
"So you bury that deep down inside you, as deep as possible…and try to make sure nobody finds out your deep secret. Which is that when you were seven years old, you thought, 'Hey, I have pretty damn good legs, if only I could show them off wearing a skirt.' "
She said her experience of transitioning in the workplace, which has taken place over the past few years, "was a wonderful one, and continues to be a wonderful one." She had the support of her company, from her human resources department to coworkers, as they went through a learning curve together as a team.
"I think that one of the best ways that you can bring a sense of family to your workplace is if you honestly take care of one another," she said. "Go the extra mile. Let them know that it's okay to be who they are. And be there for them when they need you."