Hundreds Attend Global LGBT Workplace Summit

Confab in London addresses strategies for advancing equality

More than 350 LGBT global executives, leaders and allies gathered in London last week to plan strategies for advancing global workplace equality at Out & Equal’s 2012 Global LGBT Workplace Summit. The conference brought together leaders from 26 countries, representing more than 80 different corporations, organizations and government agencies, to share their best practices and ideas for creating workplaces where LGBT people are safe, accepted and valued. The summit offered learning opportunities for participants in four general sessions, two dozen workshops and a gala dinner.

The Global LGBT Workplace Summit opened with remarks from Out & Equal’s Founding Executive Director, Selisse Berry, who reminded attendees that at the heart of the campaign for LGBT equality is that LGBT people want to “love who we love,” and shared her conviction that “love is stronger than prejudice, love is stronger than injustice and love is stronger than inequality.”

Claudia Brind-Woody, Vice President of IBM, intertwined her personal story with that of IBM’s efforts to expand equality globally and welcomed Harry van Dorenmalen, Chairman of IBM Europe, who elaborated on IBM’s work to advance LGBT equality. He reminded attendees that “the personal is powerful…when you are genuine and sincere, you can have a powerful impact,” and urged attendees to “go back to your home village, where you were born, and tell your story.”

During the Thursday luncheon Dawn Nicholson spoke with tennis legend and activist Martina Navratilova about her experience of being openly lesbian in professional sports. “It all came together–being out, training, getting a coach–and then I just started beating everybody. I had some pretty good years there!” she said. When asked what the LGBT community can do to raise the bar on equality, Navratilova commented, “Out & Equal does its part in educating people. The biggest thing we can do is to be out. When we make it personal, it’s harder for people to be prejudiced

The luncheon sponsored by Deutsche Bank included remarks from LGBT Capital founder Paul Thompson, who described the size and scope of the growing global LGBT market and buying power.

BBC correspondent Jane Hill then led an outstanding panel on how business visibility, through employment practices, advertising, and community engagement, affect LGBT issues globally. Sharon Fraser of Deloitte commented that “Diversity and inclusion is an absolute business imperative for us.” Judy Dlugacz of Olivia rounded out the conversation by saying that “just because we get our rights does not mean that homophobia is gone…culture doesn’t shift as quickly as the laws may.” Highlighting that changing policy is only one hurdle on the road to equality for LGBT people.

The second and final day of Out & Equal’s first-ever Global LGBT Workplace Summit opened with an engaging morning general session co-sponsored by Accenture and Eli Lilly and Company. The session featured further remarks from Selisse Berry. Vladi Luxuria, a former member of Italy’s parliament, received a standing ovation for her moving remarks, and shared the difficulties of her personal journey: “it was ‘normal’ for ‘normal’ people to pity us. If this is ‘normal,’ I don’t want to be ‘normal.’ I want to be special.” She pressed attendees to “Live the one life you have to live, as out and equal.”

The Friday luncheon sponsored by Ernst & Young included remarks from Robert (Bob) Annibale, who shared that “the role of straight allies has been critical. Jointly, we have a much stronger voice.” David Chalmers of Kaleidoscope Trust moderated an outstanding panel on the impact of business and government on the global LGBT community, and led with a powerful reminder: “Changing attitudes is as important as changing the law.”   Claire Lucas of USAID, deepened the conversation by adding, “partnerships between corporations and governments are critical to solving problems and promoting equality everywhere.” She advocated for governments and corporations entering new markets to empower local organizations to continue their own work, as one strategy for promoting justice and equality abroad.

The 2012 Global LGBT Workplace Summit concluded with a candlelit gala dinner sponsored by IBM and emceed by writer and author Simon Fanshawe, who blended his comedy with the important message of drawing on innovation to energize the LGBT equality movement.

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