Iowa Entrepreneur Builds A Business to Help Support the Freedom to Marry

July 9, 2009
A year ago, Ron Choate lived in San Diego and simultaneously witnessed the meltdown of the economy and the devastating passage of Proposition 8. Two months later, with no job prospects in sight – and not realizing what was to come in Iowa this year – he returned to his home in Iowa to help care for his ailing mother.

His struggle and the Supreme Court affirmation of marriage equality in February inspired him to start a T-Shirt business. SOS Cares currently produces 4 shirts. Each design is based on the acronym S.O.S. and each concerns a different struggle in our nation today: the economy, civil rights for gays and lesbians, the earth and the war. One of those (Sick of Separation) is all about marriage equality – an issue near and dear to Ron’s heart.

Ron offers, “My hope is of course for the company to be a success, but also to raise awareness of these issues and help them on a national level. We are lucky in Iowa where marriage equality is now the law. To me this should be a national right.”

All four designs are available on the SOS web site They wholesale to businesses or local fundraising events. 20% of their proceeds are donated to national charities supporting the four causes. Check them out and contribute to your personal fashion while contributing to our cause.

As Ron says: “One shirt at a time we can make a difference.” [Link]

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Iowa becomes a freedom to marry destination

USA Today
July 8, 2009

Since the Iowa Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in April, Iowans have been adjusting to their state's new status as a wedding destination for gay and lesbian couples. Some Iowa communities and businesses are eager to attract gay and lesbian visitors. The Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau is developing an advertising campaign aimed at out-of-state gay couples. [Link]

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Iowa Entrepreneur Builds A Business to Help Support Freedom to Marry
July 8, 2009
A year ago, Ron Choate lived through the meltdown of the economy and the devastating passage of Proposition 8 in California, and then returned to his home in Iowa to help care for his ailing mother. His struggles and the Supreme Court affirmation of marriage equality in February inspired him to start a T-Shirt business, some of the proceeds from which go to Freedom To Marry. Purchases may be made online at: [Link]

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Voice For Equality: Jordan Roth

Jordan Roth is Vice President of Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns and operates five Broadway theaters and is the producer of the hit revival of "Hair."

In addition to his work on the Freedom to Marry Steering Committee , Jordan serves on the boards of GMHC and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

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Marriage ruling may boost Iowa economy

Des Moines Register
April 5, 2009
Millions of dollars in tourism and tax revenue could flow into Iowa as a result of the Iowa Supreme Court's historic decision to legalize same-sex marriages, according to a range of scholars and business people. "Iowa pretty much has the Midwest all to itself," said Lee Badgett, a University of Massachusetts economist who co-authored the 2008 report. "It's in the middle of a lot of states that have a lot of same-sex couples. It's in a good position." [Link]

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Businesses Back Marriage-Equality Bill

Burlington Free Press
March 18, 2009
Leading state and local business leaders in Vermont testified before a state Senate committee in support of proposed legislation to allow gay couples to marry, highlighting how marriage equality could positively impact the state's economy. [Link]

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Professional Groups Back Marriage Equality in Vermont

The Burlington Free Press
March 10, 2009
Four major Vermont groups of social and mental health professionals, including the Vermont Psychological Association, announced their endorsement of proposed marriage equality legislation in their state. [Link]

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TALKING TO CO-WORKERS: Being Authentic Makes a Difference

Guest Blogger: Scott Davenport

I count myself a lucky guy – at least as gay men go professionally. I’ve never worked at any company that wasn’t officially and culturally comfortable with gay men and lesbians in the workplace. But it still took courage and effort to be out at work – and it always meant doing so even though I hadn’t put “come out today” in my outlook calendar!

When I was first coming out, I began singing with the Gay Men’s Chorus in Washington, DC. I worked at a high-powered corporate consulting firm, and was fresh off getting my MBA at Wharton. But I wasn’t yet out at work. This was the early 80’s, and I wasn’t that sure of myself – both as a gay man and as an out professional. So I kept things to myself at work and channeled my burgeoning pride into my singing.

But one day, a colleague asked me to lunch. It turns out she had been in the audience for one of the concerts and was a lesbian, so this was her way of coming out to me and of arranging for me to come out to her. We had a great lunch that day as we shared stories of our respective girl and boy friends. It started a wonderful friendship and a great business relationship. It was, in fact, the beginning of my GLBT work network.

The really nice thing, though, was that my act of “gay pride” – singing in the chorus – helped me create a foundation for the future. It was a baseline of safety and support that I was able to draw on through-out my career.

When 5 years had passed and I was finally out to all my consulting colleagues, it made things amazingly easy for me at work when my partner and I decided to have children. The people that had gotten to know me – the real me – were so supportive. My boss at the time, one of the senior partners of the firm, threw the baby shower, and my daughter’s birth was announced in the firm’s newsletter – just like those of all my colleagues.

That was great while I was with the consulting firm, but eventually it was time for me to make the move into the corporate world. Yet while the prospect of finding the right place to work -- a place that would be welcoming to who I was (a gay dad at that) – seemed daunting, I now knew it mattered.

And once again, that foundation of support came through for me. I got a call from an old consulting colleague who had gone off to found Capital One, and he wanted me to join them. What a great prospect -- an opening to be part of a vibrant, growing company that wanted to revolutionize its industry! And even better, they knew me, and I knew them.

So when I asked my old friend what it was like for gay people at Capital One, he told me about one of his SVP’s who was a lesbian. It turned out that when she had a commitment ceremony with her partner, the entire senior management team attended. It was a great endorsement, and I knew Capital One was the place for me.

But while I knew some of the folks there, I certainly didn’t know everyone. After all, this was a company that in the first 5 years I worked there grew from 2,500 staff to over 10,000. In my role, I worked cross-functionally with people from all over the company, in cities like Richmond, Tampa and Dallas. Singing in the local gay men’s chorus wasn’t going to help me this time.

Instead, as I grew within Capital One, it meant constantly and frequently coming out – over and over again. Because, every time I met with someone new, I had to establish a relationship – and ideally an open and authentic one at that. What better way than to share what we have in common, and more often than not that was having kids.

However, as soon as I talked to a new team-mate about my children’s latest escapade, he or she would ask about my wife. The first time this happened, I was flummoxed. Somehow it had slipped my mind that the other person didn’t know I was gay. What to do? Well, I think the first time I just hemmed and hawed and adroitly shifted the subject.

I knew, though, that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Instead I developed a patter if asked about my “wife”: “Oh no, I’m not married. I’m gay. My partner and I have been together 17 years and we have two kids – a daughter who’s now in 2nd grade and a son who’s in Kindergarten.”

The first time I tried this, it came out a little shaky. My colleague stopped for a second (while the mental wheels turned in her head!), and then gave me a big smile and said, “Oh that’s great. Wow 17 years – when did you meet?” And then we went on and got to know each other some more. Somehow, that flood of information – and the fact she could make sense of it all – defused what could be a difficult situation. More importantly, she felt pride in her reaction, and I felt good about being authentic.

After a while, it got easier and easier, which also mattered for me, as these situations always seemed to come up when you least expected them. The honesty also meant a new colleague could trust me, and maybe most importantly, by putting a human face on being gay and being a gay parent, I had chipped away at homophobia.

Ultimately that’s the lesson here. Being honest about who we are and telling our stories – even when we least expect to and even in the workplace – builds a connection in people. That connection tears down walls and builds support. It’s also how I know we will ultimately win the freedom to marry.

***Scott Davenport is managing director for Freedom to Marry and previously served as managing vice president for enterprise risk management at Capital One Financial Services.

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TALKING TO CO-WORKERS: Marriage matters in Indiana too

Guest Blogger: Greg Disney-Britton

I climb telephone poles for AT&T, America’s number one phone company and I am just as proud of that as my non-gay co-workers. Also like my co-workers, I feel passionately about marriage. I am part of a work group in Indianapolis where all four members of our team are married, including me and we all talk about our spouses openly and with respect. Being the authentic me with my co-workers has made a big difference in my attitudes about work and it all started when I got married.

I was blessed to find the right man in my life after years of hoping, but we had to make a trip to Canada to be married. It was an awesome experience but it should not have been necessary because we should have had that right here in Indiana. However, if I had not taken the trip and had this special wedding in another country, I would never have realized how important marriage equality was to me and be able to share that with others.

That weekend, I was able to feel just like every other straight American feels on their wedding day. That feeling is so fresh in my heart and it makes me want to share it with everyone I meet. We ran into many couples on our special day in Niagara Falls, and we all wished one another well. They seemed to be all straight couples caught up in the joy of marriage. It was amazing!

I can understand Americans having a difference of opinion on the subject of marriage equality. What I can't understand is how anyone, straight or gay, thinks that marriage between a gay couple in America will make the marriage of a straight couple any less meaningful. The couples at Niagara Falls certainly didn’t and we shared in each other’s joy.

Before getting married, I didn’t talk much about being gay at work – my church, my weekend entertainment or the political issues impacting me as a gay man. Now, my co-workers hear about my real life every day just as I hear about the things that concern them. There are four of us guys on my team. We wear jeans and work-boots, and we are "the guys" called in for the big emergencies. We are a team, one gay and three non-gay, and we trust each other and respect one another’s marriages.

Yes, I climb telephone poles for AT&T but I’m also an openly “married man” with all my co-workers and that has made all the difference in the world. Thanks Marty, Ryan and Todd.

***Greg Disney works for AT&T and lives in Indianapolis. He and Tahlib were married on January 28, 2008.

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Demise of Same-Sex Weddings Disheartens Businesses

The New York Times
November 7, 2008
Many local business owners in Calif. are worried over the economic impact of Prop. 8's passage: "I have done a gay wedding every week. And so it's very disheartening, because other business is very slow." [Link]

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