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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TALKING TO CO-WORKERS: Coming Out at Work for Marriage

Guest Blogger: James Hipps

To be or not to be…out at work? That is the question. Although a seemingly straight forward question, there are many facets to consider when answering this question. Those facets are unique in almost every person’s case, much as the facets on diamonds differ on each individual stone. There are however, many parallels as well, which we can use as guidelines when making this important decision.

Many of us in the LGBT community are advocates of being out at work. There are many benefits afforded to the entire community when we make the decision to be out. Not only do we gain a sense of normalcy, but we also gain inclusion. In a society where gay stereotypes, many times uncomplimentary, are perpetuated by the media, it is important for us to be out so those whose perception of our community relies strictly upon what is depicted by the media, can come to know us in a different light and gain an understanding that we are a normal part of everyday society.

When making the decision to come out at work, the first, and most important thing you need to take into consideration is whether or not you can afford any financial consequences. Unfortunately, it is still legal in 33 states to be fired for being gay or lesbian. You must be prepared to face that as a result. I would note however, if you are working for an employer that would fire you for your sexual orientation, then you probably don’t want to be employed by them in the first place.

Once it has been determined that your employer is gay friendly, and your not going to loose your job because of your sexual orientation, then you have to consider yet another very important factor in being out at work, which is how to deal with your co-workers.

In many cases, you may find that straight co-workers actually want to support their gay colleagues, but without cues and input, it may be difficult for them to do so. Many times people won’t do or say anything because they are afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. You, as a gay or lesbian employee may mistake this silence as rejection. The end result of this scenario is a workplace where everyone is walking on eggshells.

It is the responsibility of LGBT employees to help their straight colleagues create a more supportive work environment for everyone. There are a number of ways to accomplish this. For one, don’t conceal your personal life. If you speak in a matter- of- fact manor about your life, then others will take that cue and be more comfortable discussing it as well. You don’t have to be overbearing about it, simply repeating the same name during conversation helps people catch on. You can also help break the ice by placing a picture of your partner on your desk. Seeing a photo of someone gives your co-workers permission to talk. Also initiate conversations that will open up to you answering questions about your partner. Ask your co-worker what they and their significant other did over the weekend. When asked in return, take the opportunity to answer openly and honestly. Opening up dialogue always helps to put people at ease.

There could be times however that you are not accepted because you are faced with the challenges of a homophobic co-worker. If you find this to be the case, remember education is key. Build relationships with those who are not homophobic so it becomes apparent that others accept you. The more they see you being yourself, and others accepting you, the easier it will become overtime for them to see the good in you. Avoid confrontation and be kinder than necessary. Homophobia is often a product of one’s own insecurities, so again just be yourself, and be kind.

It’s important for you to remember, what other’s say about you is really none of your business. If a co-worker wants to speak poorly of you, especially because of your sexuality, they will. The best remedy for this is to lead your life so no one will believe them.

If at all possible however, do be out at work. It will ultimately make your life easier and help the LGBT community as a whole gain acceptance and inclusion. Until we are a nation that sees all people as equal, it is up to us to help everyone learn and understand.

James Hipps is editor for

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TALKING TO CO-WORKERS: Equality is a Labor Value

Guest Blogger: Mary Kay Henry

The fight for the freedom to marry is dear to me, for safeguarding my own partnership and for realizing the same goals of social and economic justice that we advance every day at SEIU and in the labor movement.

I have worked for thirty years to ensure that health caregivers--nurses, technicians, ambulance drivers, home care workers--can do their jobs safely giving high-quality service to people in their communities while having a say in their working lives and their government.

Even in hard economic times, the health care sector continues to add jobs. And even though caregivers’ votes, along with those of other working people, have won elections--even though we have put important allies in power, such as President Obama--caregivers don’t have as decisive a voice as we might want in our economy or in establishing and protecting equal rights at the federal and state level.

But through SEIU, the conscience of caregivers and working families speaks loudly and clearly. We are the largest union in North America, uniting more than 2 million members. Five years ago, at our International Convention in 2004, we made winning equal rights and benefits for all our members a priority in bargaining and legislative campaigns at every level of our union.

We passed a resolution supporting marriage equality. In it, we committed to opposing any laws and constitutional amendments that deny equal rights. We will continue to stand against any campaign or candidate who uses antigay, anti-union, anti-worker policies as a wedge to divide our communities or states.

In the past year, we made good on these commitments on several fronts, including the landmark quest to gain, preserve, and now win back marriage equality in California. We cheered the court ruling for equal marriage in Connecticut, and we will assist in future drives to secure and defend this indispensable form of equal protection.

My union’s motto, “stronger together,” applies not simply to the strength that health caregivers and other workers enjoy by joining forces through a union. It applies to our union’s broader vision of a nation that includes, respects, and rewards each worker, where a CEO and a nursing home caregiver are equal under the law and where our founding ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not a promise for the few, but rather a contract with every American that we work as one to make good for all.

We hope that as we walk forward together, you will find opportunities to add your voice to our own for workers’ freedom to form a union in a climate without coercion or intimidation. It is in this spirit of shared values and timely collaboration that I am proud to support Freedom to Marry in its fight for marriage equality.

***Mary Kay Henry is an International Executive Vice President of SEIU and a member of Freedom to Marry's Voices of Equality. SEIU is the largest and fastest growing union in North America. She is the leader of the SEIU Healthcare Division and has devoted her life to helping America's health caregivers form unions, improve their jobs and the quality of care, and advocate for a more rational and humane health care system. She is a founding member of SEIU's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lavender Caucus.

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Actors union opposes same-sex marriage ban

AP via Yahoo News
October 29, 2008
"No actor should have to disclose his or her sexual preference in order to get health and retirement benefits," said SAG Chairwoman Anne-Marie Johnson. "Being legally married means everyone is treated the same. It's important that we take a stand to protect all actors from discriminatory hiring practices and provide same-sex couples access to benefits." [Link]
Learn more about how marriage matters in the workplace.

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Prominent Union Backing Marriage Equality In Calif.

On Top Magazine
October 7, 2008
The prominent labor union Unite Here has contributed $100,000 to support the freedom to marry in California. The union also pledged to raise another $50,000 for marriage equality. [Link]
Read more about Labor's perspective on why marriage matters.

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Big labor urges NY to pass marriage equality
September 9, 2008
The New York State AFL-CIO is urging the Legislature is pass a bill that would allow same-sex couples in the state to marry. “Beyond doing the right thing, there is a very basic need for us as union leaders to actually lead on these issues,” said AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes. The AFL-CIO vote brings to more than 2.3 million unionized workers in the state calling for the enactment of LGBT legislation. [Link]

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Big Labor Move For Marriage Equality

Gay City News
July 24, 2008
A resolution from the California Labor Federation said the group will "put forth energy and resources to educate and mobilize its members to vote against Proposition 8, and encourage its twenty-three member Central Labor Councils to do the same." [Link]

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MI high court says gay partners can’t get health benefits

Associated Press
May 7, 2008

An anti-marriage constitutional amendment prevents governments and universities in Michigan from providing health insurance to the partners of gay workers, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. (Link)

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County at crossroads over benefits lawsuit

Democrat and Chronicle
May 7, 2008

New York state's highest court refused to hear an appeal for a case in which a lower appellate court ruled in favor of recognizing an out-of-state marriage by a same-sex couple. (Link)

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UNITE-HERE Backs Marriage Equality

Pride at Work
March 31, 2008
UNITE HERE, the union representing workers in the textile, clothing, hotel and restaurant industries, has called for equal access to marriage and its benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers. [Link]

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