By Wynne Nowland
As a businessperson, I generally do not mix business and politics. My dad always told me that politics, religion, and business do not make good bedfellows, but the recent events around the country are compelling me to do so. We have an administration that, despite promises to the contrary, has continued to reverse protections affecting countless people. For members of the LGBTQ community, the latest blow came a few weeks ago when several health insurance restrictions were announced, specifically aimed at transgender Americans—right in the middle of Pride Month, tellingly enough.
It then came as somewhat of a surprise when the Supreme Court delivered, less than a week later on June 15, a major victory for LGBTQ Americans by ruling that the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at work. If the ruling had gone the other way—as many feared—many people would be stripped of their legal protections. Instead, we have not only upheld these critical components of identity and culture but arguably made them stronger.
The fact that this happened during Pride Month makes it an especially stunning victory, reflecting the magnitude of the healthcare coverage defeat.
We are now moving ahead of Pride Month, which took a deserved backseat to the important Black Lives Matter movement that became energized following the horrific death of George Floyd.
There are interesting parallels to be drawn between the racial injustice that has plagued our nation for many years and the injustices that plague many marginalized groups. Most people in marginalized groups never debate these highly emotional societal challenges. I think their ambivalence is at their own peril. Stripping away a particular group’s protections is a slippery slope. Who can tell which group comes next; maybe it’s the one you’re in.
For those like me in the corporate world, there are other real considerations about allowing these kinds of discriminatory practices in the workplace. Mostly because it’s simply bad for business. Discriminating against people can very well deprive an organization of the best candidates. Conversely, a healthy and inclusive business environment enables companies to tap into a wider talent pool. Companies that put anti-discrimination policies in place have better access to talent and lower turnover rates; those that don’t reduce their competitiveness significantly.
This all makes me reflect on my own experience of coming out as a transgendered woman four years ago. As the CEO of a successful company in a traditionally conservative financial sector, I undoubtedly had significant privilege and some built-in protections, but I still had considerable anxiety about what my transition might bring. Most of my family members, friends, and business associates did not know a transgendered person. And while I knew I would have supporters, I was unsure of how some people would react and what our relationship would become based on their leanings. I came to realize, though, that those people came to their leanings due to outside forces and not necessarily from tangible personal experiences. It did not take long for them to join nearly everyone in my circle in supporting and accepting me as the family member, friend, and colleague they always knew, despite the change in my gender presentation. What made them rethink their positions?
I think most of their views were fueled by others’ prejudices and paranoia, reinforced by a polarized media that seems to care little of the gray areas we all live and work in. Their preconceived and negative notions about the transgender community were at odds with their relationship with me. To their credit, they understood that now knowing someone from that marginalized community necessitated that they rethink the issue.
The people in my close circle realized I was the same person they always knew, and they were not about to abandon me. Similarly, the protesters witnessed what happened to George Floyd and could not abandon him. Unlike in the past, this current version of the Black Lives Matter movement includes participants from all colors of the rainbow. Sometimes people need to be moved by circumstances to challenge their own sense of what is right and wrong, and I think most are arriving at the most beneficial conclusion.
Originally posted on Fast Company