June is Pride Month, an annual commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall uprising, which began with a small group of individuals standing up to a violent confrontation between police and the LGBTQ+ community and grew into spontaneous demonstrations over six days outside the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan. The Stonewall rebellion is widely considered to be the cornerstone of the modern fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States.
With 2019 marking the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, New York City will not only be hosting its annual Pride Parade on June 30 (in which New York Life will sponsor a float), it will also host WorldPride, with people from around the globe visiting the Big Apple and other U.S. cities throughout June to attend commemorative arts, cultural, and educational events as part of the largest international LGBTQ+ pride celebration ever held.
As Executive Sponsor of the NYLPride Employee Resource Group (ERG), I recently had the honor of hosting a group from New York Life on a tour of the “Love and Resistance: Stonewall 50” exhibit at the New York Public Library. As our group filed past the various artifacts and photographs from 1969, we were struck by how far the movement has come since those early days. Today’s LGBTQ+ acronym, for example, stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning), and others,” embodying the community’s continuing evolution in standing for all sexual and gender orientations.
With so much history in the air, I’ve found myself thinking about the LGBTQ+ community’s journey here at New York Life. Nearly 13 years ago, the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer—now the Office of Diversity & Inclusion (ODI)—was created, with me as its first leader. In sorting out what to do first, one obvious and relatively simple step seemed to be to launch an ERG program with groups such as what is now BOLD, the Latino ERG, and the Asian Network Group. I quickly reached out to colleagues who identified as members of those constituencies, asked if they would become sponsors, and the ERG program was born.
Later, I was approached by two employees about starting an LGBTQ+ ERG. My initial reaction was, “Yes, let’s do this,” but I realized we needed to do some research and outreach. First, we needed to gather a core group of members, and that’s where things got tricky. Whether we could find employees willing to identify as members—or even as allies—of the LGBTQ+ community was uncertain at that time. But we got the word out, and phone calls and emails began to come in from interested employees. We then quickly discovered that many of the top financial services companies had successful and active LGBTQ+ groups, which supported their businesses internally and externally with employee events, community outreach, and recruiting activities. I made a recommendation to the Executive Management Committee (EMC) on why we should sponsor an LGBTQ+ ERG and they were fully supportive. In a very short time, leaders were chosen and the NYLPride ERG became a reality.
A few memories stand out from that first NYLPride year. I remember leaving the office at the same time as one of the group’s members on the day the group was officially announced, and he saying, “I feel like I’ve dropped into another galaxy!” On my way to a meeting one day, I noticed a picture on an employee’s desk of she and her partner. I began to see more photos and hear more personal stories of employees and their partners as the year went on. And perhaps most touching of all was a long time and very visible employee who readily reached out to be a co-chair of NYLPride without hesitation.
In the LGBTQ+ movement—as with all Diversity and Inclusion efforts—the work is never done. There are always more connections to be made, biases to be overcome, and common ground to be found. Still, on this 50th anniversary of a group of unlikely heroes standing together to demand fairness and respect at Stonewall, I believe it is fitting to take a moment to appreciate how much progress has been made over the past 50 years. With the world coming to join in, it’s time to celebrate.
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