Work-life, Leadership and Civil Rights panel discusses community involvement and workplace discrimination

On May 1 in the Black Box Theater, four queer leaders from the local gay and lesbian community participated in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans* (LGBT) Work-life, Leadership, and Civil Rights panel, which focused on being openly gay in the workplace and the gay civil rights movement. Organized by Campus Life Coordinator for Leadership Larry Locke and Campus Life Coordinator for Student Activities Katy Collins, the hour-and-a-half long event garnered an intimate audience of Novocollegeans and members of the Sarasota communuity. The panel was comprised of Harvey Milk Festival president and founder Shannon Fortner, Harvey Milk Festival Vice President Turner C. Moore, ACLU member Daniel Rein, and current Sarasota Vice Mayor Ken Shelin. At the event, attendees were given literature pertaining to LGBT Immigration Rights and how those in the LGBT community can transition from academia to the workplace.

“I really like panels,” Locke said. “I think that they’re really interesting when you get good people. [Panels are] really low-key events and they really cover a broad base and make networking easier because instead of sitting there and listening to people talk for an hour… it [becomes] a more high-impact event. I liked how we got to talk about civil rights and also being out in the workplace … and I think if you’re going to talk about what it’s like to be a gay adult, you have it talk about all of it together to try and fill up the whole picture.”

Locke also added that when he worked to get the event up and running he wanted something that would be career oriented and that queer students could apply to their post-college lives.

“I think the school needs to provide information on what resources to go to or what to do in certain situations,” Locke said. “It’s a very post-college thought, but I think we need to be implanting that in people’s heads for work. Work is scary enough — why have to learn on the job how to deal with things? Why can’t we teach them about it now?”

Attendees were told that being “out” in the workplace is a matter of assessing the situation and deciding if confiding such information to co-workers is necessary. Otherwise, it would be best to wait until the worker is in a comfortable position of power to disclose such details.

“I don’t agree that everybody should be open in the workplace,” Reiner said. “I think that what when you’re first going into a career or trying to build a career, or establish yourself socially as well, the important thing is to not go in there and be like, ‘Hey, I’m gay, I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it,’ but rather, do establish yourself professionally, personally, or however the situation is as appropriate … Ken [Shelin] said as you [build your career] it becomes very much easier to come out, especially if you’re doing a good job, and that’s really what’s key. Be diligent, do your job well, don’t give people a reason to be pissed at you and then to say, ‘Oh, because he’s gay,’ or because ‘She’s a lesbian,’ and so just be another hassle to put on you … you don’t want to wear that.”

Attendees were also given advice on how to become active in the LGBT community. First, they must be comfortable with their identities and be willing to address “people that don’t agree with [them].” Then, they must do research on organizations in their areas, find an organization that best suits their cause and decide whether or not to get involved. It is best to make sure that an organization is stable and has the potential to make some progress rather than to invest a lot of time in what would only wind up in frustration.

“In the community it’s really up to you to decide [whether or not to get involved in civil rights],” Shelin said. “First of all, you need to be confident about yourself and you have to live in the present. You know what’s going on around you and take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves so you will look at an organization … and decide whether or not it fits your goals and whether or not the organization is creative and productive in the community and just get involved, and eventually, if you do a good job and people are talking about what a great job you’ve done, the word will get out and other people will want to be the path to your door and get you involved in other organizations.”

Information was also given on how same-sex partners in Sarasota can apply to be on the domestic partnership registry, which has been growing steadily in the past few months. This allows for certain benefits, including power of attorney and hospital visitation rights.

At the conclusion of the event, the panel addressed questions from the audience to the best of their knowledge. Questions addressed topics ranging from networking to handling discrimination in the workplace.

“I think it’s really important for college students to [have the privilege] to learn about what community is while they’re at school,” Locke said. “I like the board, it had diverse ideas. Ken was just like, ‘Be out,’ and Daniel was just like, ‘Hmm, I don’t know about that.’ So I think that they had diverse ideas.”

When asked if the crusade for gay rights was making any progress, Rein told the Catalyst, “I do believe that things have gotten better [for gays]. My partner is seventy-five years old. When he was young, it was better to have been the chainsaw-massacre type person in the community than to be known as gay, and now [he] and I can walk down the street holding hands and have no problems in our condominium, and we are a couple. Things have changed enormously in the workplace as well, and it’s so much better. Things do get better.”

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