Thursday, November 20, 2008

PostHeaderIcon Consequences

In the aftermath of Proposition 8 passage, many of the Prop 8 supporters have now begun complaining that they are being "singled out" or "persecuted for their beliefs". Why? Because the record of political donations (of all stripes) is public... and gay marriage supporters have used that information to press for boycotts of businesses who directly gave to Yes on 8 or indirectly gave through large donations from high-ranking employees or company officers.

Some argue that it is unfair to single out an entire company because of the actions of one of the executives (like the President of Cinemark Theatres or the owner of many Marriott hotels). John Aravosis, like many others, argue for a boycott of all things Utah -- including calling for The Sundance Film Festival to move. More famously, a theater director in Sacremento quit his job (and became a cause celeb in the fundie circles) because of the threat of a boycott. (He gave $1000 to Yes on 8.)

Is this a fair or reasonable response to the individuals (and businesses) that supported passage of Prop 8 (and other anti-gay amendments)?

Here's an anecdote from my life that illustrates my position.

More than a decade ago, my employer, Chevron, made the decision to provide health care and other related benefits to the domestic partners of same and opposite sex couples.

It was a decision based on business needs -- but in alignment with company values regarding respect, diversity and fairness.

To be sure, there was backlash -- from within and without the company. The usual suspects (Dobson & Co.) were up in arms. As were some employees -- notably one in Midland that actually started a petition drive to urge the Board to rescind the decision. Neither were successful -- but it remained something of an issue for some people.

At a "town hall" meeting held by then Chairman Ken Derr, the topic of domestic partnership benefits came up -- the question being, will Chevron revisit the decision to "support that lifestyle"? His answer: Chevron will continue to support its employees and their families -- all families -- with competetive benefits plans. And if you don't like it, there are other employers (like Exxon) where you might be more comfortable.

On the way back from that meeting, one of the people from my floor made the comment on the issue thusly: "I can't believe Chevron did this. What's next? Benefits for people marrying their dogs?"

Needless to say, I was taken aback --as were others in the immediate vicinity. I wasn't in the closet at work -- but I also wasn't waiving a rainbow flag all over the place. But this woman's statement made me mad.

I wanted to retort -- but thankfully another person walking with us turned to her and said, "That's probably the most stupid thing I've heard." And we all walked silently back to the office.

Two months after that, my manager came to me to ask if I would serve as our departmental leader on the newly formed Y2K Project. I said, "Sure" and then asked who was Project Leader. Turns out, it was the "marrying dogs" commenter.

It was at that point that I decided to decline. This surprised my boss, who asked me why.

I explained that if given the choice, I would prefer not to work with the person in question. Pressed for further explanation, I recounted the incident and said that I just didn't feel comfortable.

He told me to hold off on my decision.

Office gossip being what it is, news soon got around that they were having problems getting people to sign on to the project... but in reality, the team roster was nearly complete and everyone assumed I would be on the project and they were wondering why my name wasn't on the list.

When informed of why I was reluctant to be on this project, the "dog" person was upset and didn't understand why I was being "that way" -- she was "tolerant"... and she resented being singled out for her beliefs.

Eventually, someone else from our department was named to take my place on the project -- but that didn't last. I was asked again, two months later, to be the departmental rep. This time I accepted.

In the intervening two months, the "dog lady" had stepped down.

Five years later, after what started as a moment of channeled anger at the casual bigotry of a co-worker, I became the president of the company's GLBT employee network. (Along with continuing to progress with my day job.)

To quote Ray Hill, "If we don't value ourselves or our relationships, how the hell can we expect them to?"

Appropriate and immediate consequences are the logical and appropriate response to bigotry.

Epilogue: The "dog lady" eventually took an early retirement -- but not before becoming a member of our GLBT network as an ally. Her son came out during his freshman year at college and our network was there to help her with dealing with that in a positive and loving manner.


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